Africa Day 2017 Reception
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Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, Joe McHugh T.D.
I am delighted to be here with you today to celebrate Africa Day. Last year’s Africa Day reception was one of my first engagements as Minister of State for International Development, so it is a pleasure to be back with you again one year on with a little more knowledge of Africa.
Since then, I have visited Uganda and Kenya, and witnessed firsthand some of the ways Ireland and these countries are working together – in business, in development and in promoting intercultural awareness.
One of the most striking features of my visit was the huge contrast in conditions in the different areas. In Kampala and Nairobi, it was evident that there was rapid development, a thriving economy, and a vibrant business community ready to take advantage of these opportunities. But in rural areas, it was a very different world, where people were still struggling to meet basic food, health and education needs. In northern Uganda, I met with South Sudanese refugees, who had fled horrific violence, and were facing a very uncertain future.
We know that development rarely occurs evenly – either geographically or across income groups. Without careful planning, rapid development can result in equally rapid increases in inequality, injustice and social upheaval. Conflict and poor political leadership can quickly reverse past gains. If we are to live up to the central pledge of the Sustainable Development Goals – to leave no-one behind – we must all work together to ensure that the gains of development are evenly and justly spread.
Through our development programme, Irish Aid, Ireland will continue to partner with African governments and civil society to make the SDG pledge a reality. Our investments in sectors such as education, health, agriculture and governance are designed to support sustainable and just development in our partner countries. We also look forward to working together on the many global challenges we face – including climate change, migration and conflict.
Despite these challenges, there can be no doubt about the enormous potential of the African continent, driven by an ambitious and well-educated youth. I know that the African Union has dedicated 2017 to the theme of Investing in Youth, and that you will be hearing more on this topic this afternoon in Trinity College.
The importance of engaging and supporting our young people cannot be overstated. The policy choices we make today can either create a world full of promise, where young people can earn a decent income and fully participate in their society; or, create a world where no matter how hard young people work or what they sacrifice, their aspirations will always remain out of reach. We must strive to achieve the former – not least because, in an increasingly connected world where ideas and information are rapidly shared through social media, we know young people will not tolerate for long a failed system that does not put citizens’ rights at its centre.
I also serve as Minister of State for the Diaspora, and through this, have come to a renewed appreciation of the important role the diaspora plays in society. The African diaspora contributes so much to Ireland in terms of culture, business, music and broadening the horizons of our small island. In an ever more divided world, where certain groups are determined to divide people into an ‘us and them’, we must take every opportunity to celebrate the value of each others’ traditions and culture.
Indeed, it was wonderful to see the diversity and richness of African culture on display during the many events to mark Africa Day. These include the African film festival in Galway, an Africa Day celebration and family fun day in Cork, a ‘Beyond Africa’ seminar and football tournament in Limerick, an African business and trade fair in Kilkenny, and a ‘taste of Africa’ in Kildare.
We celebrated in Farmleigh last Sunday with the annual Irish Aid flagship Africa Day event, at which almost 20,000 people gathered to celebrate African culture and traditions. My family and I thoroughly enjoyed the day at Farmleigh, and I was impressed with the diversity of African culture that was represented on the day. I would in particular like to note that we welcomed the Sudanese Embassy’s participation in this year’s event for the first time.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our colleagues at the OPW, without whom our annual Africa Day celebration could not take place, and also mention the kind support of Dublin Bus in providing free shuttle bus transportation, supporting our commitment to hosting a sustainable event.
The African diplomatic community in Ireland is growing and we warmly welcome your active participation in this event and in forging mutually beneficial relationships between Ireland and African nations.
I hope that everyone here today had an opportunity to experience this year’s celebrations, and I wish you all the best for the remaining events. Happy Africa Day!