Address to the AEPI webconference ‘Responding to Covid-19 - The situation in Africa’
21st April, 2020
I would so like, first of all, to thank all of those who are working on the front line in Africa.
In Ireland we may be coming out of some of our worst experience through, really, the cooperation of the public, really respecting the advice, of washing our hands, having an etiquette in relation to sneezing, social distancing, but I know very well that such an advice is going to be so difficult in Africa, where you have overcrowding and in the periphery of cities where clean water is not available and where, as well that, the idea of social isolating is simply impossible.
Of course the idea that one should stay inside, and if you have a daily economy where one earns the price of one’s bread and one’s food for the day, it would be, really, an invitation to starve.
We must respond to all of these conditions by realising the particularities of the African situation and we must do so, this time, in a way that will allow African agency, perhaps using African communities to develop the capacities, or strengthen the capacities where they are there, to deal with their own needs.
Isn’t it such an illustration, too, to us of how important basic universal services, in health and housing and education, are?
If we are to learn from this crisis it should be that we shift the emphasis from armaments and from the debt we are encouraging in the world, to providing universal basic services.
I think, too, this is a great opportunity for Europe.
Europe has had a legacy in Africa that it would like to forget, but which Africans have not forgotten. And I think now is an opportunity to make a new beginning and not only to respond to COVID-19 but also to respond to those structural imbalances that are there: unfair trade and then there is, of course, the burden of debt.
How can we say that it’s right in responding to Covid-19 when some African countries are spending more than 12 times on servicing their debt, as is the case in Angola, than on providing public health?
I could go on from one country to another, but fair trade, debt cancellation is what we need. It is so totally insufficient to speak of six months relief in relation to debt payments.
I am glad that Ireland's unique relationship with the African continent is one of peacekeeping, is one of involvement in education, and we do not have an imperial legacy.
And I’m so pleased, also, that Ireland was the first country to respond to Secretary General Guterres’ call for a special effort in relation to covid-19. and we are doing this in a number of different ways.
Ireland has brought forward this funding to its humanitarian agencies, the NGOs, it has, it in addition to that, put it all together and through what we are doing doing through the Department of Agriculture, as well as Foreign Affairs, brought about 46 million into being to help in different ways.
But what is important now is flexibility on the ground.
There is a need for cash on the ground, to purchase water in some countries, to purchase fuel for the vehicles in Uganda that will bring people to hospitals. It is necessary for that cash to flow through the NGOs and to be able to combine, if you like, with the state agencies
We need flexible cooperation on the ground, in the interest of the Africans who are our fellow citizens
I do want to say, as well, that Africa is not a problem, nor were ever its people.
It is the continent of the young and I think that when we look into the future it is to Africa we look for new forms of economy and a better relationship between economy and society and ecology and culture.
It is in Africa that we can achieve equality.
We can all benefit from a proper, adequate, response to the present situation in Africa, taking account of the special circumstances on the ground now that I have mentioned: Shortages of water, overcrowding, difficulties of isolation, but also committing ourselves to a whole new future for Africa, where 2 billion people will live in 2050 and where 17 million young Africans enter the labour force every year.
These are sources of hope, and they are sources of renewal, not just for Africa but for the whole world.
I so wish everyone who is working, and everyone who will be discussing these issues, I offer them solidarity but also, as President of Ireland, every support.
Beir beannacht, every blessing.