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Keynote Address at the Third Africa Ireland Economic Forum

Ireland and Africa – Building Partnerships. Keynote Address by An Tánaiste at the Third Africa-Ireland Economic Forum, UCD Smurfit School of Business, 3 October 2013

Honourable Ministers


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Friends from Ireland, from Africa and from elsewhere,


It is a very great pleasure and honour to address the 2013 Africa Ireland Economic Forum. It is wonderful to have so many representatives from the Irish private sector here, from over 200 companies, to discuss opportunities for trade and investment in Africa.  I would like to offer a particular “Céad Míle Failté” - one hundred thousand welcomes – to the delegates who have travelled from Africa to join us for this event. We have representatives from over 20 countries right across the continent of Africa here today, and you are all very welcome to Dublin.

The theme of this year’s Forum is “Building Partnerships” and this event is the result of a close and dynamic partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the resident African Ambassadors in Dublin and the UCD Smurfit Graduate School of Business.  I would like to thank the Dean of the Business School, Professor Ciarán O hÓgartaigh, and all the faculty members and students who are hosting us today. I would also like to thank the Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps in Dublin, Ambassador Anas Khales of the Kingdom of Morocco, and the resident African Ambassadors for their contribution to this event.

Before I get to the business of the day, I would to take this opportunity to offer condolences of behalf of the Irish Government to our friend the former Kenyan Ambassador, Catherine Mwangi, who has been so tragically and personally affected by the horrific attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi on 21 September.  Ambassador Mwangi opened the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya here in Dublin in 2007 and returned to Nairobi just last August.  In the intervening six years she helped shape a more positive and forward looking image of Kenya and of Africa here in Ireland – an image that I believe will endure and grow despite the act of terrorism we witnessed in Nairobi.

Catherine has been a key driving force behind this Forum since 2011 and was instrumental in bringing about my own visit to Nairobi last year to progress our bilateral relations and to identify opportunities for greater trade.

As a mark of solidarity with the people of Kenya, and in memory of Catherine’s son Mbugua Mwangi and his fiancée Rosemary Wahito, I am pleased to announce today a special scholarship, called the Mwangi Business Scholarship, which will provide a fully funded place each year for the next three years for an African business woman on the prestigious UCD Masters in Business Administration programme. The MBA scholarship will be jointly funded by the UCD School of Business and by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Just two years ago we held the first Africa Ireland Economic Forum here at the Smurfit School of Business, and at that event I launched my Department’s Africa Strategy. I did so because I believed it was time to turn a new page in our relationship with Africa.

Over the last number of years we have witnessed a period of enormous economic, social and political change across the world. In Ireland, and much of the western world, we continue to grapple with the consequences of the financial crisis.  At the same time, developing economies are becoming key drivers of global economic growth.  Africa, in particular, is generating remarkable economic growth and, according to the International Monetary Fund, will have the fastest-growing economy of any continent over the next five years.  Trade between Africa and the rest of the globe is growing rapidly, increasing by 200 per cent between 2000 and 2011.

Indeed, trade between Ireland and Africa is also growing at a remarkable pace – perhaps best illustrated by examples like South Africa, where Irish companies currently employ 12,000 people and Irish agri-food exports grew by 29 percent in 2011. According to the Irish Exporters Association total exports of Irish goods and services reached €2.7billion last year – an increase of 200% since 2009. And those exports are expected to hit €24billion by 2020.

And with this growth, Africa now plays a stronger role on the world stage.  Last May marked the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity, an institution which has now evolved to become the African Union.  We marked the anniversary in Ireland with a series of events, culminating with an Africa Day celebration on the 26th of May in Farmleigh in Dublin which attracted more than 32,000 people.  

The Presidency of the African Union Assembly is currently held by Ethiopia and I am delighted that the Minister for Agriculture of Ethiopia is joining us at this event today. It was an Ethiopian, the then Emperor Hailie Selassie, who at the first African Summit in Addis Ababa in May 1963, summed up the objectives of the Organisation of African Unity in two short words – Freedom and Unity. 

Fifty years on, Africa has come a long way in terms of breaking free from colonialism and establishing its independence. Over the past two decades in particular, we have seen a positive trend towards democratisation across Africa with more countries changing governments peacefully, through elections.  In a recent analysis of the state of democracy in Africa, the Economist Intelligence Unit characterised 22 countries on the Continent as broadly democratic.  Contrast this with the 1980s when only three African countries were described as democratic states. 

But freedom is more than just the absence of colonialism. Economic sovereignty is an essential aspect of any nation’s freedom and, while poverty and hunger persists, Africa cannot be said to be truly living in freedom. If you ask people in emerging economies what they want, their top priority will almost always be a job. Sustainable, secure jobs give people in the emerging economies the chance to work their way out of poverty; the chance to provide for their families and to end a dependency on aid. It gives everybody the chance to be part of the global economy.

At the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa last May, African leaders approved an ambitious and impressive Strategic Plan to build an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. At the heart of the plan lie a number of commitments, including the acceleration of intra-African trade; enhanced agriculture production and addressing chronic food and nutrition needs; and strengthened economic and political governance systems.

If these priorities are properly pursued, Africa will be in a position to put itself on a sustainable footing and, with the support of the international community, will have every chance realising its ambitious objectives. 

In that same speech I referred to earlier, in May 1963, Hailie Selassie, referring to Africa’s colonial history said that ‘Africa was the market for the produce of other nations and the source of the raw materials with which their factories were fed.’  This characterisation of the nature of the African economy in the 19th century still has some resonance, and helps to remind us of the need for more balanced economic relationships.

In our engagement with our European Union partners, we have been pressing for true partnership between the EU and Africa. Partnership is a much-hackneyed word, but we must genuinely understand it and put it to work.  We must move away from the donor-recipient relationship and towards one of cooperation and collaboration, between regions, between countries, in international fora such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation and in arrangements that include other partners such as China and the other BRIC countries, Turkey, the Gulf States, and Japan.

We also know that the pace and extent of development across Africa is not uniform and that some countries and communities are benefiting more than others. Economic growth alone will not solve ingrained problems of poverty and hunger.  Serious inequalities persist in many regions, and we and our partners will continue to play a leading role in the concerted effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to create a new framework for international development post-2015.  Through the new Irish Aid policy “One World, One Future” which I launched earlier this year, we will continue to prioritise the fight to eradicate poverty and hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, through our own Irish Aid programme, and through our engagement in the European Union, the UN and elsewhere.

Importantly, we are demonstrating that the pursuit of these goals is compatible, coherent and indeed interdependent with the priorities of global economic stability, growing international trade and investment flows and improving Ireland’s own trade and investment relationships worldwide.    

Africa Strategy

My Department’s Africa Strategy is now at the heart of our bilateral engagement with Africa.  It recognises the need to develop stronger political and economic links with Africa. More than ever before, Irish businesses are looking overseas for new markets and new opportunities. As a Government, we are committed to helping business in every way we can, by pursuing competitive policies at home and providing support to Irish companies overseas through our Embassy network and the State agencies.

Over the last two years we have restored stability to our economy. We have regained the trust of the markets and our international partners and we will exit, successfully, from our EU/IMF programme later this year.  The difficult decisions we have made and the policies we have implemented are working. We achieved a second successive year of growth in 2012 and, at last, there are some positive signs on the labour market, with 3,000 jobs now being created in the private sector every month.  Significant challenges remain, but Ireland is emerging from the crisis.

Let me share some practical examples of what we have been doing since we launched the Africa Strategy two years ago – the Government has opened the first Enterprise Ireland office, to support Irish exporters, in Africa, and we have enhanced the trade-support capacity of our network of Embassies across the continent. We have held successful trade missions to South Africa, and next month will see Minister of State Costello lead our first ever trade mission to Nigeria. We have partnered with the private sector, NGOs and multilateral bodies on important development challenges such as tackling hunger. And we are working with educational institutions such as UCD to offer greater educational opportunities to young African students in the form of fellowships.

Bord Bia and the Irish Exporters Association are both now finalising their own Africa Strategies. We have developed the innovative Africa Agri-Food Development Fund in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. And we are working with the Irish Business organisation IBEC to develop structures to assist Irish businesses in winning tenders in Africa, particularly in the areas of engineering, energy and forestry.  


Ladies and Gentlemen,

As many of you know, 2013 is the year of the Gathering in Ireland, during which people from all around the world with an Irish link are encouraged to visit and renew their connection with Ireland. It is fitting, therefore, that at today’s Forum we will have an opportunity for a debate and sharing of views on diaspora communities.  

Three simple statistics highlight the vital importance of diaspora engagement:

Today, one out of every 33 people in the world is a migrant. At current rates, there could be 405 million international migrants by 2050. And, in 2009, remittances were three times greater than the total amount spent on official development aid.

These numbers are vast and the economic impact is so significant that governments and the business sector ignore them and their potential at their peril.  Few countries have the same history of emigration as we have here in Ireland. The emigrant experience has influenced who we are as a people and how we interact with the world. 

This history has created a global Irish diaspora of 70 million people, with some 44 million people in the United States alone describing themselves as being of Irish descent.  

Ireland’s relationship with its Diaspora is enshrined in our Constitution, which states that “the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.”

This constitutional commitment has underpinned an active Diaspora support and engagement policy by Government in Ireland over recent years.  Diversity is the hallmark of most Diasporas. The ‘Irish abroad’ includes well-assimilated communities in Britain, North America where we have fourth and fifth generation Irish, to new communities in the Middle East, Asia and, indeed, Africa, to recently-departed graduates and professionals who are mobile and quite capable of living anywhere in the world.

How we can best engage with diaspora communities in support of economic development will be a key focus of our discussions at this Forum here today.

In 2009, Ireland added a new element to its own Diaspora engagement by hosting the first Global Irish Economic Forum. And, over the next few days, we will host our third such Forum in Dublin, bringing together more than 300 senior Irish and Irish-connected business people, most of whom are based overseas, to leverage their experience, advice and expertise in support of Ireland’s economic renewal.  

No doubt today’s discussion will lead to other, similar ideas that can be applied with great effect elsewhere.


But let me conclude by returning to the theme of today’s Forum - “Building Partnerships”. I am enormously positive about Ireland’s partnership with a dynamic and growing Africa. I believe our relationship with Africa will play a greater role in the future we are building for our country and its people.  I am therefore delighted to be part of this ‘Gathering’ today and look forward to hearing the outcomes from this important Forum.