German leader to embark on African visit

Chancellor Angela Merkel travels to Africa on Wednesday with the message that Germany is keen to step up cooperation with the continent to help combat poverty and disease.

The chancellor’s trip to Ethiopia, South Africa and Liberia from October 3 to 7 will focus on economic development, social issues and business ties, but she will also raise touchy political subjects.

German officials said she will bring up the question of human rights, good governance and appeal to South Africa to do more to help its neighbour Zimbabwe overcome its “massive deficits” in democracy.

Germany is helping Portugal host and European Union-Africa summit in December that Merkel is determined to attend, even if British Prime Minister Gordon Brown goes ahead with a threat to boycott the gathering if Zimbabwe’s autocratic President Robert Mugabe is present.

The chancellor will spend three days in South Africa, conferring with President Thabo Mbeki as well as his predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Nelson Mandela, and opposition leader Helen Zille.

Trade between the two countries amounted to €9,2-billion in 2006, with Germany exporting twice as much as it imported. About 500 German companies are active in South Africa.

The chancellor, whose country is current president of the Group of Eight rich industrial nations, will also visit a hospital treating Aids-infected children and tour a biodiversity project.

The Biota project near Cape Town examines changes in biodiversity in Namibia and South Africa—part of the sub-Saharan region expected to be worst affected by climate change, mainly through increased drought and flooding.

Merkel is accompanied on her visit by a 21-member business delegation, Economic Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul and Oliver Bierhoff, manager of the German football team.

Bierhoff will join the chancellor on a tour of the revamped Soccer City stadium in Soweto, where the opening game and the final of the 2010 Soccer World Cup will be played.

The stadium visit will be closely watched, given the concerns about South Africa’s preparedness for the tournament, especially in relation to its transport infrastructure.

In all three countries Merkel is visiting, China’s growing influence in Africa will be one of the subjects of her political talks, German officials said.

Some African leaders apparently fear an imbalance if Beijing continues its drive for the continent’s natural resources needed to fuel its rapidly expanding economy.

European countries have not lost ground in Africa because of Chinese activity but need to continue their well-established cooperation to ensure this does not happen in the future, German government sources said.

In Ethiopia, the first leg of Merkel’s trip, the chancellor will confer with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, President Girma Woldegiorgis and visit a home for abused girls in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Talks are also planned with leaders of the African Union. She will also deliver a speech at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.

On the final leg of her tour, the chancellor travels to Monrovia for talks with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who impressed Merkel when she visited Germany for this year’s Group of Eight summit at Heiligendamm in June.

Merkel is expected to give her support to the Harvard-educated economist’s efforts to rebuild the West African country after years of civil war.—Sapa-dpa

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