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Thursday, 24 May 2012

Africa Day: Discussion with African Ambassadors to Ireland.

We will have a statement from the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello, followed by discussion with our African ambassadors. I am delighted to welcome all of our distinguished guests to today's meeting to discuss Africa Day, which will be celebrated across Ireland over the next few days. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Joe Costello. I also welcome the six African ambassadors to Ireland who are with us today and thank them for coming in on this nice warm day. We have with us today: HE Ms Catherine Muigai Mwangi, ambassador of the Republic of Kenya and dean of the African ambassadors; Mr. Anas Khales, ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco; HE Mr. Azwindini Jeremiah Nduo, ambassador of the Republic of South Africa; HE Mr. Paramente Phamotse, ambassador of the Kingdom of Lesotho; HE Mrs. Lela-alem Gegreyohannes Tedia, ambassador of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; and HE Mr. Felix Yusufu Pwol, ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They are all very welcome and I hope I got their names almost correct.

The meeting between this committee and the resident ambassadors has been scheduled in order to mark Africa Day on 25 May, the anniversary of the establishment of the African Union and the day designated by African leaders to highlight African unity. It also provides an opportunity to consider the Government's African strategy, which was launched in September 2011. The African strategy aims to provide a framework for a coherent approach to Ireland's political development and business relations with African countries, both bilaterally and through the EU and UN. I welcome everybody and I am delighted they are here to highlight the establishment of the African Union. When members of this committee travelled to Ethiopia late last year, we had the privilege of meeting the Chairman of the Commission of the African Union, Mr. Ping, and we had an hour-long discussion with him. It was a privilege to have that meeting.

Before we move to the contributions of the ambassadors, I will invite the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, to make an introductory statement on Africa Day. I thank him for coming to make his statement. He has another appointment as soon as he has made his statement, so we will excuse him then to attend that.

I thank the Chairman, our distinguished ambassadors and the members of the committee. I am delighted to be here today to mark Africa Day, which is becoming an embedded occasion on our calendar. This year it will extend over a whole weekend in Dublin and will be celebrated largely in my constituency area and that of Senator Norris and on Georges Dock. Africa Day will also be celebrated in all the major cities of this country. This celebration has become a major event and is an opportunity for Africa to show a positive face in terms of culture, dress, food and activity and is an opportunity for us to engage with the African diaspora in Ireland. I and the Department of Foreign Affairs are very happy to be associated with that. The Chairman will recall that when we were here last week, he indicated that it would be worth while if, now and again, Ministers came to the relevant committees when they had announcements to make rather than make them everywhere else but in this House. I will take the opportunity at times to respond to that request.

Ireland has a long and proud relationship with Africa, built on solid missionary foundations, nurtured through several decades of effective development assistance and now maturing through the prism of development co-operation, trade and investment. Some 80% of Irish official development assistance continues to be channelled to the African continent. Thanks in part to this sustained support, many of our partner countries in sub-Saharan Africa have made enormous progress in tackling the challenges they face and have worked hard to meet the millennium development goals.

Today, indeed, there is a lot to celebrate. Many countries in Africa, previously mired in poverty, are experiencing rapid economic growth and developing faster than ever before. With our assistance, there are now 46 million more children in school in Africa than ten years ago. There are 15 million more children alive today than ten years ago, thanks largely to a targeted and widespread vaccination programme, which Ireland has supported. While remaining committed to helping to tackle poverty and inequality and to making a real and lasting difference to the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Africa, the Government is therefore eager to strengthen our overall engagement in the continent and to take a fresh look at ways in which both we and our African partners can benefit from the opportunities involved.

In recognition of these new and exciting opportunities, last year saw the launch of our new Africa strategy at the first ever Africa-Ireland economic forum at the Smurfit School of Business in Dublin. This has been welcomed in Ireland and, perhaps more importantly, it has been welcomed enthusiastically by our African partners. Sadly, however, and in spite of the huge progress which has undoubtedly been achieved, some African countries continue to face considerable challenges, including food insecurity, poverty and protracted conflict.

I wish to focus my brief remarks today on two such challenging situations, namely, the food security crisis now facing the people of the Sahel and the growing humanitarian crisis in the Sudan, both of which I know are issues of great concern to the members of this committee. When our Department was on oral questions earlier this week I answered approximately 20 questions on these areas alone. I also want to outline some aspects of our current response to these two crises and to take the opportunity of this meeting with the committee and the ambassadors to announce a number of additional funding commitments.

I will begin by briefly touching upon the humanitarian situation in the Sahel region of west Africa, where 50 million people in Niger, Mauretania, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal are now struggling to obtain enough food to eat. In one of the poorest parts of the continent, this year's disappointing rainy season has worsened an already difficult situation considerably. At the same time, the conflict in northern Mali has resulted in 2,000 people being displaced from their homes, with many forced to flee across the border into neighbouring countries whose own populations are themselves facing the full brunt of the current food crisis. Mindful of the potentially huge needs involved, earlier this year moved quickly to mobilise emergency funding for agencies operating in the region, authorising an initial allocation of €5 million in support. These funds, which were made available to a range of key UN, Red Cross and NGO partners, are already helping to save lives on the ground. However, the situation in many areas of the Sahel continues to worsen, with the United Nations warning of a potentially catastrophic food, nutrition and refugee emergency. Given the rapidly deteriorating situation and the very real race against time, I have authorised an additional €4 million in support for the relief operation. This funding will be provided for UN agencies such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF, as well as for key NGO partners with a track record in the region and an ability to deliver food, nutrition and emergency health care to those most in need. Additional support of over €250,000 will also be granted to agencies providing vital water and sanitation services for those displaced by the conflict in Mali.

The situation in Sudan has garnered significant attention from Members of the Houses and the wider public in recent weeks. I would like to focus, in particular, on the humanitarian situation in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, where an estimated 350,000 civilians have been severely affected by fighting and access for aid agencies remains extremely limited. Humanitarian needs remain massive over the border in the new nation of South Sudan, with extreme poverty compounded by insecurity in the border areas with the north and internally. We have responded generously to these twin crises through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with the Irish Aid programme providing €2 million for the UN managed common humanitarian funds for both countries. In addition to these funds, I subsequently authorised a further allocation of over €1 million for several of our NGO partners operating in south Sudan. However, with the situation worsening in many areas of the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan, further support is urgently required. For this reason, I announce that I plan to make available an additional €3 million in funding for humanitarian operations in Sudan and South Sudan, to be channelled, once again, through the UN managed common humanitarian funds for the two countries.

I am aware that there is much interest among Members in the issue of access by NGOs in Sudan and South Sudan. We will continue to raise this issue at EU level and in other international fora. Through our efforts at EU level, in particular, Ireland is active in supporting efforts to ensure humanitarian access to those in need and pushing for a resolution to the conflict.

My wish is that Ireland's relationship with the continent of Africa will continue to grow and evolve. I hope that in the long term our connection will be based on trade rather than aid and celebrating cultural diversity, rather responding to humanitarian crises. Until such time, however, the continent will, unfortunately, still require our development assistance. Today's announcement of humanitarian funding is intended as a tangible signal of our ongoing concern to ensure the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are met.

I again thank the committee for inviting me and providing me with the opportunity to make this presentation.

I sincerely thank the Minister of State for coming to make this very important announcement. I asked him about it last week and he has responded rapidly. We deeply appreciate his presence, with all of the African ambassadors, to make the announcement of €3 million in humanitarian aid for Sudan and South Sudan and €4 million in additional support for the people of the Sahel and €250,000 in humanitarian aid for Mali. The committee has been vocal on this issue and received a number of guests to talk about it. Bishop Gassis was here a few weeks ago. We travelled to that region in Ethiopia, on the border with South Sudan, to see for ourselves at first hand the refugees coming to the Tongo refugee camp. We know that the Minister of State has another commitment to fulfil. I am sure committee members will make comments on his presentation during questions to the ambassadors and that his officials will note what they will have to say. We will excuse him and wish him well with the celebrations for Africa Day.

Thank you very much, Chairman.

Before I invite our guests to make their presentations, I advise them that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to this committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease making remarks on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their remarks. They are directed that only comments connected with the subject matter of these proceedings are to be made and asked to respect the parliamentary practice that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a Member of either House of the Oireachtas, a person outside them or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I now invite the dean of African ambassadors, Ambassador Muigai Mwangi, to address the committee. She is very welcome.

I must leave in about five minutes to chair the proceedings in the House. I apologise to our guests.

That is fine.

H.E. Ms Catherine Muigai Mwangi

It will be quite a challenge to be brief about development on a continent as big as Africa, but I will try.

The group of African ambassadors is delighted to have the opportunity to appear before the committee to share with it a broad overview of developments on our continent. There are seven resident African embassies in Ireland and I am delighted to confirm that six ambassadors are present. Apologies have been sent by the ambassador of Egypt. Members will, therefore, have the opportunity to engage in discourse with them. Please allow me to begin, on behalf of the group, by thanking committee members for their great interest in and strong support for Africa. In attending other hearings we have witnessed vibrant debate on development issues in Africa and clear and determined support for the provision of Government development and humanitarian aid funding. At a time of austerity, this is very commendable on the part of the committee and the Irish people.

This week we celebrate Africa Day to mark the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union. We remind ourselves of the vision and dreams of its founding fathers and mothers, to stand united in the fight for total liberation of the continent. Africans have since made steady progress, especially in democratisation, economic development and conflict resolution. However, much remains to be accomplished and many of the gains remain fragile, but now, more so than at any other time in the continent's collective history, the fate of Africa is in the hands of the African people.

The African Union is central to discussions on Africa. It is an organisation which seeks to improve the quality of life of all Africans through political, economic and social integration, co-operation and development. It strives to promote unity, solidarity, cohesion and co-operation among African states and their peoples. It serves as an enabling vehicle for the development of new and stronger partnerships worldwide in Africa's quest for sustainable development that will eradicate poverty and bring Africa into the global economy. It has far-reaching plans to set up a human rights court, a central bank, a monetary fund and, by 2023, an African Economic Community with a single currency.

Africa is home to many diverse nations. We are proud nations with a deep culture and values and have come a long way together. Today there are fewer wars then ever before in our continent's history. The demand for improved governance means that dictators can no longer survive. The people across the continent are demanding democratic governance. The wave of pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East and north Africa, also known as the Arab spring, has changed the political landscape of northern Africa and forged new bonds between north African neighbours and possibly beyond. As events unfolded, we witnessed how north African youth voiced its legitimate claims and aspirations for a better future that entails more democracy, human rights and good governance, as well as equitable socio-economic development. All these events have enabled the emergence of new leaders and could even be seen as a positive step towards the activation of the Arab Maghreb Union. Consequently, on 18 February 2012, Morocco hosted a meeting of Arab Maghreb Union foreign ministers, their first meeting in 18 years. Today, more than 20 years since its creation, and amid profound political changes in the region, the Arab Maghreb Union could well find a new impetus and finally become a strong and viable political and regional entity. It is Morocco's belief that a strong Arab Maghreb Union would have a great impact on the economy of the region and also on Africa as a whole.

As we speak, Egypt is making history as it decides on its leader for the first time. There are also many African countries that have managed to hold free and fair elections. They have made serious reforms to institutionalise accountability and good governance. Many have an independent judiciary and can hold their governments and the executive to account.

It would be our wish that such would be the situation in other troubled spots in Africa. Somalia is a country on the brink, a victim of long conflicts with very deep problems. Tension is building along the border of the Sudan and the newly-established South Sudan, just when it was hoped that this problem was now in the past. Guinea Bissau is grappling with the effects of a coup d’état staged last month. The Democratic Republic of Congo remains challenged and the situation in Zimbabwe continues to be precarious.

In the area of economic growth, Africa has made commendable progress. Our countries are working on our procedures to ensure that African countries have the most accessible environment for business. A strong investment climate is essential to attract business. We are reducing the red-tape and bureaucracy in almost every country. We are developing stronger economic policies. Black markets are virtually a thing of the past. There is better balance between the state and the private sector. We work with partners to manage aid in a more transparent manner. We have also resolved the crippling debt situation and this has created space for growth. Across Africa the debt burden is significantly lower than it was even ten years ago. As a result, some of our countries are among the fastest growing economies in the world, with Ghana at 12%, Ethiopia at 10%, and Mozambique, Angola and Botswana all at 7%. The Kingdom of Morocco ranks first in terms of investments in west Africa which shows its effective commitment to upgrading and developing the economic networking of the continent's countries.

The other area of focus for Africa is developing intra-Africa trade which remains low compared with other regions at around 10%. By comparison, intra-Asia is about 52%, intra-Latin America about 26% and the figure is much higher for intra-Europe trade. Identified as critical in hindering intra-Africa trade is the lack of regional transport infrastructure including ports, rail, road, as well as strengthening trade facilitation.

Some regions have begun to address this and good examples are Ethiopia and Kenya which have made huge investment into revamping their infrastructure. The impressive infrastructural investment which Ethiopia has made on energy, road, rail and communications, stretches well beyond its borders. The railway connection between Ethiopia and Djibouti and power transmission line projects that connect Ethiopia with Kenya and Sudan, are estimated to cost $3.52 billion. Large hydropower projects are also currently under construction which will enable Ethiopia export power to Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti and other countries. One of these projects includes the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, with an installed capacity of 6,000 MW, from which neighbouring states will also benefit.

The Lamu port and Lamu southern Sudan-Ethiopia transport corridor, is a transport and infrastructure project in Kenya that aims to improve access and connectivity between Kenya, Southern Sudan and Ethiopia as well as to stimulate economic activity in the northern and eastern parts of Kenya. Regional economic communities also play a critical role to promote intra-Africa trade through integration. Currently, there are eight regional economic communities recognised by the African Union. One such is the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, with 15 member states.

Of interest to this committee is that ECOWAS has expressed optimism about the prospect of concluding the ongoing negotiation of an economic partnership agreement with the European Union that will define trade relations between the two communities for the next 25 years. It will be recalled that the negotiations commenced in 2004 with the hope that they would be concluded by 2007. However, that has not been the case for several reasons: west Africa's demand for substantial EU funding to finance an infrastructure development programme to improve the competitiveness of the region's economy; the need to ensure sustainable and gradual liberalisation to safeguard the region's tax revenue, its development capacity and to avoid a reversal of the recent regional integration achievements; to maintain the policy space required to promote trade with other trading partners such as south-south country blocs; and the need to resolve the divergences in order to ensure simple and development friendly rules of origin which take into consideration the different levels of development of the two parties although the region, however, has recorded some success in harmonisation of policies of the member states; reinforcement of capacity and promotion of regional peace and security, in southern Africa, the regional bloc, namely, the Southern Africa Development Community, SADC, has endeavoured to ensure economic well-being; improvement of standards of living and quality of life; and freedom and social justice and peace and stability to the people of the region. The region's political outlook has been one of relative stability with the exception of countries mentioned earlier.

On economic development, the identified regional priorities focus on energy, transport, communication, ICT and water. The priority projects identified are: generation and transmission projects aimed at addressing current challenges relating to regional energy security and national energy security; projects in the various SADC corridors relating to rehabilitation, expansion and modernisation of road, rail and port related projects; projects relating to the development of ICT broadband networks; and water projects relating to water supply and sanitation, irrigation and hydropower development.

We cannot be blind to the many challenges that continue to afflict our continent. Although some countries have recorded impressive success in achieving the millennium development goals, many are lagging behind. Issues of poverty, disease and environmental sustainability continue to plague us. Drought and the resultant failure of food crops leading to displacements of persons and loss of life seems an ever-present problem. Of note is the tragedy of the Horn of Africa and, as we speak, the Sahel region.

In conclusion, we are aware that Ireland will assume the EU Presidency in 2013. I wish, by means of this committee, to kindly urge the Government to advance a case favourable to Africa for the promotion of sustainable economic development. I thank the Chairman and the members of the committee most sincerely for this opportunity to meet with you and for their positive engagement with Africa. I look forward to this afternoon's discussion.

I thank the ambassador for her very worthwhile contribution which gives the committee an insight into the current political and economic situation in the African states. I am conscious that the South African ambassador must leave the meeting at 3.20 p.m. I will take questions from members in groups of three and then specific questions on South Africa to ensure that our new ambassador from South Africa has the opportunity to make a contribution.

I will begin by conveying what I am sure is the general view of the committee in acknowledging the Minister of State's presence at the meeting and thanking him for making a very important announcement that will be welcomed by all members and the ambassadors. Second, I thank the ambassadors for honouring us with their presence on Africa Day. I say this from the heart, as an African, having been born on the Equator. Although my family and I returned to Ireland when I was six months old, I always continued to take an interest in my country of origin, the so-called Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a tragic part of the world, cursed by the existence of great natural resources which were exploited initially by successive corrupt Belgian regimes. As an African and a European, I take the opportunity to apologise to the ambassadors for what the continent of Europe has done in their continent.

The Kenyan ambassador has observed that it is difficult to deal with an entire continent in one opening statement, but she has done so with clarity and eloquence. The communities in Ireland represented by the ambassadors have, by and large, distinguished themselves by such achievements as the publication of MetroÉireann magazine and the celebration of Africa Day. We in this country have had a long association with Lesotho. I recall, some 30 or 40 years ago, working with Paddy Long who went to Lesotho to advise on tourism promotion. There are many connections between our countries, including those established by missionaries, and there is a great deal that is positive in that regard.

There has, however, been something of a reorientation of the committee which I hope will not be damaging to its work. It is inevitable in current financial circumstances that such a reorientation will take place, as exemplified by the inclusion of the trade portfolio within the Department's remit, but I would hate to see human rights being downgraded. In that regard, I was very grateful to Her Excellency Ms Muigai Mwangi for referring several times to the establishment of human rights mechanisms on a pan-African basis. I raise this issue for reasons some may find controversial, namely, that as a gay man, I have witnessed with horror the intervention of primitive Christian religious cults on the African continent. I speak as a Christian in saying these developments are indefensible, particularly the attempts to reintroduce the death sentence. This is something that migrated to Africa from Europe and anybody who takes Africa seriously as an independent cultural entity should be aware of it. I salute the South African Government for its progressive thinking in this regard and understand several other countries are following its lead. Some 18 months ago I met David Kato at an event organised by Front Line Defenders, an offshoot of Amnesty International which seeks, by publicising certain instances of human rights violations, to honour and protect people who are in danger because they fight on the edge of human rights. As the delegates will be aware, Mr. Kato was subsequently isolated and murdered. I would be interested to hear their views in this regard.

Do the delegates have anything to say on the impact of global warming which is having a particularly damaging effect on certain parts of the African continent? I am concerned that the situation will inevitably get worse in the absence of concerted action. I take the opportunity to wish the Egyptian people well as they participate in elections. I understand the reasons for the absence from this meeting of the Egyptian ambassador who must be very busy today.

My final point is that it is very important, when dealing with economic development, that African countries do not open the way to further colonisation by large financial interests, whether they be national interests, as in the case of great economies, or large conglomerate companies. As I see it, that is a source of real danger to the continent. In that regard, I have proposed the establishment of an international economic court to try individuals, companies and ratings agencies for economic crimes against humanity. This was done at Nuremberg when companies such as IG Farben, the Krupp Group and certain named individuals were charged with war crimes. The current global disaster is directly traceable to a small number of companies and agencies. Their activities have had a direct impact on people in Europe and an indirect impact on African peoples in terms of the amount of aid we can afford to give.

I conclude by reiterating my delight at being here to celebrate Africa Day with our esteemed visitors.

I thank the ambassadors for their joint presentation. On the free trade agreements between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific, APC, countries, there are concerns about Europe's approach, specifically, that it is perhaps promoting its own commercial interests ahead of the traditional relationship of development co-operation, engaging in the privatisation of public services in these countries and accessing their natural resources. In other words, there is a school of thought that the balance between the very powerful economic bloc of the European Union and these countries may be too aggressive. There is a proposal from the European Union, for instance, to cut off market access to APC countries which do not implement the economic partnership agreements by the end of 2013. Is this a cause of alarm to the delegates, as it certainly is to me and others?

Ireland's Africa strategy, with a focus on developing the trade relationship, is generally positive. It is an issue that Her Excellency Ms Muigai Mwangi has championed in various meetings and by way of certain interventions. I accept that it is not always about aid but about moving people from aid to trade. However, I am concerned that we get the balance right by continuing to provide supports for the development of institutional capacities within civil society and democracies, in a spirit not of patronisation but of partnership. Everything we do, including trade, must be done in partnership. Is there a concern among the delegates that this trade strategy and the European economic partnership agreements might be putting the promotion of our trade ahead of the need for what they referred to as south-south co-operation on local products, small farmers and sustainable development? We do not want a situation where we flood the African economies with cheaper products which displace their own sustainable plans for economic growth. What do the delegates see as the best way forward for their countries and the continent as a whole in their partnership with Europe? Above all, it must be based on equality, not on us using our strength against them.

What are the delegates' views on the relationship between the World Bank and Africa? There is a view that the bank is favouring the interests of financial markets over food security and environmental protection. I am conscious that there are niceties around Africa Day, but it is essentially a celebration of African liberation and African unity, an assertion of the desire to escape from the colonial oppressor and have one's own place in the world. It is a declaration of intent to stand together, whether on climate change, trade relationships and so on. Much of the focus from an Irish Aid perspective is on culture and niceties, but the reality is that we live in a very unjust world where structural factors ensure the continuance of poverty in Africa. Progressive individuals in Europe do not wish to use our economic advantage in these partnership agreements to take advantage of African countries' natural resources and their plans for taking their peoples forward. I look forward to hearing the delegates thoughts in this regard.

I apologise for being late. Members of a Chinese delegation were visiting Leinster House and we had to look after them.

I am picking up that there is a reluctance to move beyond what was the role of the committee in the past. Senator David Norris has expressed a fear that the committee might be moving away from human rights issues towards trade issues. I do not know how the previous committee performed, but it is time the committee moved psychologically from the notion that we are still involved in the collection of money for the black babies in Africa. There are two interesting papers on this subject, one of which was introduced by the Minister and alluded to the role Ireland was playing in throwing €3 million or €4 million in aid at certain countries, which was extremely important for the areas mentioned. When one contrasts this with the excellent contribution we heard on behalf of African nations, I am phenomenally excited and encouraged. The committee should be looking to reinforce our relationships, not only around the aid issue. I will deal with the two papers separately.

On the aid issue, I am bitterly disappointed that there is another drought in Niger, Mali and Mauritania. I was assured that the NGO movement, the United Nations, UNESCO and the various bodies involved were constantly monitoring the position and knew exactly at where aid should be targeted. However, there are requests for assistance from GOAL and Concern to feed the starving in the region. On a political platform, we must find out where the system of monitoring is failing. We were assured the position could be monitored. Now we are back to the position were there is a request for funding for Niger and Mali where a political task must be carried out. A further €3 million or €4 million has been thrown at another humanitarian crisis in the Nuba region of Sudan. We know there are humanitarian needs in the region, but there is more of a demand for a political solution to the issues giving rise to starvation among the Nuba people. Perhaps we might be pre-emptive by engaging with the international agencies on the international agreements arrived on what constitutes the border in the mountainous region between north and south Sudan. Is it not more political pressing that we address through diplomacy the complications giving rise to starvation because of the conflict between the Liberation Movement of the Nuba region and north and south of Sudan? It is fine that this country can sanction funding for humanitarian aid, but in the long term I argue it is more important that we work behind the scenes to ascertain the causes of the crisis.

I congratulate the Kenyan ambassador on a most exhilarating, thoughtful and provocative document. She has hit the nail on the head. It is phenomenal that we can applaud the work of countries such as Botswana, Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique, many of which were torn to shreds by war but which are now African leaders in terms of economic growth and development. On Africa Day let us applaud Africa on its successes. Let us move away from the black babies collection scenario and recognise that countries in Africa are now capable of achieving all of these wonderful things.

It is worrying that at central government level the Nigerian Government seems to be incapable of identifying the sources of troubles in the north of the country. If Kano, Maiduguri and other regions in the north are descending into vicious civil warfare, what are its causes? Could it be the case that wealth from oil in the southern part of the country is not filtering to regions in the north? I remember being holed up in Niger in 1970 two weeks before the end of the Biafra War and women dragging buckets of water from the depths of the earth 24 hours a day, and another crisis is now descending on the region. During that period there was conflict in northern Nigeria between the Christian and Muslim communities. What is happening today in northern Nigeria is sad. What are the prospects for a solution in the region?

Does any of the remaining members have brief questions on the position in South Africa as I am conscious the ambassador has to leave at 3.20 p.m.?

I do. I will also include one or two other questions about other issues.

No, I will call the Senator again to deal with them. I only want him to put his questions on the position in South Africa.

I will have to leave shortly and ask the Chairman to bear with me.

Because of economic development in South Africa the country has been included in the BRIC axis which is indicative of the progress made in that country. I have a question in that context which might also be directed at some of the other ambassadors. Is the issue of youth unemployment being targeted specifically? It is a big issue in Europe, but it is a much bigger issue in Africa and South Africa, in particular, because of the challenges faced in the townships. Obviously, it has its roots in the lack of good governance.

The ambassadors have outlined impressive growth rates throughout Africa which are very positive by European standards. While our level of trade with Africa is growing, it is increasing at a slow pace. What opportunities are not being pursued, as the ambassador perceives them, that would enhance the level of trade between Africa and Ireland? Are the structures in place sufficient to maximise its potential?

I wish to comment on developments in the African Union which the ambassador kindly referred to as including a human rights court, single currency and an economic community. Given the experience of the euro, I would have thought it might put such a development on hold for a short while. Despite what Senator David Norris said, European involvement in Africa has been far from benign. Our history has not been good, except that we in Ireland can empathise with the ambassadors because we also suffered as victims of a neighbouring colonial power. The Chinese delegation which visited the Houses made a point about Europe acting as a polar entity in a global framework. That was perceptive of it because we have values within Europe that are more balanced than the left-right values in the United States and other countries. I would like the ambassador to comment on this issue.

I have two final points to make. There will be an event held in Kigali on 18 June to commemorate and finalise the closure of the Gacaca courts established following the genocide there. I have received an invitation to attend. What happened in Rwanda offers a template for other countries in Africa. The restoration of normal society has impressed me.

My final point is directed to the Nigerian ambassador. It relates to the situation in northern Nigeria, in particular the significant number of Christians that have been killed by Boko Haram. I accept Boko Haram has a wider agenda than just a sectarian one but it is sectarian in what it is doing. I would like the ambassador to spell out what the president, whom I know is a Christian, is doing to counter and overcome the action. Reference was made to human rights and to greater economic and fiscal union in Africa. There may also be a need for greater policing and ensuring that states are not left on their own to deal with difficult, terrorist organisations whose agenda is not the well-being of society. It appears that there is a need for greater co-operation among well-meaning African states to achieve that.

My final point relates to the need for good governance and to eradicate all corruption from governments within the region. That is essential to getting a proper structured society.

If there are no other questions on South Africa I will ask the South African ambassador to reply.

I wish to mention something.

Deputy Durkan should bear in mind that the South African ambassador must leave.

I will be brief. I welcome our guests. I have been to South Africa and Lesotho. My point relates to the degree to which South Africa can use its stabilising influence on the rest of the African continent at a particularly challenging time. It is important that large countries – there are many large countries in Africa – in particular those with a democratically elected leadership, are encouraged by the European Union to influence the countries around them to observe basic principles of democracy, human rights and in general to follow in what they and we believe to be the correct path for their people and the rest of the world in the future.

H.E. Mr. Azwindini Jeremiah Nduo

I thank the Chairman for inviting us and giving us this opportunity to interact with the honourable members. I join our dean in expressing our gratitude that we have been able to have this opportunity to engage in discourse.

South Africa remains an integral part of the continent. It has always been our belief that in partnership with the countries in the continent, through the regional bodies that we have created, we could be able to work together to deal with the challenges that we face. We believe that as we work towards the total integration of the region, together with our neighbours we should be able to deal with the challenges that the region is facing and be able also to deal with the challenges that the continent is facing through the African Union. We have always thought that was the best possible way of partnering together as a continent to be able to deal with the challenges.

Joining Brazil, Russia, India, and China in the BRICS association was a significant move on our part. The countries that are in the BRICS community are countries that are major players in the global set-up today. South Africa has created a gateway for the continent to have access not only to the markets within those countries but also to other expertise, skills and resources that are available within those markets. We believe that it is not only going to benefit South Africa by becoming a member of BRICS but it will benefit Africa as a whole.

I am sorry that I have to leave as there is much that we can talk about in terms of the direction the BRICS countries should take. The challenges of unemployment in South Africa are huge. We have been grappling with the issue since we came to power. Today it is so serious that the Government has committed a lot of resources to ensure in particular that young people access employment and various skills training so that they could venture into various projects that could create jobs. Given the progress we are making we hope that it will be possible for us to make a dent in the youth unemployment situation in South Africa. I will leave the other major issues to my colleagues which are not specific to South Africa such as climate change and trade agreements. They will have more time to deal with them when I am gone. I thank the committee.

I know the ambassador has to leave. I thank him for attending this afternoon. Two more members wish to ask questions. I will allow them to contribute now and then I will hand over to the ambassadors to respond.

It is an excellent idea to have all the ambassadors attend around the time of Africa Day. I had the privilege of being at an event in Trinity College yesterday attended by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Costello, along with Ambassador Mwangi. It was very informative.

A few speakers referred to issues that struck a chord with me. Deputy Mac Lochlainn spoke about going beyond the niceties and Africa Day but for me it is a point at which to begin. I agree with what Deputy Byrne said. When one speaks of the West and the PR machine encapsulated by Hollywood, the West and those who control the media, the images are always positive but traditionally the images that dwell and the subliminal message about Africa relate to poverty, famine, disease and hopelessness, so much so that one turns away from it. We cannot take in all the pain and suffering we see in the context of Africa. Therefore, we overlook the fact that there are so many countries, cultures and tribes that make up the continent of Africa. I applaud the work of the African Union. In the European Union we have so many diverse backgrounds and traditions and we do not see one country as being the same as another. I accept that the traditions and identities of African countries are different, fascinating and compelling that Africa Day allows us to get a flavour of that as well as African pride and the strength of Africans as well as the cultural values that exist. Too often there is a perception in the West that countries in Africa will evolve to become like us but it is necessary to examine what would be lost in the process.

Deputy Byrne referred to Africa maturing. Africans are the oldest people, so to speak. In terms of maturity, it is a question of accepting that people live differently but that cultures in Africa have so much to offer. Respect for the elderly is one that comes to mind. We received a presentation from Age Action Ireland in the AV room. Older people said they are disenfranchised and they do not feel they belong. They said they are disrespected and that it is all about younger people. The wisdom of older people is recognised in Kenya and there is respect for older people. I have visited Kenya, and Benin, but I am aware that Kenya is not a welfare state, yet people work together. Families support each other. We are losing much of what is valuable here by regarding ourselves as economic entities. In terms of what we have become here, one is valued when one is economically productive, and in terms of everything other than that, the view is that we are trying to cater for these people who do not fit into the grand master plan of what was a European economic community. That is not to say that Africa should not progress but that it might learn from all the mistakes we experienced as we became more affluent.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn made a point about sustainable development. I think he was referring to agriculture, and I agree with him in that regard. A lesson we are learning here, whether it is because we want to keep carbon emissions low, food security and so on, is in regard to the idea that we will ship food abroad. Obviously, we have trade agreements but the cultivation of local markets, farming methods and so on can be considered. I do not agree with the notion that food must be exported so far away when a great deal can be done in countries within Africa to improve the everyday lives of Africans and allow them be more self-sufficient while not excluding trade.

In terms of systems, the colonial history was mentioned. We have experience of that. We inherited our Civil Service and legal systems but we did not create them and therefore the nuances of the British in creating its law and civil service systems could have been lost on us. We need to have a new appreciation of the reason there must be accountability and transparency. Systems must work because if they do not work, everything collapses. In terms of Ireland sending money abroad, if there are not proper systems of accountability, the money will not get to the areas for which it is intended.

I have two questions. First, that region in northern Kenya has experienced a great deal of drought and famine, and some years were worse than others in that regard. The ambassador gave an example of one year in which there was so much produce, and drought being experienced the next year when people did not have anything, but what is the Kenyan ministry for water doing about that? This is not a new problem. Drought occurs periodically in Kenya, as a result of which people are in distress. What has been done about that from an infrastructural point of view? I am reminded of Las Vegas in Nevada where there is no water, yet it has the wherewithal to do something about that to ensure people do not have to face such extreme circumstances. Having visited Kenya a number of times, I do not understand the reason nothing has been done about that. Is it a money issue?

Second, on the African Union, mention was made of the Arab spring and so on. My understanding is that the African Union opposed outside involvement or interference in the uprising in Libya. Has that view changed in terms of the outcome and the new regime? Does the African Union have a view on that? The ambassadors represent African countries, but if outside nations think they know best, what are their views on that?

I welcome the ambassadors and apologise for my late arrival. I was getting a briefing on the question I will now pose. If the witnesses have dealt with this question, I apologise for asking it. To what extent is capital flight or tax dodging by multinationals involved in their countries a serious problem for them? To what extent do they lose valuable income they might otherwise get? If they regard that as a problem, how do they envisage it being tackled? Is there anything those of us in this part of the world can do to help stop that?

Does Senator Mullins wish to make a brief contribution?

There are many questions for the ambassadors. If Ambassador Catherine Muigai Mwangi wants to reply first I will call her. The other ambassadors may want to make contributions also. They have the floor.

H.E. Ms Catherine Muigai Mwangi

We will start with the Ambassador of Lesotho.

H.E. Mr. Paramente Phamotse

I thank the Chairman. I will take some of the questions that were related, one of which was about the World Bank, and the last one from Deputy Dowds on the capital flight. Generally, the structure and shape of economic development, including that of developing infrastructure, for many years following independence was led from outside. The World Bank was no exception in that regard, but we have seen that trend change in the past decade and a half in that the World Bank and other similar international development organisations are more prepared to listen to the aspirations of Africans through their legitimate leadership. That is helping to some degree, but we still have some way to go in that the institutions of governance in the World Bank are mainly determined by the lending countries that contribute to the capital the World Bank provides. The African countries, being mainly the borrowers, have a lesser say. That is more manifest in areas such as the procurement regulations that are enforced by the World Bank which, to a large extent, favour big organisations and multinationals at the expense of healthy competition from medium sized to small sized local participation either within country or within the region. We have found that some Irish investors would have wanted to compete where they would qualify for national projects in Africa but they would not meet the requirements because they would be beyond their means, for instance, in terms of the volumes of business that would be required of the companies to be able to qualify to compete. That will continue to marginalise many African entrepreneurs, whether in the construction area or in the supply of goods to the economy. To a large extent, most of the moneys borrowed by the African countries to develop infrastructure and for social intervention, and regardless of any improvements in infrastructure that will follow, end up going back to those countries by one route or another.

We believe that international competitive bidding is of benefit in that it broadens the field in terms of where the sources of skills, capital and goods could come from, but when it rules out by default the local competitors, it has the same effect as the money being borrowed and paid back by the countries from the World Bank, of which very little remains locally at the end of the day. A few of the local players who are able to participate in the economic benefits other than the social benefit of World Bank programmes end up being a monopoly within the country, and that is skewing the distribution of income. We spoke about fairly impressive economic growth figures in many of our countries, but the renewal that comes with economic growth is a concern because the gap between those who are on the higher income bracket and those on the lower end is widening continuously.

Flight of capital is an issue, not just in that the profits from businesses that manufacture in our countries end up going elsewhere but also the avenues for revenue generation within our economies, which are not properly taxed, are too wide. Take the example of an apparel manufacturing company in Lesotho which employs a substantial number of semi-skilled and unskilled labourers. It would be a useful input to the economy and gives employment to those categories of workers. If the company is 100% owned by an Asian multinational, it means the repatriation of the profits may not even go through the Lesotho financial system. Sometimes, it can go straight from the export market in the United States straight through a different route to Taipei or Shanghai.

It is this kind of issue where we believe the systems available in the global financial markets do not sufficiently protect small economies with a relatively rudimentary financial management system or make them able to monitor how much profit is being made from within. The same could be said about those companies that invest in minerals, diamonds or oil in our different countries. Development assistance must be in the form of building capacities within the African countries to have robust financial management human skills, as well as institutional mechanisms, laws and regulations which will be enforced not just in those economies but globally.

Lesotho succeeded in prosecuting some multinational companies based in Canada, Germany and France for corrupting Lesotho officials during the construction of the Lesotho highlands water project funded by the World Bank. These companies were successfully barred from participating in future World Bank projects. It is this type of engagement which we wish to see. When we say we do not have the financial muscle to follow up on a suspect case of unfair trading by a multinational company resident in EU member state, we want to see the European Union work with us to pursue it, bring the company to book and recover the moneys lost.

Having said that, there is a change in attitude – gradual but still happening – between the major financing institutions. The monopoly and hegemony of the World Bank funding development projects in Africa is beginning to be quietly and appreciably undermined. The role of the African Development Bank, ADB, in funding development programmes in Africa is increasing gradually with more countries investing in the ADB fund than in the World Bank. Similarly, there are other funds like those in the Middle East, such as the Kuwait sovereign wealth fund, which are making capital available for viable development programmes in Africa at reasonably preferential interest rates to governments but with reasonably less strings attached, including those that favour western multinationals to dominate procurement processes. The World Bank must review how it does business with Africa to accommodate this new competition.

There are only seven ambassadors here. As the African continent is huge, we may not even have the mandate to speak on behalf of the African Union. Of 20 events in Africa, only three or four get to be heard about. They get optimum airtime and coverage in the print media. The essence of the Africa Day is to bring to the fore the many other success stories that are not heard. These can be about those countries that have managed to turn themselves around from being areas of conflict to areas of peace, prosperity and hope for their people. The examples of Rwanda and Ethiopia were given earlier.

Democracy is now taken for granted in many African countries which was not the case even 15 years ago. There are countries where it is expected that, as a matter of a natural process, there will be an election every five years. This Saturday, Lesotho goes to the polls and the people will have the chance to elect their public representatives. That was not the case 15 years ago when we had military rule. These are the type of success stories we should bring to the fore. Those Irish citizens who go to Nigeria for holidays, skiing in Lesotho or Kenya for safari see more than a few wild animals. They also encounter people who have much to be happy about. We want to bring the message through Africa Day that there is much more to Africa than the hungry children we see on our television screens. Some of the adverts paid for by well-meaning non-governmental organisations of pot-bellied starving children with flies all over them probably succeed to elicit the money required to give assistance when it is required. They also, however, continue to imprint one image of Africa as a basket case while there are so many other hopeful stories happening there. We need to bring those to the fore. We hope this debate and other events between now and the weekend will bring them to the fore.

H.E. Mr. Felix Yusufu Pwol

I thank the Deputies for their questions on security in Nigeria. The description of the situation there as interreligious warfare could not be further from the truth. I will give some background to this. Due to its enormous diversity, Nigeria adopted a federal constitution in 1954 with three regions, north, east and west. Today, we have 36 states to accommodate some of our diversities. It is true the north is predominantly Muslim while the south is predominantly Christian. However, in western Nigeria there are many families which are both Christian and Muslim. Nigeria was created through the amalgamation of the southern protectorate with the northern protectorate in 1914. We have weathered the storm so far but there are challenges. What is the Nigerian Government doing to meet these challenges?

We had religious crises, maybe not of the same dimension, in the 1980s. The Boko Haram attacks started about 2002. There are many difficulties in identifying who they are and what are their objectives. It is also important to note that in our 52 years of independence, 29 years were under military rule. When one has a military government, the constitution is suspended and so on.

We now have a civilian government and there are many channels for groups to air their views and concerns. At federal level, we have a senate made up of 109 senators and 360 members of the house of representatives. Each state has an assembly too with local government democratic institutions in place. The Nigerian Government believes that any group which has any issue can raise it through these channels. We also have an independent Judiciary. Unfortunately, some of the attacks have given the impression that it is Christian versus Muslim. We must exercise a great deal of caution. Many of those attacks were against Muslims.

It may also interest the committee to know that we have an inter-religious council made up of Christian and Muslim religious leaders that has been holding dialogue for a number of years. Even the Muslim ulamas have told us clearly that they do not understand what these Boko Haram people are doing because they are busy killing their members and burning mosques. There is some concern that probably much of it is political, but these matters are being investigated to establish the truth. I am just trying to give the committee this background to understand how complex it is.

Our northern neighbour Chad has been unstable for 32 years. The recent developments in Libya have also brought in a flow of arms. The committee may be aware that ECOWAS, because of this concern about trafficking in small arms and light weapons, entered the ECOWAS convention on small arms and light weapons in 2007, which came into force in September 2009. All of us know what happened in Liberia and Guinea-Bissau because of small arms. We are working with ECOWAS partners to see how we can contain these small arms and light weapons. This is one of the major steps.

Second, the Government is reorienting the security agencies because the new challenge posed by suicide bombers had never really happened in Nigeria before. Third, we are introducing more dialogue between religious and community leaders.

Fourth, as I mentioned, we have porous borders. Even though we have ECOWAS which promotes free movement, the committee may also be aware of the joint border posts we are building to assist us in having modern border posts that can check for illicit weapons, drugs and other items. This will assist security.

I accept there are challenges. However, equally importantly, I can assure the committee that the Government is looking at this question of security in a comprehensive manner. There is education on what we call the almageri, who are basically young children who are trained by Islamic teachers. The Government is bringing them into a proper framework. Six weeks ago the President commissioned a new modern almageri school in Sokoto. Only three weeks ago, the Vice-President met state governors to see how they can partner in educating some of these youths so they do not become easy prey for mischief makers.

In the area of infrastructure, which is one of our biggest challenges for unemployment, the Government is working on the energy sector. We are building ten hydro-dams, three of which will, hopefully, be commissioned in 2012. Much work is going into our routes and ports. I am giving this overview to show that the Government is not concentrating only on tackling the criminal aspects of this matter but is also addressing some of the socioeconomic challenges. This Government has been in power for two years. We acknowledge that there are challenges but something is also being done.

It is also important that I mention part of the problem that has tended to portray this religious flavour. In parts of Nigeria, particularly in the north, there have been clashes between Fula herdsmen and farmers. There is now a move in the Nigerian National Assembly, the Parliament, to designate what we call grazing tracts of land. It was introduced about two weeks ago. There has been much discussion. The idea is that we could have designated areas where cattle herders can graze their animals the year round. We know it will be difficult but we think this is one of the ways that could minimise these kinds of clashes.

We are also working with many friendly countries, including the European Union and the United States, to assist us with these challenges but I can assure the committee that Nigeria is nowhere near a civil war situation. As far as we know, people are still visiting Nigeria. Business is being attracted. We have six geopolitical zones. The south-south zone held an economic summit. An American who attended the summit was asked why, in spite of Department of State advice, he still came, replied that in every country to which he travels there are places he does not visit. That was why he was in the Niger delta in Asaba, which is where the summit took place.

I agree that there should be some concern about the challenges we face. I want to assure this distinguished committee that the Nigerian Government is up to the challenges and we have not ruled out any advice or support. The Nigerian Government is open and willing to dialogue with those who will follow due and constitutional processes or laid down channels of communication. I think I have spoken enough on this matter.

H.E. Ms Catherine Muigai Mwangi

I will touch on a few other items that have not been talked about. The Africa strategy and the focus on trade, as has been stated, is something that I have been championing. It was in recognition of the fact that, because of Ireland's history with Africa, the focus has been on humanitarian activity, from the missionaries to the NGOs, and the realisation that this cannot be sustainable. If Africa is to overcome its problems, it will not be through an aid agenda. We felt that focusing on aid was not sustainable. What we are saying is we are the first to admit we have massive challenges. We will continue to face challenges of different kinds and to look to development partners to partner with us in these areas. However, Africa needs to build its own capacity to be able to resolve these problems. That is why we ask if we could work together with our partners, such as Ireland. We will call on our partners when we have a drought but in the meantime, there is an opportunity to grow trade and business so that Africa can build its capacity and, hopefully, take care of these problems. We are in no way saying that aid, issues of human rights or any of these other issues should be forgotten. What we are saying is we need a fine balance.

I echo what was said by a member and the ambassador of Lesotho. Perhaps there is overkill on our part just because we are coming from a situation of children who are malnourished. It is difficult when we stand at forums and tell people that we want them to do business with us. I think they wonder with whom they will do business and whether it will be those children with the flies. We have had to close the gap on what is available in Africa from a business point of view, and how Ireland can get into that. I hope that explains that the new Africa strategy is not saying that we are moving away from our other relationships. What we are saying is we are trying to wed them together.

Even with all the initiatives that are being introduced, such as the new agribusiness fund that has just been launched by the Government, the Irish Government is conscious of having an equal partnership. The Irish Government is saying to business people in Ireland that this cannot be another case of colonisation, but that one is taking one's goods to flog them to Africa. What we are looking for is partnerships. If one looks at the agribusiness fund, we are saying Africa relies on agriculture - that is our backbone. We are still at the level where we are using rudimentary equipment to farm. We are still using hoes and shovels, we do not have irrigation, and our seed quality is poor. We need to upskill our agriculture. We will not get rid of the small farmers. Right now, we cannot do so. However, if we can upskill their farming methods, they can get their product and get more money. The way the Irish Government is approaching it is as a partnership and it is extremely positive. Obviously, there are the private companies who then will come in with their own requirements, but the Government has the right approach. We are trying to work with the farmers to upskill their methods to try to get a better produce for them. The approach is positive and we are very excited about it.

In regard to the drought in northern Kenya, unfortunately this is an arid or semi-arid region which has been ignored to a large extent. It has been a difficult area to deal with and the question of finances also arises. As I noted in my opening statement, we hope the planned northern corridor will open up the region because the railway line and roads which will pass through it to Ethiopia and Sudan are bound to have an impact. Members can rest assured that something will happen in that area because an Irish company, Tullow Oil, has discovered huge quantities of oil there. We hope that will also help in terms of opening it up. It is a sad situation and a perennial problem. There is no question that droughts occur as soon as the rains fail.

Climate change or global warming is a reality for us. All of us sitting at this table have seen changes in our weather patterns. Rains are not coming when we expect them to do so and there are more floods than was previously the case. These events can only be associated with global warming. Governments have implemented various initiatives to mitigate the problem. Kenya houses a UN headquarters which has expanded its secretariat to deal with environmental issues and global warming in particular. The intention is for the UN office in Nairobi to focus on Africa in global warming issues and responses such as afforestation. It is a real problem and the prospect of success in mitigating it is difficult to estimate.

Trade agreements present a huge problem. Kenya will be unable to export flowers, tea or coffee next year if they are not signed. A host of problems arise in respect of west Africa. My country is now part of an economic zone called the Eastern African Community, which comprises Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. We are supposed to have a common customs union but we are not in accord on what sort of agreement we want to sign. Some of the countries concerned enjoy special arrangements on EU customs levies. It is no longer the case that individual countries sign the trade agreements. We are now signing them as blocs because we cannot operate a common customs union alongside differing arrangements with the EU. The issue is urgent because it presents a serious threat to our export markets.

I hope I have responded to all the questions members have raised. I thank the committee for inviting us and providing a wonderful discussion. Members can rest assured that we are happy to answer questions either one-on-one or as a group outside of this session. If there is anything they wish to know they should feel free to contact us.

We welcome the informal meetings we hold on occasion with all the ambassadors. If they contact the clerk to the committee we are available to meet informally at any time. These meetings are useful in terms of getting updates on what is happening in our respective countries, as well as on human rights issues.

In its submission on the review of the White Paper on Irish Aid, the committee gave its support to the agribusiness fund model. We hope it can be expanded to other parts of Africa and that the commission will take this on board when it publishes its findings.

President Higgins has expressed his delight with the visit of the King and Queen of Lesotho to Ireland last week. The visit will deepen the relationship between our countries. Visits by Heads of State from African countries are extremely important from this perspective. I apologise for not taking part in the visit as the clerk to the committee and I were attending a conference on the Arab spring in Doha. Let us hope we will have opportunities to host high level visits by other African delegations with a view to improving not only bilateral relationships but also trade and business relations.

For us as politicians, it is useful to be made more aware of the real work that is being done in Africa. There is another world outside the NGO picture we see and Africa also has a thriving commercial and business life. That was evident during our visit to Addis Ababa last year. Clearly there are real problems with conflict and hunger in places throughout Africa and it is important we highlight these issues. This is why money is necessary. The announcement made today by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Costello, is very welcome in this regard. The money will be invested in important areas in the interest of the people who are affected by conflict.

The committee is grateful that six of the seven ambassadors invited were able to attend. I know the ambassador of Egypt is busy at present because of the presidential election that is being held in his country. I hope it is the beginning of a new era for democracy in Egypt. The Arab spring has been successful in a number of countries, including Tunisia, but concerns have arisen elsewhere. Let us hope Egypt will take the lead.

Today's discussion underlined the whole area of Africa and the depth and breadth of Irish-African relations. Our relations are strong at present and they will go from strength to strength. We have shared interests and trade between us is growing thanks to the friendship that exists between all our countries. The economic, social and cultural issues are extremely important as well.

I wish the witnesses well for Africa Day. A number of events are taking place over the weekend. I hope they will be enjoyable and in the best interest of Irish-African relations.

The joint committee suspended at 4.10 p.m., resumed in private session at 4.15 p.m. and adjourned at 5 p.m., sine die.