By Ambassador Gerry Gervin
LAST Tuesday Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore, launched Ireland’s new Africa Strategy at the first ever Africa–Ireland Economic Forum at the Smurfit School of Business in Dublin.
The Africa Strategy sets out a comprehensive framework for Ireland’s business, political and development relations with Africa, including the Kingdom of Lesotho, over the coming years.
The Africa-Ireland Economic Forum provided an opportunity for representatives of African governments and Irish business leaders to discuss trade and investment issues.
More than 140 of Ireland’s leading companies and diplomatic representatives from 20 different African countries, including Lesotho, participated in the forum.
The Tanaiste said: “Africa is among the world’s most rapidly growing economic regions, with a collective GDP to rival Brazil’s or Russia’s. Many African countries have a growing middle class and there is real progress in building health and education systems. Africans are building trade with each other and the world, and business opportunities are opening up.”
“Our Africa Strategy recognises that many African countries are mobilising domestic resources to drive their own development. However, it also acknowledges the substantial challenges that remain: that high growth rates do not automatically end poverty and that drought, population growth and conflict can set back progress.”
“We will continue to provide development to Africa to fight poverty and hunger and promote inclusive economic growth.
“Our long term aim is to end dependency on aid and build a new relationship with Africa based on politics, democracy and trade. It is not only right that we do so, it is in our interests as a country that needs to participate actively in the global economy.”
“Irish companies are well placed to play a greater role in meeting Africa’s increasing needs. To this end my department and our embassies across Africa — in close cooperation with our state agencies –—are committed to helping with the research, networking and the groundwork that can identify and facilitate two-way trade and investment. This forum is an early and concrete manifestation of that commitment.”
At the launch, McKinsey Global presented their comprehensive report, Lions on the Move: The Progress of African Economies, which shows that by 2020 Africa’s collective GDP will reach US$2.6 trillion, while the continent’s consumers will spend US$1.4 trillion on goods and services.
The Minister of State for Trade and Development, Jan O’Sullivan, who opened the Forum, said: “African countries have identified job creation, foreign direct investment, trade and private sector development as drivers of growth and development. For Ireland, this represents an unrivalled opportunity to build on 40 years of development cooperation work and move towards a relationship with African countries which incorporates sustainable two-way trade and development flows.”
“We are committed to doing this in a way that will benefit Irish and African businesses and complement the objectives of our aid programme.
This means supporting African countries’ independent development while making growth as inclusive as possible to ensure that it benefits all sectors of the community.”
Her Excellency Catherine Muigai Mwangi, Ambassador of Kenya and Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps in Ireland, delivered an address on opportunities for the Irish business sector in Africa.
This new Irish strategy will have a very positive impact on relations between Ireland and Lesotho.
As deputy prime minister pointed out in his address to the Forum we will continue to provide development aid to Africa, just as we currently do here through our Lesotho Country Strategy Programme.
In line with this new approach however the embassy here will be placing a greater emphasis on building a new relationship with Lesotho for the longer term based on sustainable two- way trade and investment flows which complement the objectives of our development cooperation programme.
There are existing successful examples of trade and business links. The challenge is to build on them and create new and sustainable trade relationships between the two countries.
Gerry Gervin is Ireland’s ambassador to Lesotho