Calmy-Rey starts African tour
The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has arrived in South Africa on the first leg of an African tour, which will also take her to Mozambique.
It will be a trip of contrasts as Calmy-Rey makes her way from a country seen as setting economic standards in southern Africa to one of the world’s poorest nations.
Calmy-Rey’s visit to South Africa from February 19 to 21 is timely, coinciding as it does with the tenth anniversary of the end of apartheid.
The foreign minister’s engagements include meeting her South African counterpart, Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma, and opening the new Swiss embassy in Pretoria.
She is expected to address improving cooperation between Switzerland and South Africa, development issues, the situation of women in both countries and even the Swiss-backed Middle East peace proposal, the Geneva Accord.
After moving on to Mozambique from February 21 to 23, Calmy-Rey is set to discuss bilateral relations, development and peace projects with government ministers.
In Mozambique, Calmy-Rey will meet foreign minister Leonardo Santas Simão.
While the focus of this part of her trip will be on development, she is also scheduled to meet the country’s finance minister.
Accompanying her will be François Binder of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Head of the SDC’s East and Southern Africa division, Binder told swissinfo that the two countries on Calmy-Rey’s itinerary couldn’t be more different.
“South Africa is the driving force politically and economically in the sub-continent and Mozambique is very much a poor country - the difference exists in the assistance they receive from external donors,” he said.
External donors provide about one per cent of South Africa’s budget, whereas in Mozambique the figure is much higher. The latter depends on the international community for about 50 per cent of its routine budget and up to 75 per cent of its investment budget.
“This means that the international community has a lot more influence on Mozambique... [but] there is a risk that the government feels more accountable to the international community than towards its own people,” explained Binder.
The SDC’s own activities in Mozambique centre around poverty reduction; in South Africa, the Swiss agency has been helping the country in its transition from apartheid to a solid democratic regime.
Every year, Switzerland sends aid worth SFr35 million ($28.4 million) to Mozambique, making it one of the top-ten international donors to the African country.
Anne-Sophie Gindroz, the SDC’s programme officer for Mozambique, told swissinfo that one of its main schemes was trying to improve access to healthcare, seen as a key element in reducing poverty.
“We purchase medicines, as well as supporting the health infrastructure in rural areas by making money available [to ensure] that people in hospitals have food and have sheets on their beds,” Gindroz explained.
The SDC has been active in South Africa since 1994, covering areas such as governance, education, HIV/Aids and land affairs.
But plans are underway to change its approach to take advantage of South Africa’s uniqueness within Africa.
“We have seen the potential for a regional approach in southern Africa, so we will phase out the existing South Africa programme and make it part of a bigger regional programme,” Max Streit, the SDC’s programme officer for southern Africa, told swissinfo.
One Swiss-backed project in South Africa, which aims to improve psychosocial assistance to children affected by HIV/Aids in the family, is being replicated in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
Another example of the SDC encouraging regional cooperation occurred last year when Mozambique held local elections.
“There was a South African to help mediate on the risk of conflict during elections. It was very successful having someone coming in from outside Mozambique and sharing their views and experiences on election-related issues,” said Gindroz.
swissinfo, Faryal Mirza
Micheline Calmy-Rey’s five-day African tour takes place from February 19-23, 2004.
She will visit South Africa and Mozambique.
South Africa is an important trade partner for Switzerland - trade between the two amounted to SFr1 billion ($810 million) in 2002.
A number of Swiss businesses are active in South Africa employing 22,000 locals.
Switzerland is among the top ten donors to Mozambique, donating SFr35 million in aid every year.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has been working in Mozambique since 1979 and South Africa since 1994.
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