Belfast Telegraph

Higgins trip to African countries

President Michael D Higgins is visiting three African countries over the next week.

As part of the official state visits Mr Higgins will meet Ethiopia's president Mulatu Teshome and prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the president of Malawi Peter Mutharika and president of South Africa Jacob Zuma.

The President's office said the trip will recognise and build on Ireland's strong historic relationship with the continent and the major contribution of the state's development aid programmes and Irish missionaries and strengthen bilateral partnerships.

During the visit Mr Higgins plans to address pan-African themes including sustainable development, climate change, human rights and urgent challenges posed by population movements and the current ebola crisis.

"Ireland's relationship with Africa is an important area of our foreign policy and an area which is increasing in its significance because of global issues such as food security, ending poverty and the emerging discussion on new models of development. Over recent decades, our relationship with Africa has mainly centred on our development aid programme," the President said before his departure.

"This visit will recognise the immense contribution that Irish Aid, Irish aid agencies and workers and missionaries have made in Africa and will include visits to a range of aid projects in both Ethiopia and Malawi. I will also engage with the current debate on the future of Africa and its global relationships.

"We now face a turning point in the relationship between Ireland and Africa; a relationship which in this century will be increasingly about partnership, cooperation, and a fair and just trade. Based on our history, Ireland has a strong reputation in Africa and as Africa advances we are in a strong position to work together in friendship."

President Higgins will travel with his wife Sabina, and they will be joined in Ethiopia by Sean Sherlock, junior minister responsible for development, trade promotion and North-South cooperation and in South Africa by Tom Hayes, junior agriculture minister.

Highlights of the trip will include a visit to Gambella, Ethiopia to meet South Sudanese refugees in camps supported by Irish Aid and development agencies including Goal and Concern.

At the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa the President will deliver a keynote address on the changing nature of the relationship between Europe and Africa.

In Malawi the President will meet with local communities, Irish NGOs and participants in Irish Aid programmes and will deliver a keynote address on Development, Food and Land at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

In South Africa the President will make a speech on human rights at the University of the Witwatersrand and give an address at the University of Johannesburg, Soweto Campus on the opportunities for South Africa 20 years on from the first democratic elections.

President Higgins will also visit Sonke Gender Justice, a South African NGO working throughout Africa to promote gender equality and prevent the spread of HIV. He will meet and acknowledge the growing Irish diaspora in the region.

President Michael D Higgins was last in South Africa for Nelson Mandela's funeral in December last year.

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