Germany - Uganda ties built on  mutual respect, growth – envoy

German Ambassador to Uganda Matthias Schauer. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • For more than 60 years, Germany and Uganda have enjoyed bilateral relations, with the former supporting many development programmes in the East African country such as agriculture and energy development. As Germany celebrates 33 years since its reunification today, the country’s Ambassador to Uganda, Mr Matthias Schauer, speaks to the Monitor’s Andrew Bagala about how his country emerged from the ashes to become a strong economy. He also shares how Germany supports Uganda’s development agenda. 

October 3 is an important day in the history of Germany. May you explain its significance?
The German Nazi dictator, Hitler, started WWII and in 1945, he was fortunately defeated by the allied powers of USA, Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The allied powers divided Germany into four zones that they controlled.
A few years later, the western powers permitted the Germans to form a new state on the territory of the three western zones. That became the Federal Republic of Germany, a democracy and free market economy. The Soviets, however, decided to hold onto their zone in the East and create a separate communist state that they called the German Democratic Republic (GDR). There were no free elections in communist East Germany, the secret police was powerful and the people were not allowed to travel to western countries.
The population of the GDR was so unhappy being ruled by a regime that had to follow instructions from Moscow - and especially that they could not travel - that in 1953 they rose up and took to the streets but these demonstrations were quickly crushed by Soviet tanks.
Eight years later, when more and more people were escaping from East Germany to move to the West, the Soviets decided to put up the Berlin Wall. It became part of an intimidating border between East and West, almost 1,400km long, guarded not only by armed guards and their patrol dogs but also electric fences, mines and automatically firing hidden guns. More than 100,000 Germans from the East tried to cross this border between 1961 and 1988, of whom more than 600 were killed or died while trying to cross. Imagine, a country shooting down its own people simply because they were trying to leave!
In 1989, this horrible situation came to an end. Encouraged by the reforms of then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the East Germans started to peacefully demonstrate again, this time it happened regularly on Monday evenings after church services and the regime eventually gave in and finally opened the border.
Then came the first and only free elections ever held in the GDR and this elected Parliament decided that East Germany wanted to be reunited with the West. So, after 45 years of rigorous separation, unification happened completely peacefully, nobody getting hurt, not a single shot being fired. For me, this is the greatest miracle I have experienced in my life! I am still moved and deeply grateful.

It has been 33 years since the reunification of Germany. How was your country able to bring together people, who had lived in two different systems for years?
The first years were really tough. How do you transform an inefficient state run economy that had basically collapsed into a free market economy? One example is that property issues had to be solved as quickly as possible, not only concerning houses but primarily concerning farms and factories. No investor was willing to start a business without legal certainty. And then, though the wall separating East and West had come down, there was still the “wall in the minds” of the population, very different mindsets, many prejudices and lack of trust.
That has taken time and even after 33 years, unification is still ongoing and we are not yet where we want to be: The wages and the standard of living is still lower in the East and unemployment is higher. We need to actively continue working on improving equal opportunities and find solutions together.

Germany is governed by a federal system, why did you choose this type of system and has it delivered the intended goals?
After having gone through two world wars and especially after having experienced Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust, many people felt that Germany needed a system of strong checks and balances to prevent the central government from having too much power.
The federal system with 16 regions has proven to be quite effective. They will know better than the central government how to address certain specific problems in their region that others may not have. And there can also be different solutions to a similar problem depending on the circumstances on the ground. The regions, for instance, have their own police forces and are responsible for education and cultural affairs. In line with their responsibilities, they receive a certain amount of the tax revenue that they decide how to spend.

What are the key challenges Germany is faced after 33 years of reunification and how are you tackling them?
A lot has been achieved: All the major German car makers have built factories in the eastern part of Germany. Saxony has become a technological hub producing microchips and other high technology products. But, as mentioned above, the living conditions are still not equal and unemployment is higher. This is one of the reasons why a right wing party called AfD is getting more votes there than the majority of Germans is comfortable with. We are making progress but it takes time.

Your country is a major player on the global stage. Tell us about Germany foreign policy.
Germany would not be anywhere close to where it is now without the European Union (EU). That is why European cooperation and integration is of importance for us. Of course, that goes hand in hand with relinquishing certain parts of our sovereignty but that is outweighed by the advantages.
For Germany, the transatlantic partnership with the USA, our membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is a cornerstone of our foreign policy. After Russian dictator Putin has shown how ruthless he can be, it has become even clearer that membership in a strong multilateral defence system can be a question of survival as a country.
Germany is committed to building peace and security around the globe. This is done through diplomatic initiatives but also in many other ways, through our support for peacekeeping missions and our humanitarian assistance. Climate action and diplomacy have become more and more important to maintain peace and security, and also to address root causes for migration. That is why the Foreign Minister has made this a new focus area.
Democracy, rule of law and human rights have always been a key focus area for German foreign policy. This includes, in particular, promoting the rights of women. The new “Feminist Foreign Policy” aims to empower women more and include them in decision making processes. It goes far beyond the UN resolution on women, peace and security.
Just as Uganda, Germany is a strong supporter of a multilateral international order. Vice President Alupo made this clear just two weeks ago in her speech at the UN General Assembly. Many of the challenges we face today require a coordinated effort. Combating climate change and its effects has become an existential question. If we cannot join forces to seriously deal with this issue, we can forget about all of our other goals. 

What are you striving to achieve in your foreign policy?
Security, stability, climate protection, crisis prevention, humanitarian assistance, promoting women, support for the economy and for cultural exchange.
In 2022, the Germany government committed 68.8 million euros in new funding for Uganda-German development cooperation. Which are the key areas the cooperation is focused on?
Our cooperation has been going on for almost 60 years now. The German government sits down with the Ugandan government every two years and negotiates which areas should be supported in the years to come.
Currently, we are mainly active in three areas: promotion of rural development and agriculture, support for the energy sector and promotion of good governance.
What we are doing may not seem to be spectacular but our goal is simply to make a difference in the lives of as many people as possible. That involves a lot of work on the ground that is mainly done by our implementation agency, GIZ. A lot of the money goes through our development bank KfW.
Let me give you examples from rural development and agriculture. We organise trainings to raise the economic skills of small scale farmers. That also contributes to creating jobs, especially for women. We also help them to gain access to financial services or loans with fair interest rates. We also help farmers to secure land rights by mapping over 100,000 hectares of land and helping with land titles and resolving land conflicts.
We also want to help improve access of Ugandans to affordable, reliable and climate-friendly energy. Germany is supporting the construction of hydro power plants and high voltage transmission lines. In some places where connection to the grid is not to be expected anytime soon, we install so-called mini-grids powered by solar energy. We also provide more fuel efficient cooking stoves to reduce CO2 emissions and slow down deforestation.
Good governance is a term that is often misunderstood. It is not about telling anybody how to run their show. It is about transparency, accountability and participation. Germany wants to help more Ugandans to access services in education, water and sanitation, energy and health.
For this reason, we support Uganda’s efforts to ensure that resources are correctly used, corruption is reduced and citizens are involved in decision making. To this end we support both government institutions such as the Office of the Auditor General and national and local civil society organisations.
Let me also mention the media training Deutsche Welle Academy is doing for journalists in Uganda.