Ireland must move away from a donor-recipient relationship with Africa towards one of partnership and collaboration, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore told a conference yesterday.
“Africa is generating remarkable economic growth and, according to the IMF, will have the fastest-growing economy of any continent over the next five years. This opens up new opportunities for Africa and for Ireland,” Mr Gilmore told the Africa-Ireland Economic Forum at UCD’s Smurfit Business School.
Mr Gilmore also stressed the need for “more balanced economic relationships” with Africa.
He also announced the creation of the Mwangi business scholarship, which will provide a fully-funded place each year for the next three years for an African businesswoman on UCD's MBA programme.
The bursary, which will be jointly funded by the UCD school of business and Irish Aid, the Government's programme for overseas development, is named in memory of Mbugua Mwangi, son of the former Kenyan ambassador to Ireland Catherine Muigai Mwangi.
Her son and his fiancee died in the recent siege of Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.
Mr Gilmore described trade between Ireland and Africa as growing at a "remarkable" speed, drawing on the example of South Africa, where Irish companies currently employ 12,000 people and Irish agri-food exports grew by 29 per cent in 2011.
According to the Irish Exporters’ Association (IEA), exports of Irish goods and services to Africa reached €2.7 billion last year – an increase of 200 per cent since 2009. The IEA expects Irish exports to Africa to rise to €24 billion by 2020.
The Africa-Ireland Economic Forum, now in its third year, seeks to strengthen economic ties between Africa and Ireland and assist Irish businesses in entering the African market by highlighting opportunities and experiences of Irish companies already operating in Africa.
More than 300 businesspeople, including delegates from more than 20 African countries and representatives from more than 200 Irish firms, heard presentations on opportunities in sectors including agri-business, ICT/telecommunications and financial services.
Ugandan entrepreneur Andrew Rugasira, founder of the Good African Coffee company, urged delegates to look at Africa through the lens of opportunity, not challenge.
“That’s what the Chinese would do,” he said, referring to Beijing’s strong engagement with the continent in recent years.
Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello, who will lead a trade mission to South Africa and Nigeria next month, spoke of the convergence between Ireland's trade and development priorities in Africa.
“From the African side, the consistent message that we are hearing is that African countries want more trade and investment links to help them to grow their economies, to create and sustain employment and livelihoods,” he said.
“Mutually beneficial trade is a win-win for Africa and for Ireland.”