When the curtain fell on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16-year rule at the helm of Germany, there was all-round applause not just in her country but around the world, for the woman whose achievements in office made her undoubtedly one of the greatest leaders of our contemporary world.
Born Angela Dorothea Kasner on 17th July 1954 in the north German city of Hamburg, the young Angela moved to the then Eastern Germany with her father who was given an appointment at the Lutheran Church where he served as a clergyman. She had her education in East Germany where she obtained a doctorate in Chemistry and worked thereafter as a research scientist.
Following the revolution that swept East Germany as a result of the collapse of the Communist order in Eastern Europe, she entered politics and served as the deputy spokesperson for the first democratically elected Government of East Germany under Lothar de Maiziere.
With the reunification of Germany in 1990, Merkel was first elected to the German Federal Parliament, the Bundestag representing the East German state of Mecklenburg Vorpormmen. From there, her political star rose steadily in the ensuing state of flux in Germany following the unification.
Fortuitously for Merkel, and for Germany, Europe and the world much later, she came into the favours of then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl who saw her as one of the few East German political figures untainted by the political stains of the communist past. With Chancellor Kohl’s firm prodding she became prominent in both the government and the ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), occupying ministerial as well as party positions on her steady trajectory to the top.
The climax came in 2005 when as leader of the CDU she became the German Chancellor at the head of a coalition of parties following the elections of that year in Germany. By that, Angela Merkel became the first female Chancellor in German history, a development which in many ways reflected the changing realities in German and European politics.
When Merkel was elected into the position, the question on the lips of observers of German politics was how long she would last in the often-tempestuous world of German politics exacerbated by lingering pains of the country’s past and the economic and social uncertainties of the unification.
The fact that she came from the former Communist part of Germany was both a minus and a plus for her. Many particularly in the rich, affluent western part of Germany thought her a novice who was only fortunate to have a political godfather. Others felt her ascension as chancellor represented a bridge linking a tortuous past and to a stable future. Germany stood a chance to move forward. And the fact that she was the first woman to become the chancellor added a positive accent to Germany’s political development and status in the world.
This is just as well. Merkel ruled for 16 years as the second longest ruling chancellor in modern times in Germany and presided over a period of momentous developments not only in her country but in Europe and the world as well. During her time as chancellor, the European Union forged full steam ahead with admission of new members mainly from the former eastern bloc and far-reaching monetary reforms with Germany as its powerhouse.
On the world stage, she championed the moves towards forming a coalition of countries to tackle the threat of climate change often in defiance against the unilateralist and negative positions of the United States of America (USA).
But perhaps the greatest accolades for Merkel were in her humanitarian postures towards the victims of the world’s brutal wars and in the programmes initiated under her watch to assist needy countries to tackle health and social issues. More than any country in the world, Germany took in millions of refugees from victims of the Syrian civil war, as well as Afghanistan and Iraqi conflicts even though the country was not a participant or directly responsible for the wars in those countries.
For us in Africa and specifically in Nigeria, Germany’s intervention has been in the area of providing technical assistance and in programmes like treating and stopping the spread of leprosy in the country. Germany too is presently involved in helping to improve the power infrastructure in the country through one of its well-known power engineering companies, Siemens.
As Angela Merkel proceeds to a life away from the glare of politics and into a less demanding life, we join her compatriots and the world at large in applauding this remarkable and unassuming woman who rose from humble origins to preside over the affairs of one of the most important countries in the world, leaving behind several achievements that have impacted positively in the world.