Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in response to the motions on Ethiopia/Eritrea on 12 October 2018 in the German Bundestag
What we’re presently witnessing in the Horn of Africa truly gives us cause for hope. Some are even talking of an African miracle. The peace agreement between Ethiopia and its Eritrean neighbours really is quite remarkable, especially when you look at developments there during the last few years. But what is more, it will improve the lives and the future prospects of people in East Africa and far beyond. It is in East Africa’s fundamental interest as well as that of the Gulf states on the east coast of the Red Sea.
However, the peace agreement is also in our interest: it means that a crisis-stricken region is slowly regaining stability – with all the opportunities which this can have for trade, business, migration and the fight against terrorism and organised crime.
That is of great importance to Europe, and thus also to Germany. I’m therefore delighted that the German Bundestag is addressing this today.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy has achieved something which was virtually inconceivable: he has broken political taboos within his country. He has triggered what could be described as reform euphoria in his country and initiated a reconciliation process with arch enemy Eritrea. Judging by everything we’re seeing and hearing, there’s a tangible will for change in the country, especially among young people, who know what all this means for them and their prospects for the future.
This process and those responsible for it should be able to count on our support. In providing this backing, we’re building on our decades-long commitment to Ethiopia and the long-standing special relations between our countries. At the end of the month, Prime Minister Abiy will be taking part in the G20 Investment Summit in Berlin, which will mainly focus on economic exchange among our countries.
All in all, however, we have to remain realistic. Political and social transformation cannot be achieved overnight – we know that from our own experience. Abiy faces huge challenges: poverty, a growing population, rapid urbanisation as well as ethnic conflicts, which have resulted in four million people becoming displaced. Despite the positive developments, the situation in the country remains permanently tense due to these challenges.
Reforms similar to the bold ones being carried out in Ethiopia have not been initiated in Eritrea so far. On the contrary, there’s still no strategy to indicate how an orderly opening up within the country could look.
I therefore don’t think it’s a good idea to exert maximum public pressure at this point. We should encourage the reform forces and call for an opening up within the country in an appropriate manner. We’re currently exploring concrete ways of doing this.
Especially within the European context, we have suitable means and measures. However, we’ll also be able to continue influencing developments in the region when we take up our seat on the UN Security Council next year. We’re determined to do just that.
The German Government is already engaged in many different ways in crisis management and preventive diplomacy in the Horn of Africa.
For example, we are supporting regional measures to resolve the problems regarding water supply and the River Nile. We’re playing our part in the mediation efforts in the Darfur conflict and in South Sudan, a country plagued by civil war. In Somalia, we’re supporting the development of federal state institutions and functioning police structures. In this way, we want to help strengthen the African Peace and Security Architecture on a durable basis so that it can master the crises and conflicts on the continent, if possible through Africans’ own efforts.
The situation in the entire region around the Red Sea is tense. At the same time, there are no organised dialogue forums, never mind mechanisms for cooperative security, such as those we have in Europe.
That has to change. At our initiative, the EU Foreign Ministers therefore discussed the situation in the Red Sea region back in June. One result was that the EU decided to encourage the creation of a regional forum for dialogue and cooperation. But it can’t be taken for granted that this will happen. The interests of the various countries are too complex and there is still extremely deep seated distrust among them.
Together with the EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, however, we’re engaged in talks with the states of the region with a view to exploring the chances of establishing such a forum. It would represent considerable progress when it comes to bringing countries together and helping them to resolve problems on the ground on their own.
Above all, détente in the Horn of Africa would also be a blessing for the men, women and young people who have left their homes out of fear of war and repression and who are disheartened by the oppressing lack of opportunities there. Our humanitarian assistance is helping to alleviate the acute suffering of people and the communities that have taken them in. In 2018 alone, our assistance to the region amounts to around 200 million euros.
However, that cannot be permanent. Making it possible for people to return home must be the aim of a foreign policy which is also willing to shoulder responsibility in the region.
That’s why we not only support the peace mediation efforts in South Sudan, in the Sudan or in Somalia but are also following the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea with great interest.
At this point, however, the peace agreement with Ethiopia hasn’t led to an improvement in the human rights situation in Eritrea. The regime continues to maintain compulsory national service as a key means of controlling society.
Together with our European partners, we will therefore consider incentives to help encourage Asmara to finally break this logic, which has resulted in major human rights violations.
I’m grateful that we’re talking about this issue today because of the situation there, because there’s hope and because there are many responsible policy-makers in the region, who have set themselves the same goals as we have. The challenges for us and for Europe in this region are considerable. However, there are also opportunities. This is a good time for this region. Let us do everything we can to support the historic changes in the Horn of Africa. The German Government intends to do so. The fact that the German Bundestag is debating this issue today is a good sign which will certainly also be noticed in the region.
Press Release : Ministry of Information of Eritrea