Varadkar speaks on China’s increasing role in Africa and risks to Europe

Taoiseach met with Ethiopian prime minister, president during official visit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkarand his Ethiopian counterpart, Abiy Ahmed, stand for the national anthem during his official visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on  January 9th Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Taoiseach Leo Varadkarand his Ethiopian counterpart, Abiy Ahmed, stand for the national anthem during his official visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 9th Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has spoken of the increasing role China is playing in Africa and of the risks this poses to Europe as he began an official visit to Ethiopia.

After he met the country’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, and president, Sahle Work Zewde, in Addis Ababa on Wednesday, he spoke about the changing dynamics of influence in Africa.

“One of the points he [the prime minister] made to me which was very interesting and also very relevant was that more and more, China is becoming increasingly active in Africa,” the Taoiseach told reporters after the meeting.

“It is building roads. It is investing in the economy. More and more, it is educating people in its universities.

“The present generation of leaders in Africa – there is a good chance that they were educated in Europe and America. There is a possibility that the next generation of African leaders will have been educated in Beijing or Shanghai.

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi (left), and Ethiopia’s president, Sahle-Work Zewde, shake hands ahead of a meeting at the national palace in Addis Ababa on January 3rd Photo by Michael Tewelde/AFP/Getty
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi (left), and Ethiopia’s president, Sahle-Work Zewde, shake hands ahead of a meeting at the national palace in Addis Ababa on January 3rd Photo by Michael Tewelde/AFP/Getty

“And that is a geopolitical strategic risk for Europe and the West which is one of the reason we need to increase our educational opportunity.”

During a two and a half-hour meeting with the 42-year-old prime minister, who came to office only last year, the discussion ranged from Irish Aid’s extensive programmes in Ethiopia, political reforms, the liberalisation of its economy, and Ireland’s campaign to become a member of the UN Security Council.

“We spoke about political reforms that are happening here, the move towards multiparty elections, free press, relaxing the laws around the operation of NGOs. We are very supportive of that and also keen to help the country on its economic agenda,” Mr Varadkar said.

Shared experiences

Ireland has had diplomatic relationships with Ethiopia for 25 years. The country is the largest single recipient of Irish development aid in the world, with its budget having recently been increased from €30 million to €32 million.

Ireland also has a large embassy here.

Mr Varadkar, who is on a six day visit to Africa, spoke about the two country’s shared experience of colonialism and conflict, and also referred to the famines and hardships endured by this East Africa country which has a population of over 100 million.

While the country’s economy and human development index has grown strongly in recent years, it remains an underdeveloped country, with high rates of child and maternal mortality, lower life expectancy and poverty.

Mr Abiy has announced sweeping reforms and there is hope the country may move away from the autocratic and repressive manner of the past to embrace all democratic principles. However, there has also been an increase in violence and unrest in the past few years, with two separate periods of emergency government.

The meeting took place in the prime minister’s office where the Taoiseach inspected a guard of honour and was presented with flowers by 11-year-old Genzebe Kasahun.

Mr Varadkar reviews the honour guard during his visit to Addis Ababa Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters
Mr Varadkar reviews the honour guard during his visit to Addis Ababa Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Turning to reforms Mr Varadkar referred to Mr Abiy’s promotion of women. “He has shown real leadership in ensuring more women are in senior positions here in Ethiopia. It’s one of the few countries in the world that has a gender-balanced cabinet.

“As I have said before it’s a slightly different situation in Ireland as our constitution limits us to promoting a Cabinet who are members of the Oireachtas as opposed to people from outside the Oireachtas. My priority has to be to get more women elected to the Oireachtas.”

One of the women elected to senior positions is the country’s president. Speaking after her meeting with Mr Varadkar, she said Ireland had shown the way of having women presidents.

“I am humbled by the opportunity I have here and we hope that we emulate other countries to follow. You in Ireland have shown a good example that women can do those jobs,” said President Zewde.