By Ronald Musoke
Peter Blomeyer, Germany’s ambassador to Uganda talked to The Independent’s Ronald Musoke about Germany’s 25 years of re-unification and its role on the global stage..
On Oct. 03, Germany celebrates 25 years of reunification. How will the Germans living in Uganda celebrate their milestone?
We will have a reception at the Ambassador’s residence. For just a few minutes, we will have our guests experience what the separation of Germany for over 40 years was like. We have re-built a small part of the ‘[Berlin] Wall.’ Guests, couples, friends, colleagues and neighbours will be separated and be issued a ‘visa’ for East or West Germany and then they will be made to pass the wall through a gate. On the west or east side depending on the visa, they will experience an exposition of the great events of the Cold War (the Cuba Crisis, the Czechoslovakia invasion, the Helsinki Process, [Mikhail] Gorbachev and eventually the fall of the Berlin Wall). Beyond this wall, the guests will be re-united.
What lessons can Ugandans learn from their German counterparts?
The German reunification in 1990 was the result of people taking their fate into their own hands in a peaceful but firm manner. This shows people are the ultimate factor in a country. With their famous slogan, “We are the people,” East Germans reminded the ruling communist regime that it is not the people who should serve the government but the government which should serve the people. This is a lesson to every government. Secondly, once legally unified, the two parts of Germany had to grow together. In this respect, I think each individual should think of how to contribute to the unity of his or her own country and not put local peculiarity above national identity. As a convinced European, I should add that one should also not put national identity above good relations with the neighbouring countries. This applies to your region. It is important to overcome ethnic differences and pursue a firm regional integration course within the East African Community.
What lessons are there for Germany on both the European and global stages?
There are two major lessons Germany learnt from its darkest period under National Socialism and that was; Germany shall never start a war again, and Germany will never tolerate genocide and crimes against humanity. Therefore, even if there is a deeply rooted feeling within the German people not to become involved in war, there is also a feeling of responsibility not to let such atrocities happen. That is why we participated in the humanitarian intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and Afghanistan. For us, the use of force is always the ultima ratio. It depends on the concrete situation whether Germany decides this to be the case. We want to assume responsibility and contribute according to our potential within Europe and within the international system but we are wary of ascribing us an ability to always know better than others the right way to go. Actually, we believe in generating right solutions in dialogue.
Germany has won praise for offering leadership in the ongoing refugee crisis. Why has Germany looked at the plight of these people differently?
It was a lesson from our history that we established a fundamental right on asylum for politically persecuted persons in our basic law after the Second World War. During the Second World War, Germany had prompted many people to flee their countries and seek asylum elsewhere. Now, we would like to be among those countries that grant asylum to those who are being politically persecuted. Also, the older German generation still knows the feeling of being a refugee. After the Second World War, more than 12 million German refugees were admitted in the west of the country (West Germany).My parents were refugees. Therefore, many Germans know what it means to be a refugee, or at least have heard about it from their parents and grandparents.
Should the people fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa be classified as migrants or refugees?
People who have to leave their countries because they are being persecuted because of their race, religion, political belief and fear for their life need to be distinguished from people who leave their countries for economic reasons—these are economic migrants. These kinds of people can only expect to be accommodated in the countries they head for according to the migrant laws of those countries. On the other hand, politically persecuted people have a right to asylum. We also have to keep into account the fact that it is often the strong and able people who have the power to migrate. But these people are very much needed in their own countries and we don’t want a brain drain from poor countries. This is very important for us to reflect on.
But some cynics say that soon your government will realise how wrong your decision was when the refugees start demanding for other amenities beyond the current basics such as shelter and food. How is Germany prepared to handle this challenge whenever it occurs?
It cannot be wrong to accommodate refugees who have no place to go. Angela Merkel, our Chancellor, herself has said that ‘if we now have to start to apologize for showing a friendly face to refugees then Germany would not be her country anymore.’ She also said that Germany can do it. And millions of Germans, myself included, stand behind her on this. There is an enormous wave of support for refugees in Germany, and we will cope with this situation. Having said this, it is also clear that Germany and Europe cannot accommodate everybody on the move in the world.
Has the current refugee or migrant crisis jolted powerful countries like Germany to act differently in their quest to tackle this global challenge?
We try our best to stick to our fundamental values even in this exceptionally difficult situation.
Uganda too is at the moment hosting the biggest number of refugees from several countries. What in your opinion is the best solution to the current refugee crisis around the world?
No doubt, Uganda deserves great praise for its refugee policy. The way Uganda accommodates hundreds of thousands of refugees from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi is a role model for all of us. As for the current refugee crisis, there is not just one solution. The international community has to act together. First, we have to look at why people are leaving their country and fight the root causes. In your region, for example, there are some very irresponsible political leaders who put their ego above the interest of their people and want to guard their power even at the expense of civil war. This has triggered off refugee movements and this is not acceptable. But also economic hardship has caused migration. Here, we need to reinforce our cooperation to consider other economic perspectives for the people within their countries. Furthermore, we cannot accept refugee tragedies like the ones we witnessed on the Mediterranean Sea to happen. To avoid this, the European member states have put search and rescue missions in place. At the same time, the highly criminal human trafficking gangs who expose the refugees to deadly dangers on sea or on trucks need to be persecuted and severely punished. Within the European Union, we need a system to distribute the refugees among member states.
Guenter Nooke, the Personal Representative to the German Chancellor for Africa has just toured Uganda and emphasized how governments will only be able to tackle the causes of migration if everybody takes responsibility. Was this in direct response to Syria’s President Bashar Assad who has blamed the refugee crisis on the West?
It is absolutely correct that everybody has to take responsibility in the refugee crisis if we want to cope with it. We also have to acknowledge that it is our joint problem, a problem of countries of origin, of transit, and of destination.
Nooke also met representatives of UNHCR to strengthen the, ‘Tackling causes for migration, re-integrating refugees’ initiative. What is this programme about?
This is part of the response of the German government to the refugee crisis. It is a programme intended to support countries which host refugees from neighbouring countries and within the context of this programme, we also support Uganda. Mr. Nooke has just announced that there will be a grant of $3 million to Uganda facilitated by UNHCR to support the government to accommodate refugees coming from South Sudan. This money will for instance be spent on drinking water and other basic needs in the camps.
What else did Nooke experience in Uganda?
Mr. Nooke had meetings with the Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and opposition politicians. He also witnessed the signing of the €10m contract between KfW and the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (for rural electrification).He launched a new fund for small and fast growing businesses in Uganda; he met start-up business entrepreneurs and he visited a German coffee farm in Uganda. Finally, he crowned his second visit to Uganda in three years with a meeting with members of the international community at a dinner at the Ambassador’s residence.
What are your impressions of Uganda’s preparedness for the upcoming general elections?
Frankly speaking, I was disappointed that the chance to prepare better for free and fair elections by a meaningful electoral reform has been missed. Let us hope that the next Parliament will come back to the proposals of the Citizen’s Compact for free and fair elections, which have been drawn in cooperation of all political camps and civil society. I think all these ideas and proposals should not be lost. In this situation, everything needs to be done to ensure a level playing field for all candidates in the upcoming elections. This includes an evenhanded Electoral Commission, an undiscriminating application of the Public Order Management Act, a renunciation of violence including personal verbal attacks by all sides, an exchange of arguments based on facts instead of a further commercialisation of politics, and free and equal access to media for all candidates. These are just few basic conditions that we hope will be respected.
What did you make of The Democratic Alliance (TDA) in their quest to find a single candidate to challenge the incumbent in the 2016 election?
I can only say that although we observed this process, we do not get involved. It is up to the Ugandan parties to decide whether they want to stand alone or if they want to agree on a joint candidate. We will just observe the result.
But there have been reports saying some donor countries have had a stake in TDA and therefore it is quite impossible for them not to have any kind of say or input in the process of choosing the joint opposition candidate. Don’t you agree?
Speaking for the German side, I can say that we are just observers in Uganda and we do not get involved in internal politics. But we, of course, do hope that people have a free and fair election and the conditions which I just described are met.
What advice would you give to Ugandans ahead of the general elections?
Go vote. If the people are sovereign, then the people also have to exercise this right, and this is done by voting. Don’t let others determine for you, don’t be apathetic, don’t give up before hand. Contribute, be responsible, and go vote.
Would you understand some Ugandans who actually argue that there is no point in voting if the conditions that can ensure a free and fair election have not changed?
I still think that if you give up on your right to vote, you give up on democracy. Each and every individual should be responsible for their own fate and their children’s fate and their country. Someone who just resigns and does not participate any more also does not have a right to complain.