Tuesday, 6 July 2010
Department of Foreign Affairs
Question 89: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has held discussions with colleague Ministers at EU level regarding the need to put pressure on the Government of Angola to allow a neutral and independent national electoral commission to be set up to oversee the preparations for and processes of the forthcoming elections. [29664/10]
Question 93: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the position in Angola regarding reports that institutional corruption is rampant and that those who run the country are not prepared to relinquish power, as is democratically needed; and his further views that a general election due to take place in 2010 will require international assistance in preparation for real participation. [29663/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 89 and 93 together.
Angola has undergone major development since the end of its civil war, one of the longest-running civil wars in Africa, in 2002. It has achieved rapid economic growth, thanks to a boom in oil production and high international oil prices. However, this wealth has not translated to the general population but has remained in the hands of a restricted number with a huge disparity between wealth and poverty. In addition, hopes that the ending of the civil war would lead to more political openness have only partially been fulfilled.
Angola last held parliamentary and presidential elections in September 2008. While an EU Election Observation Mission welcomed the peaceful conduct of the elections it did not go as far as describing them as free and fair and made several recommendations in its final report, including strengthening the impartiality the National Elections Commission (CNE). Although the Government of Angola took note of the recommendations of the report, no major changes have been implemented to date. The next Parliamentary elections are due to be held in 2012. In relation to possible international assistance for the elections, the EU-Angola Country Strategy Paper for the period 2008-2013 allows for support to the Angolan electoral cycle as defined. The areas of voter education and capacity-building to key institutions, including the National Electoral Commission have been identified as possibilities for assistance. However, EU assistance, including a possible electoral observation mission, is of course dependent on a request being made by the national authorities.
The situation in Angola has not been the subject of recent discussions at Ministerial level in the EU. It is, however discussed at working group level of the EU and EU missions in Luanda work with the Government of Angola on an ongoing basis including political dialogue within the framework of Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement.
Corruption in Angola is a serious problem, with the country regularly amongst Transparency International's top 20 most corrupt countries. There have been some efforts in recent months by the Government to improve governance and introduce more accountability into the system. Measures include legislation to introduce greater transparency to the national budget which was passed by the National Assembly in March.
Conscious that the country's rapid economic growth masks huge inequalities, Irish Aid provides some funding to the Angolan people, amounting to almost €7.6 million since 2006. This funding is channelled through Irish and international NGOs including Trócaire, Concern and Christian Aid and through Irish missionaries. These funds have been employed in programmes promoting good governance, also programmes combating HIV & AIDS, reducing food insecurity and various humanitarian assistance projects.
I spent last week visiting Uganda and Ethiopia, two of the nine priority countries for the Government's aid programme, where we have a commitment to long term strategic assistance.
I visited Ethiopia from 30 June to 2 July. My main objective was to assess the impact of our development programme on the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Ethiopia, and its contribution to the remarkable development and economic growth which the country has experienced in recent years. I held political discussions with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Acting Foreign Minister, Dr. Tekeda Alemu, and I reviewed regional issues, including the situation in Sudan, with the Chairman of the African Union Commission Jean Ping, at the Headquarters of the organisation in Addis Ababa.
Ireland has been providing development assistance to Ethiopia since 1990. Ethiopia has been a priority country for long term development assistance from Irish Aid since 1994. Building on the remarkable work of Irish missionaries over many decades, the Irish aid programme has focused clearly on hunger and food security and the provision of basic services to the Ethiopian people. I witnessed the impact of this cooperation when I visited health facilities and schools outside Addis Ababa with the Minister of Health, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. I also visited projects being undertaken by Irish NGOs and missionaries with street children and with people living with HIV and AIDS. I met with a wide range of Irish NGOs and volunteers working in Ethiopia with a commitment to partnership with local communities to tackle poverty, hunger and disease and building a brighter future for the country and its people.
Ethiopia has made enormous progress in recent years. The proportion of people living on less than $1 a day has fallen from 60% in 1990 to 36% in 2007. Over the past twenty years, primary school enrolment has quadrupled, and child mortality has been reduced by almost fifty percent. The country continues to face significant development challenges, not least as a result of continuing population growth and the effects of climate change. However, I was deeply impressed by the commitment of the Government and the Ethiopian people to the development of their economy and their country. I visited the new Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, which has been developed with support from Irish Aid, and saw the impact it is having on the lives of producers of basic commodities including coffee, and the influence it is beginning to bring to bear on the lives of rural communities and on Ethiopia's economic role in Africa. I also met with a number of Irish business people who are investing in Ethiopia, helping to create opportunities for employment, trade and new links with Ireland and Europe.
I am convinced that by continuing to focus on a development partnership with Ethiopia aimed at reducing poverty and fighting hunger and at the same time building closer business and trade links between our two countries, Ireland can continue to make a very significant contribution to sustainable development in the country and the wider region.
Ireland's role in Ethiopia over many decades was recognised in all my discussions during my visit. Against this background, I had the opportunity for very open discussions with the Prime Minister and other political leaders on political developments in Ethiopia and on the conduct and aftermath of the recent elections, the human rights situation and the very positive role Ethiopia is playing internationally on global issues, including climate change.
Question 91: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the role of China in the future development of Africa; his further views on the long-term implications of Chinese involvement on the continent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29639/10]
China has rapidly increased its engagement with nearly every African state in recent years. Trade between Africa and China has grown an average of 30% per annum in the past decade and now stands at over US$100 billion, making China the continent's second largest trading partner after the US. China shares with other major economic powers a desire to gain access to natural resources, but also important is the desire to tap Africa's huge market of one billion people. This is testament to the enormous economic potential of Africa, which is now the third fastest growing region in the world, after China and India. It is also indicative of a growing trend of economic ties being formed between African and other developing and emerging market countries. This South-South trade cooperation is proving to be a critical new catalyst for Africa's economic growth.
I am aware of the contrast often made between what has been perceived as the commercial focus of China's policy in Africa and the primary focus of Ireland and the EU on issues such as poverty reduction, human rights and good governance. However, I believe that this contrast can be overstated. There are signs that China is increasingly aware of the importance of peace and stability in Africa and, as such, these are areas of shared interest with Ireland and the EU. China also has a large contribution to make in Africa by the sharing of experience on the reduction of poverty, including in some key areas for Africa such as raising agricultural productivity. At the most recent EU-China Summit, held in Nanjing last November, both sides welcomed trilateral dialogue between the EU, China and Africa, and agreed to explore appropriate areas for cooperation. They reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the full and timely achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and to supporting Africa's sustainable development and early economic recovery from the global financial crisis. I am also of the view that the commitment of African countries to human rights, gender equality, good governance and the fight against corruption is not only the product of pressure related to assistance from donors. African countries are participants in a wide range of international instruments which guarantee such freedoms and are, as is Ireland, accountable under the terms of these international agreements.
Ireland, for our part, has had a long and fruitful relationship with Africa. With the increasing globalisation of Africa, opportunities also lie there for Ireland to develop our relationship with the continent in new areas that will benefit us both. Ireland's total merchandise trade with Africa in 2009 was approximately €1.4 billion. However, I firmly believe that there is potential to grow and expand our trading relationship with the continent of Africa. The improvements in infrastructure, energy, and the availability of skilled workforces achieved in many partner countries with support from Irish Aid, means that doing business in Africa can be a real possibility for the right companies in the right sectors. My Department welcomes the opportunity to provide support to Irish companies wishing to expand their business into Africa.