In 2017, I received an invitation from the Chancellor of Germany to attend a conference in Berlin on the subject of religious freedom in the world. I accepted the invitation and found myself in Berlin a few months later together with representatives from almost every country in the world. Because of the diverse nature of the religious population of the world, the diversity in terms of race, culture, dress, language and of course religion, was astonishing.
True to form, this unusual gathering of humanity was anything but united in their views of their faith or just about anything else. In fact, at some stage in the debates that raged in the Conference Hall, physical violence occurred. In the final analysis, there was, of course, no consensus, and it came as a shock to me, as a Protestant Christian from Africa, to discover that 75% of the countries in the world do not practice the fundamental human right of freedom of religious practice.
It was also my first direct contact with that remarkable politician, Angela Merkel who had been Chancellor of the German State for the previous 15 years. She made a passionate appeal to the body gathered in Berlin for religious tolerance in the world and the right of individuals to choose their faith. She also organized a social function to which we were invited and she mixed quite freely with the delegates without any apparent security.
Perhaps because I was from Zimbabwe, I was invited to a meeting at her office with the head of the department that dealt with African affairs. To my astonishment, the appointment was for 6:00 o’clock in the morning. I knew the Germans had a penchant for time keeping and arrived at quarter to six to find the PA to the official I was to meet on the pavement outside the Chancellery, waiting for my arrival.
The building was bustling with activity, and I was told that Mrs Merkle was already at work. It was a small glimpse into the inner workings of the German Government and to some extent, explained why the German State still leads Europe, both in terms of economic activity and political power.
Remarkably, it was not my first contact with the German leader. in 1989 I was involved in a formal visit to Germany at the invitation of the Government on a fact-finding tour with a small delegation, led by the then Minister of Home Affairs, Dumiso Dabengwa. We traveled throughout Germany, which had just been unified, and during our visit to the former East Germany, we were hosted by a young blonde woman who turned out to be Angela Merkel. She gave us lunch and showed us around the regional Headquarters of the East German Secret Service, known as the Stasi.
What we did not appreciate at the time was that she was the protege of the then German Chancellor, Helmut Koehl and that under his tutelage, she would rise through the ranks of the Christian Democratic Union to eventually become the Chancellor herself. She never talked about her personal faith, but I now know that she is the daughter of a Pastor who led a small Protestant congregation in East Germany throughout the period of dominance by the Communist Party.
There can be little doubt in my mind that her faith in Christ played a central role in her life throughout her time, growing up in the East and then during her dramatic rise through the ranks of the German power structure to become Head of State. Angie, as she is known throughout her home country, is not just a devoted Christian but also a highly educated scientist.
Right now, the world is celebrating her 17 years at the helm of this leading European State. In a recent 30-minute BBC tribute to her, it was clearly outlined how she had dominated not only European politics, but also much of the political life in the world today. This remarkable woman lived modestly close to the office in Berlin with a husband who was almost always invisible. She did her own shopping and, on most occasions, could be seen walking around with very little visible security precautions.
I was deeply saddened by the fact that the BBC made no mention of her faith or of the way it had guided her during her leadership. However, there is no doubt in my mind that underlying her success was an intellect which was always guided by her faith and the principles which emanated from a biblical world view. Such an understanding seems to be far from the media world of today which focuses on the peculiar and the permissive rather than principle and fundamentals.
A typical example of this was the view expressed during this tribute to her stance towards human migration. One of the features of her leadership was the period when Germany admitted into its ranks hundreds of thousands of migrants from areas of conflict around the world. Today, Germany has a population which reflexes the diversity of the world in which it operates. One wonders where Germany would be today without such an influx of migrant labor vitality and intelligence.
This brings me around to the issue of human migration in the 21st century. Images on TV of the tens of thousands of people desperately trying to get into the United States and into the European union. Here in Zimbabwe, we had a time during the Mugabe era when up to 500,000 people fled the country in a year because of violence, hunger and simply the complete lack of any kind of hope that’s some sort of future could emerge from the mess that we were in. I am told that at any one time, up to 200 million people are on the move around the world trying to leave their home countries for greener pastures.
Few commentators talk about the impact of such movements on the welfare of those countries that they leave behind. Not only are the migrants generally younger than the overall population, but they are also better educated and have skills. Another feature of migrants is that they are usually more entrepreneurial and highly motivated. A prime example is the Asian population of Uganda which fled the harsh regime of the regime in power at that time. Most migrated to Britain where they have become a major force for economic growth and development.
In our case, the migrants that fled Zimbabwe met all those criteria. We have a diaspora today which contains over 5 million working adults and you can find Zimbabweans in key positions all over the world. Nowhere is this more evidence in evidence than in South Africa and other regional States where Zimbabweans occupy thousands of posts at the top of the banking and professional class. Without our trained and experienced medical and teaching staff, many of these Ministries of Government in southern Africa and even in places like Britain, would have difficulty in meeting demand.
Here at home, it has meant that we have been deprived of these skills but also of the entrepreneurial energy they bring too many of the countries in which they are now resident. What I am seeing today, is that there is a steady stream of young people, whom I call a “third generation”, who have decided to follow their hearts and return home. They are bringing to our country resources in terms of knowledge, skills and energy which have begun to make a significant impact on our economy.
in Zambia two weeks ago, this generation made its mark in a landmark decision which will affect the country for many years to come. They turned out in their thousands to vote for new political leadership which promised a brighter future and seems to have the determination and the capacity to deliver.