In my first 2 months here as the new German Ambassador I have met many welcoming, talented and energetic people and have also seen a little bit of this beautiful country. I can wholeheartedly say that my wife, my daughter and I are thrilled to live here!
This year’s October 3 is not just another German National Day. We are celebrating 30 years of German Unity. This is a very good reason to be truly joyful and grateful! Because 30 years ago we have witnessed nothing less than a miracle! Just imagine - two parts of Germany that could hardly be more different become one again without the slightest trace of violence: the western part had a booming market economy, a multiparty liberal democracy and was member of the defense alliance NATO. The eastern part practiced socialism, had a single party dictatorship, was a member of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact and after building walls and fences in 1961 actively prevented its citizens from leaving the country. During the 28 years that the wall existed several hundred East Germans were killed (shot, stepped on mines) while trying to flee to the West.
So, in the summer of 1989 you would have been called totally naïve and laughed at if you had predicted that the Berlin Wall would come down that very year. But then courageous people in the East began to peacefully demonstrate every Monday evening after a church service, demanding that the borders be opened. They chanted “We are the people!” Over several months this movement gained more and more momentum and finally overwhelmed the existing structures. Democracy means the rule of the people and for the first time in its history the “German Democratic Republic”, as East Germany was officially called, was truly democratic.
After the Wall came down on November 9, 1989 it was by no means clear that the two German states would unify. For one, many citizens were hesitant because nobody could predict to consequences of unification for their daily lives, especially regarding their jobs. Chancellor Kohl had made a 10 step plan for a slow and gradual unification but many East Germans were not willing to wait. They took to the streets once more and clearly sent the message: Either unification now or we will move to the West (to enjoy better living conditions).
The most decisive factor was, however, that other countries concerned were also hesitant at first, remembering very clearly that a large and powerful Germany had started two World Wars, the last one just 50 years ago, and caused immense suffering. The question for them was: Could a united Germany be trusted?
We Germans are and should be extremely grateful that leaders like George Bush and Mikael Gorbatchev were indeed willing to trust us and that the very complex international negotiations that ensued between the two Germanys and the Allied Powers (USA, Soviet Union, France and UK) could be brought to a good end so that Germany was reunited on October 3, 1990. What had been completely unimaginable for decades then just happened, peacefully – to me, a true miracle!
The years that followed were not easy, restructuring a socialist economy was difficult and mistakes were made on the way. And though the Wall has physically disappeared it continued to exist mentally (“the wall in the heads”). East and West Germans often had prejudices and did not immediately accept each other, many East Germans felt looked down upon as second class citizens. This was understandable because life in the East had not only been bad and many life’s achievements deserved to be recognized. Today we have overcome many of these difficulties and it is no longer important whether you were born and raised in the eastern or western part of Germany. But even though the economic power in the East has grown considerably and the wages are now at 84% of those in the West not every German considers Unification a success.
The official focus for this 30th anniversary is on the diversity of Germany. People coming from many different countries have made our society more interesting and much richer. Even though we also have some challenges with diversity, the vast majority of Germans is proud of it.
The big problem we are all facing today is the Covid-19 pandemic. It is putting a lot of strain on our daily lives, especially on the economy - but also on democracy itself! Participation of the people in decision making becomes a lot more difficult if meetings are severely limited and large gatherings are not permitted. The necessary restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus must be handled in a wise and balanced manner so as not to impede democratic decision making, especially in times of elections.
Uganda and Germany have something important in common. Both have accepted to take their share in alleviating the fate of refugees from other countries, of which there are around 80 million worldwide, an unprecedented and most disturbing figure. Accepting and temporarily hosting those who had to leave their home and country, fearing for their life, is an obligation under international law and indeed a humanitarian act. Germany has done so as a rich country, and still we are struggling with the challenge. Uganda, with more modest resources, is now hosting more than 1,4 million refugees, much more than ever before. My government has deep respect for this extraordinary effort your country is making to accommodate your unfortunate neighbours.
During my first weeks in Uganda I was struck by how open and friendly and also how young the population is. The youth as one of the biggest assets of Uganda is also one of the biggest challenges: over 600.000 young people leave school every year, many bright young minds who are eager to explore new venues and full of energy! The challenge is providing education and employment for them. Germany can make a contribution to that by assisting in infrastructure projects, e.g. building roads or a cargo port at Bukasa, and by enhancing trade and investment. Of course, there is room for improvement for the framework conditions on both sides. German investors are generally quite cautious and will always look for political stability, transparent governance, sound legal protection and international standards of compliance before starting new ventures.
But to get things moving I strongly believe in the power of direct business contacts. Seeing (meeting) is believing! Only personal encounters provide the opportunity to build relationships based on trust. Uganda has a huge economic potential both in natural and in human resources. I have already come across several small or medium sized Ugandan businesses that are successfully making excellent products that can compete on the international market. Such news need to be spread around much more and – once travel restrictions are lifted – I would very much like to promote a more active exchange between businessmen and -women from both countries.
My task in the coming years will be to maintain and further improve the already excellent relations between Uganda and Germany. I am grateful for the support of the German institutions GIZ, KfW, political foundations FES and KAS, Goethe-Zentrum, German Academic Exchange Service DAAD, as well as churches, NGOs and countless private initiatives working across the economic, social and cultural sectors of the Ugandan society to further our common goals of transition and development. I look forward to working together with all who want to contribute to this noble endeavor.