Who will tear down the African “Berlin Wall”?

On Monday 9th November, Germans, many Europeans and non Europeans took part in events marking twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall (Berliner Mauer). The Berlin Wall was a concrete barrier that completely enclosed the city West Berlin separating it from East Berlin. There was a much longer wall that separated; East from West German.
Time to tear down our own mental walls
Time to tear down our own mental walls

On Monday 9th November, Germans, many Europeans and non Europeans took part in events marking twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall (Berliner Mauer). The Berlin Wall was a concrete barrier that completely enclosed the city West Berlin separating it from East Berlin. There was a much longer wall that separated; East from West German.

The wall was built by the then German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1961 and included guard towers to prevent people from the Communist East escaping to the Federal Republic of Germany and both walls came to symbolize the cold war superpower blocs and were normally referred to as the “Iron curtain”.

Prior to its construction, three and a half million Germans escaped from the East to the West, and after its erection, an estimated 5000 escaped resulting in between 100-200 deaths.

East Germans referred to the wall as the “Anti-Fascist wall” while West Germans referred to it as “the wall of shame”.

The independence of GDR was declared on October 7, 1949, but the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs accorded the East German state administrative authority, and not autonomy, with an unlimited Soviet exercise of the occupation regime and Soviet penetration of administrative, military and secret police structures.

From the 1950s as West Germany’s economy grew and its standard of living continually improved, many East Germans wanted to move to West Germany.

By 1960, the combination of World War II and the massive emigration westward left East Germany with only 61% of its population of working age, compared to 70.5% before the war.

The loss was disproportionately heavy among professionals—engineers, technicians, physicians, teachers, lawyers and skilled workers.

The direct cost of manpower losses has been estimated at $7 billion to $9 billion; with East German party leader Walter Ulbricht later claiming that West Germany owed him $17 billion in compensation, including reparations as well as manpower losses.

In addition, the drain of East Germany’s young population potentially cost it over 22.5 billion marks, in lost educational investment.

The Berlin Wall was more than 140 kilometres (87 miles) long. The construction of the concrete wall began on 15th August 1961.

During the construction of the Wall, the East Germany Army and Working Class combat soldiers, stood in front of it with orders to shoot anyone who attempted to defect.

Many families were split, while East Berliners employed in the West were cut off from their jobs; West Berlin became an isolated enclave in a hostile land.

The longtime leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker predicted in January of 1989 that year that the wall would stand for a hundred more years but resigned on October 18th, 1989, and by November 9th 1989 people had overwhelmed border-guards and crossed from east to west paving way for the unification of Germany.

The crossing was a result of a mistake though it was a climax of a decades- long chain of events.

The East German politburo decided on November 9, to allow refugees to exit directly through crossing points between East Germany and West Germany, including West Berlin.

Gunter Schabowski, a spokesperson for the politburo, had not been involved in the discussions about the new regulations.

Shortly before a press conference on November 9, he was handed a note that said that East Berliners would be allowed to cross the border with proper permission, but given no further instructions on how to handle the information.

When asked during the conference when the regulations would take effect, he answered “As far as I know effective immediately, without delay”.

West German television channel, ARD, broadcast information from the press conference thus “This ninth of November is a historic day.” (East Germany), “has announced that, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone.”

In face of the growing crowd, the border guards yielded, opening the checkpoints and allowing people through with little or no identity checking.

Ecstatic East Berliners were soon greeted by West Berliners on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. November 9 is thus considered the date the Wall fell. This year in the United States, the German Embassy coordinated a public diplomacy campaign with the motto “Freedom without Walls” to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Ironically it was in Berlin 105 years earlier, that the Berlin Conference (Kongokonferenz or “Congo Conference”) of 1884–85 convened by then Chancellor of Germany Otto von Bismarck at the request of Portugal, that partitioned Africa and divided it among European countries.

The divisions were arbitrary with no regard to Africans. Territories were parcelled out according to great rivers, lakes, mountains and latitudes or longitudes.

Consequently family, clans, relatives and ethnicities, were torn apart to create a patchwork of nations, which cannot communicate amongst themselves, except through a foreign language and whose nationalism does not go beyond tribal lines.

It is hard to tell an ethnic Rwandan in Rwanda from another from Uganda, Congo and Tanzania and yet they find their relatives across the invisible “Berlin Conference Walls”. Former Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori shares both parents with Ugandan minister Aggrey Awori.

Virtually all ethnic and linguistic groups in East Africa, and Africa as a whole, have relatives “across the border” which has been and will continue to be a source of conflicts.

The Ogaden question between Ethiopia and Somalia, the Zagawa support to kin in Darfur will continue to be a sticking point between Sudan and Chad, the Toureg problem in the Maghreb, the suffering of Banyamulenge in Congo and many other examples illustrate the lasting negative impact of the Berlin conference on Africa.

The time to tear down Africa’s Berlin Walls that separate Africans (in many cases it is a bridge over a stream or metallic barriers that separate relatives) may take long to come, because many criminals who rule Africa, have other things other than the interests of the countrymen at heart and would rather keep their positions as “big fishes in small ponds” but the time will come when Africans will say “we want unity”.

After all, many powerful forces stood against Germany unification; apart from the Communist GDR leadership and the Eastern bloc powers, many in the West opposed it.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, French President Francois Mitterand warned Thatcher, that a unified Germany could make more ground than Adolf Hitler ever had, and that Europe would have to bear the consequences.

In September, 1989, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pleaded with Soviet President Michael Gorbachev not to let the Berlin Wall fall and confided that she wanted the Soviet leader to do what he could to stop it. “We do not want a united Germany.

This would lead to a change to post-war borders, and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security.”