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'Africa – the next 50 years'

Trade, Speeches, Ireland, Africa, 2013

‘Africa – the next 50 years’

Address by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore TD

to the RIA Conference on ‘The Changing Face of Africa’

Dublin, 31 May 2013


Excellencies, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,


I would like at the outset to thank and congratulate the Academy for organising this important event.


This month marks the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity, an institution which has now evolved to become the African Union.  It is timely therefore that during Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union we take the opportunity to assess the important relationship between the Europe and Africa and more broadly, to consider the challenges and opportunities that will shape the continent of Africa in the coming years.


The Presidency of the African Union Assembly is currently held by Ethiopia [and it is good to see our friend the Ambassador of Ethiopia at this event] and 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, but two enormously complex ideas – Freedom and Unity.  Fifty years on, it is useful to consider what are the prospects for their achievement?


In terms of attaining its freedom and independence, Africa has come a long way since 1963, when colonialism, though in decline, was still a reality in Africa.  32 countries attended the original OAU Summit 50 years ago, and their ranks did not include Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana or, of course, South Africa.  One of the last great barriers to African freedom was removed with the end of apartheid in South Africa and the coming to power in 1994 of a democratic Government in that country.    


Over the past two decades, we have also seen a positive trend towards democratisation across Africa more generally 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.  As recently as the 1980s, Freedom House, a US Think Tank, had concluded that only three African countries could be described as democratic states. 


But freedom is more than just the absence of colonialism, and democracy is more than just the holding of elections.  Many countries, including those where elections take place, remain captive to persistent problems of poverty, hunger and malnutrition; natural and man-made disasters; discrimination and inequality; conflict, violence and the abuse of human rights. While these challenges persist, Africa cannot be said to be truly living in freedom. 


African unity is also an unfinished project.  The African Union itself has made considerable progress.  Amongst its achievements is the role it has played in conflict resolution and peacekeeping in cases such as Sudan and South Sudan, and Somalia.  But successes such as these also reveal its main challenge - the fact that it has consistently been preoccupied with responding to conflicts and security threats, severely constraining the capacity and attention of the organisation to focus on economic integration and the promotion of inclusive development.   


Last Sunday, African leaders once again gathered in Addis Ababa to mark the 50th “Africa Day”.  Their Summit this year approved an ambitious and impressive Strategic Plan to build an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa.


In the Strategy, Africa’s leaders have identified the main challenges facing the continent and agreed that, for the continent to prosper, there are a number of priorities that they must pursue.  These include:


  • The acceleration of continental integration, including infrastructure development and intra-African trade;
  • enhanced agriculture production and addressing chronic food and nutrition
  • insecurity;
  • strengthened economic and political governance systems, enhanced democracy, rule of law and good governance;
  • consolidation of peace and security; and
  • developmental support for fragile States.


If these priorities are properly tackled, 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 of fulfilling its own potential over the next 50 years.


EU-Africa Relations


Ladies and Gentlemen,


The EU is Africa’s most important international partner.  It is the largest source of Foreign Direct Investment in Africa, the largest donor to African development cooperation programmes, and Africa’s largest trading partner.  This implies enormous opportunities, and also enormous responsibilities.


In April 2014, in Brussels, the EU and Africa will hold their next Summit meeting.  We will be renewing the EU-Africa Strategic Partnership to take account of the changes that have taken place since it was agreed in 2007, both in Europe and in Africa, and also in the broader global context.


Joint Africa Europe Strategy

Ireland is contributing actively to the internal EU discussion on these issues and to the dialogue between Europe and our African partners.  Our approach is based on a number of key principles.


  • Firstly, that Africa’s development must be owned by Africa. 


  • Secondly, that security and development in Africa are inseparably linked.  There cannot be development without security, and there will not be security without development


  • Thirdly, that the EU’s engagement with Africa should be based on a truly comprehensive and coherent approach which brings together, within an overarching framework, the different instruments of the EU Foreign and Security, and Defence Policies and should strive also to achieve coherence with the Union’s economic, trade, development and other policies that affect Africa. 


  • Fourthly, that our focus should be first and foremost on those same areas mentioned earlier that the Africans themselves have identified as their priorities – strengthened peace and security, support for fragile states and vulnerable communities, better political and economic governance and increased trade and economic integration. 


  • Finally, a true partnership is a prerequisite in our efforts to implement the Strategy.  This 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 UN and the WTO and in arrangements that include also other partners such as China and the other BRIC countries, and Turkey, the Gulf States, and Japan.


And this partnership, of course, should not only be focused on Africa-specific issues but on finding solutions to shared global challenges such as climate change, implementing the Millennium Development Goals, terrorism, piracy and international drug-trafficking and criminality.


Economic Partnership Agreements

At the same time as we are renewing the Joint Africa EU Strategic Partnership, the European Commission continues to lead negotiations with African regions to modernise our economic relations through Economic Partnership Agreements.   I am pleased that earlier this month, an Irish Presidency proposal led to EU Ministers agreeing to an extension of the timeframe for negotiation of these Economic Partnership Agreements until 1st October 2014.   Ireland has been supporting a flexible approach towards these Agreements to enhance growth, generate jobs and support African development needs and poverty reduction efforts.   The foreseen timeframe will allow for a renewed focus on the conclusion and implementation of Agreements compatible with World Trade Organisation rules.   It will also provide clarity and legal certainty for business people in African countries.   We are satisfied with the steady progress on these Agreements during our Presidency of the EU and look forward to reflecting further on this issue generally when Ireland co-chairs the EU-African Caribbean Pacific Council of Ministers next month.


Ireland’s Response


Africa Strategy

Ladies and gentlemen,


Twenty months ago I launched Ireland’s Africa Strategy to respond to the trends and changes in Africa.  This is now at the heart of our engagement with Africa.  It recognises the need to think beyond aid and to develop stronger political and economic links with Africa.  It has a strong focus not only on what we can do nationally and bilaterally, but what we do as members of the European Union and within the UN and other international bodies.   The Africa Strategy offers a strong platform for the contribution we will make in the future in areas such as political and diplomatic engagement with Africa, conflict prevention, democratisation, crisis management, human rights and governance.  It establishes a roadmap for the way in which the Government will support the development of our economic relationships with Africa and our engagement with the private sector, whose investment is so important to the achievement of inclusive and sustainable growth and job creation. 


One World, One Future

At the beginning of this month, the evolution of our policies took another major step forward when I launched the Government’s new Policy for International Development – One World, One Future.


While this policy is a global one, our programme is largely concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and once again, there is a strong alignment between Africa’s priorities and what we will focus on in our policy for the future.


The three clear goals of our development cooperation engagement are;

-                     To reduce hunger and strengthen resilience

-                     To support sustainable development and inclusive economic growth, and

-                     Improved governance, human rights and accountability


Some Specific areas of Future Focus


So, we have developed, in my view, a clear and robust policy framework to guide our engagement with Africa into the future and, as I have stressed, it is consistent both with what Africans themselves are identifying as priorities and the priorities also in the EU’s relations with Africa.


We will pursue these policies on a whole-of-Government basis and through a range of domestic, regional and international and global partnerships, working with civil society, the private sector, partner governments, regional and international organisations and other actors.


For the final part of my address, I would like to refer briefly to some specific policy areas and outline some concrete examples of how we are translating them into actions now and into the future.


Focus on fragility

One of the priorities of the new development policy is the shift in emphasis towards fragile states. Although most developing countries are fragile in some way, ‘fragile states’ explicitly implies countries where the government does not have the capacity to deliver basic services to its people.


By their nature, fragile or conflict-affected states pose particular challenges in terms of risk and meeting development targets.  Few of the states considered by the international community to be fragile or conflict-affected are currently on track to meet any of the MDGs; however, by 2015, half of those surviving on less than USD 1.25 a day will be living in these situations.


A key point at issue for donors, including Ireland, is the need for greater coherence in the way we collectively respond to such situations.  Effective international partnerships are necessary to pull them out of low-development – high-conflict traps. The “New Deal on Fragile States” announced in November 2011 at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, aims to foster such partnerships.  Ireland is one of 40 countries that have signed up to the New Deal.  The pilot countries for the approach include a number of African countries, namely the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and South Sudan. 


In keeping with the New Deal commitments, the long-term vision for Ireland’s engagement in situations of conflict and fragility in the future will be to help national actors to build effective, legitimate, and resilient state institutions, capable of engaging productively with their people to promote sustained development.  Ireland’s engagement in Sierra Leone and Liberia demonstrates the real value we can add in how we support the recovery efforts and successful transition of countries emerging from conflict or significant and protracted humanitarian crises.  


As the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Dlamini Zuma, has put it on many occasions, we cannot have development without peace and we cannot have peace without development.  


Conflict Resolution Initiatives in Africa.


Nelson Mandela famously said that if you want to make peace with your enemy you must work with him and make him your partner. 


Ireland knows well the value of such an approach and has long been committed to conflict resolution efforts in Africa.  We are supporting a number of innovative programmes, including the "Women at the Peace Table" initiative, which seeks to ensure that highly skilled women mediators will be available to play a role in future peace negotiations throughout the African continent.


I have also approved funding for two specific initiatives this year in support of mediation efforts in the Great Lakes region. As you will be aware, a Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region, was signed on the 24th of February.  It offers the potential for a sustainable peace in the DRC and the region.  In order to progress implementation, and encourage the participation of women in this process, two conferences will take place this summer, which will be funded in part by the Irish Government.  These events will be organised with the involvement of the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General for the Great Lakes region, former President Mary Robinson.  


The first event will be a high level conference on Women and Peacebuilding in the Great Lakes region at UN Headquarters in New York on the 4th of June, with the participation of Special Envoy Mary Robinson, US Special Representative for Sexual Violence Zainab Bangura, and other high-level participants. 


The second event will be held in July.  Around 100 women leaders and representatives from the region will come together in Burundi to develop a road map for women’s engagement in the peace process.


Crisis Management



In 2010, we marked another significant 50th anniversary – that of Ireland’s first contribution to UN peacekeeping operations.  The deployment of a contingent from the Defence Forces to the UN Operation in the Congo was both Ireland’s first experience of a major peacekeeping mission, and the UN’s first effort to maintain peace in Africa.  Today Ireland participates in three of the eight UN missions in Africa - in the MONUSCO mission in the DRC, in the Ivory Coast and in Western Sahara.  We have also taken part in a number of EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operations, including EUFOR Chad in 2008-2009, and the ongoing EU Training Missions in Somalia and Mali.  Indeed, the training mission in Somalia is commanded by an Irish Brigadier General, Gerald Aherne.


We do so with the benefit of the experience, including some very hard lessons, of over five decades of continuous contribution to international peacekeeping.  Ireland is no longer in a position to contribute numbers of peacekeepers on the scale on which we did in 1960, nor do we need to do so. 

What Ireland can contribute to the future development of Africa’s peace and security architecture, and more to the point what the UN and the EU seek from us, is the expertise of highly trained professional peacekeepers, and support for active involvement of the regional organisations on which the UN is increasingly reliant for leading its peacekeeping operations.


African countries have shown that they are willing and able to make an important contribution to UN peacekeeping missions.

Increasingly, the African Union and regional organisations such as the Economic Community of West African States are taking the lead in maintaining peace and security in Africa and in meeting the many security challenges which the continent faces. Indeed, this was the theme of a successful seminar hosted by the Irish Presidency in Dublin Castle in February.


For our part, the EU and Ireland are playing a key role in ensuring that peacekeepers are properly trained and in integrating issues such as respect for human rights and humanitarian law, the protection of civilians and the gender dimension of conflict into peacekeeping operations.


Ireland has already made a significant contribution to the training of African security forces through participation in the EU missions and on a bilateral basis with the Ugandan police.  We have also actively sought to develop the role the EU plays in support of UN peacekeeping missions, including during our EU Presidency. 


Human Rights


In 2012, Ireland was elected for the first time to the UN Human Rights Council.   Through our membership, we will seek to play our part in ensuring that the international community continues to address pressing human rights issues and concerns around the world and in Africa, such as the current situation in Mali and the DRC, and provide support where it is needed, such as to the Somali Government and people in their efforts to rebuild their country.


In addition at the Council, we will look to build on our valued and longstanding partnership with Africa, including with our Key Partner Countries, so as to advance our human rights priorities, including human rights defenders, the protection of civil society, and the tackling of infant mortality.


Linking Irish Innovation and Solutions to Africa


As well as these important areas of development, peace and security and human rights, we will also continue to focus on our bilateral economic links.


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.


Our Africa Strategy aims to promote balanced two-way economic exchanges, and we will step up efforts to advance targeted engagement between the Irish business sector and African counterparts.


South Africa is one of the 27 priority countries in our global trade strategy and will continue to be a high priority in this context.  Minister of State Joe Costello will lead a further trade mission to South Africa in November, following on from the success of South Africa week which took place here in Ireland in April.


Minister of State Costello will also lead a trade mission to West Africa later this year - the first such mission in many decades – underlining our strengthened engagement with the West African region, with Nigeria at its heart.


Ireland is already well represented down the eastern side of Africa and when I visited Nairobi last July it was to further develop our relations with a country which is at the economic heart of that region.  


My Department will be conducting a review of our network of missions, diplomatic accreditations and Honorary Consulates in Africa to ensure that it is fit for purpose for the new priorities that we will be pursuing.


Refreshing our diplomatic and consular network will better enable us to work even more closely and supportively with Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and the other economic agencies to build the connections and knowledge base that will help us to develop sustainable two-way business links in the years and decades ahead. 


Another important element of this strategy is the Africa Ireland Economic Forum, and I am pleased to announce today that the 3rd Africa Ireland Economic Forum will take place on the 3rd of October, once again with valued collaboration of the UCD Smurfit Business School and the resident African Embassies in Dublin.  This year the Africa Ireland Forum is being organised back-to-back with the Global Irish Forum meeting in Dublin, underlining the growing importance of Africa as an emerging trading partner for the Irish private sector. I look forward to welcoming you all at what promises to be an exciting event.




Ladies and gentlemen,


Africa has made huge progress over the last 50 years, but much unfinished business remains, and some of the challenges that have emerged since then could not have even been foreseen by those who gathered in Addis Ababa on that May morning in 1963.  I am optimistic about the future of Africa, but it is essential that the international community, including the EU and Ireland, continue to support the positive dynamics in Africa – such as real inclusiveness and plurality, gender equality, wider respect for human rights and peaceful dialogue, balanced and integrated economic growth – and counter the destabilising forces of corruption, discrimination, violence and extremism.  We must never be defeatist and we must always be ambitious.  Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, who helped transform Liberia from a hell on earth to a healing society in just a few short years, provides a good example of what can be achieved if real commitment and political will is present.  Her motto has always been ‘if your dreams do not scare you, then they are not big enough’.  Africans such as Sirleaf Johnson must continue to dream big dreams, and we must help them have the courage to do so.


Thank you