• Unfortunately, the freedoms that were hard-won 30 years ago are not immutable.
• As societies, we are constantly confronted with dangers to our freedom. We again live in a period of growing superpower antagonisation.
Thirty years ago, a Wind of Change swept around the globe, bringing with it democracy to all Germans and many Europeans as well.
For the 40 years preceding our reunification, Germany was divided into a free West and a communist dictatorship in the East. I grew up in the East behind the so-called “iron curtain”, where government suppressed unwanted opinions and controlled our daily lives.
It had even built an actual wall to keep its citizens from escaping to the West into freedom. But it was the unrelenting demands for freedom of us East Germans that eventually tore down the Wall in November 1989, ushering in sweeping political change that led to the reunification on October 3, 1990. What we had previously thought was impossible became a reality. I could not believe it had happened when I think back of that Thursday night in East Berlin in 1989. Today we remember the sacrifices so many people made for this change. We thank our international partners who had trust in a united Germany and we celebrate the freedom and the European unification that it brought to us.
Germany’s reunification made it possible for me to join the German diplomatic corps three months later – an opportunity I would never have had in the old East German system. I remember how we hoped the end of the old Cold War superpower competition would be the beginning of a new era full of opportunities. Our European union proved us right in many ways, providing growing peace and prosperity to a whole continent throughout the past 30 years.
The Wind of Change did not only blow in Germany, but also shook up political systems elsewhere. The Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991. Old systems also collapsed elsewhere and a new wave of multilateral cooperation ensued, increasing human development in the world. Here in Kenya, one-party-rule ended in 1992.
Unfortunately, the freedoms that were hard-won 30 years ago are not immutable. As societies, we are constantly confronted with dangers to our freedom. We again live in a period of growing superpower antagonisation.
Climate change is real everywhere, rendering weather patterns extreme, leading to very hot summers in Germany and unprecedented droughts and flooding here in Kenya and the region. Digitalisation provides endless opportunities for personal growth, but at the same time can be used to curtail individual freedoms and manipulate elections through the instantaneous spread of lies and fake news. The new freedoms are precious and must be used wisely.
This year has been terrible. So many lives have been lost and around the globe, the economic costs of measures to contain coronavirus are only just starting to become apparent. Years of human development have possibly been wiped out. The ramifications are becoming a threat to world peace and international security, as the UN Secretary General warned in April.
In these trying times, it is important that we stand together as international community. Multilateralism matters today more than ever in a world where threats to our global economic and political stability seem to multiply. The global health crisis Covid-19 brought over us perfectly illustrates that it is not possible to fight Covid or other transnational threats as individual nations. We need each other.
Germany and Kenya are medium-sized regional powers that have to work as partners on the international stage. It is with hope that we look at Kenya’s membership in the UN Security Council that will soon begin.
Our two countries share many similar interests: We need to find urgent solutions to tackling climate change. Germans look with envy at Kenya’s share of over 85 per cent renewables in electricity generation, and we are willing to support in expanding these capabilities further.
To fight Covid-19, Germany committed €7 million in Kenya alone to support mobile testing laboratories, train personnel or support over 50 Kenyan start-ups on top of the €450 million we gave for the UN’s Covid-response.
Our development cooperation concentrates on providing opportunities for Kenya’s youth through technical and vocational education and training. Moreover, in February this year, our President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, visited to reaffirm the friendship between us since Germany was the first country that recognised Kenya after Independence.
I am convinced Kenya and Germany can build on a reliable and long-lasting relationship to tackle the many threats to the achievements that the positive Wind of Change brought to our countries and the world 30 years ago.
Annett Günther is the German Ambassador to Kenya