For a long time, the African continent played only a subordinated role in the awareness of European countries. This is changing in view of the energy transition. The African continent is rich in energy from the sun and thus, from a European perspective, predestined for the production of solar energy and green hydrogen. And it is rich in raw materials that are urgently needed for the energy transition in Europe. But the stop of Russian gas deliveries as a result of the sanctions against Russia due to the war of aggression against Ukraine has also shifted the focus more strongly again to African countries, which could close the – at least temporarily – created energy gap. Finally, the Central African Democratic Republic of Congo is the country with the second largest area of tropical rainforest – after Brazil with the Amazon rainforest. This makes the Democratic Republic of Congo interesting not only in terms of its mineral resources but also plays an important role in climate policy at the global level.
The delegation mission of the Parliamentary Group on Central Africa of the German Bundestag to the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo from 5 to 10 March 2023 should be seen in light of this background. The issues mentioned were on the agenda of the delegation as well. This was confirmed to me by the left-wing member of the Bundestag, André Hahn, who took part in the delegation mission, in an interview I conducted with him about this delegation mission.
Brazzaville and Kinshasa – the two capitals of the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are only separated from each other by the Congo River and the national border running through the river: Brazzaville lies on the northern bank of the Congo River, Kinshasa on the southern bank. The German delegation of politicians met with politicians from both countries as well as representatives of civil society organizations.
According to André Hahn, the talks focussed on economic and climate policy issues. The preservation of the rainforest was an important concern for the German delegation. After all, the wood of the rainforest today also serves as a source of energy. The gradual deforestation of the rainforest not only destroys the second largest green lung on the planet, but the burning of the wood also produces CO2 emissions that contribute to the further aggravation of the climate.
According to André Hahn, however, the delegation had to experience that African states today do not simply comply with the wishes and demands of European states. They confronted the delegation members with the high contribution of European countries to global warming and demanded that first of all European states have to make their contribution to climate protection in order to show that they themselves take climate protection seriously and do not want to pursue the necessary climate protection solely at the expense of African countries.
But trade and climate were not the only issues on the delegation’s agenda. Another important topic was the human rights situation, the rights of minorities, the rights of the political opposition, and the rights of women. That such sensitive issues are addressed is not a matter of course. It is all the more important that these issues were also taken into consideration. There are always people – especially from Brazzaville – who come to Europe to seek protection from persecution, torture, and the threat of murder. Among them are members of the Lari ethnic minority. According to people familiar with the area, they are under strong pressure of persecution. According to people familiar with the area, this is partly due to conflicts over the use of settlement areas by foreign mining companies, some of which come from Europe. Thus, at least in part, European states also share responsibility for the precarious human rights situation in the two Congos.
With the EU Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence, European corporations are to be obliged to assume responsibility for compliance with climate protection laws and human rights in corporate activities outside the EU. The EU directive is based on a UN agreement negotiated since 2014 on binding human rights standards for companies (Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework.). However, the German government has tried for years to prevent the implementation of this agreement by all conceivable means (see: “Wer die Durchsetzung von Menschenrechten in Unternehmen tatsächlich blockiert“). After all, at the beginning of 2022, the European Commission submitted the draft of the above-mentioned EU Directive to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union for consultation and adoption.
André Hahn clearly stated in the conversation with me that the talks on climate policy and human rights were not entirely easy. The reason for this is – as I have already mentioned – on the one hand the European colonial history, which is far from having been dealt with. In Europe, this is often forgotten when politicians make climate policy and human rights demands on African governments. Of course, it is fundamentally right to insist on the observance of human rights, women’s rights, minority rights, and climate protection measures. But if these demands are made out of an attitude of arrogance and knowing better, if the talks do not proceed on an equal footing, and if the same rules are not observed by the European side, then European politicians will not find an audience with their African colleagues. After all, African states are no longer exclusively dependent on Europe. China and, to a certain extent, Russia – whether one likes it or not – are an alternative to Europe for African governments.
Therefore, the following applies politically: as long as European states have not found a way to come critically to terms with their colonial history so that a political dialogue can finally take place on an equal footing with African governments, it is difficult for European politicians to credibly stand up for climate policy and human rights. And as long as this is the case, European states must recognize their responsibility for this situation and they must take responsibility for it by offering protection to people who flee to Europe from their African countries of origin to escape persecution and hardship.
Jürgen Klute was a Die Linke (The Left) MEP and spokesman for the Kurdish Friendship Group in the European Parliament from 2009 to 2014. Since December 2016, he has been editing the Europa.blog.