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I am honoured to be Ireland’s first ambassador here in Kenya since the embassy in Nairobi was closed, for economic reasons, in 1988.
The re-opening of our embassy in Kenya in October 2014, one of eight new missions opened globally last year, coincides with strong Government effort to re-engage with countries with which we enjoy strong political relations.
It signals a determination not just to promote Ireland’s interests and values overseas but also to establish mutually beneficial relationships — which serve the needs and values of our citizens.
Ireland is a small island nation of almost 4.5 million in the north-west of Europe. We are a country that has had colonisation, liberation, hunger and migration at the heart of our collective experience.
This history is strongly reflected in a rich culture which we treasure and which is reflected in our music, literature, language and sport. In continuity with this heritage, many Irish musicians, poets and sportsmen and women are renowned globally.
The Irish State is young in relative terms and was founded in 1922 after many years of conflict and rebellion.
In the years since the foundation of the State our society has been transformed from one that was poor, insular and largely dependent on subsistence agriculture into a developed modern society that is well integrated into the European Union.
A key defining characteristic of Ireland is our outward focus. Our foreign policy recognises the central connection between Ireland’s future development and the way we engage internationally. This has huge relevance to how we engage with Africa.
Ireland’s relationship with Africa has a long history. Even before the foundation of the Irish state, missionaries and aid workers from Ireland travelled throughout Africa and established schools and hospitals, working with the poorest in African society.
These historical relationships are complemented by cooperation through the Irish Government’s official aid programme, Irish Aid, which allocates a higher proportion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to sub Saharan Africa than any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) donor.
Ireland’s engagement with Africa is further enhanced by the reputation of Irish peacekeepers who have been deployed on the continent for over 50 years.
We also have a strong and evolving business relationship with Africa — with many Irish companies already doing business, or planning to do so, with African partners.
The strength of this relationship is reflected in Ireland’s diplomatic representation in Africa. With the opening of our new embassy in Kenya in 2014, Ireland now has 10 embassies in sub Saharan Africa — in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
While in the past the priority for Ireland’s embassies in Africa was to administer the bilateral aid agreed between our respective countries, the new foreign policy provides for more balanced and mutually beneficial relationships between Ireland and Africa.
Embassies are now required to engage in a broader range of activities including political relationships, development cooperation partnerships, the promotion of Irish business, the establishment of mutually beneficial economic links, and exchange in the arenas of sport and culture.
There are some important reasons why Ireland wants to strengthen political, economic and cultural ties with Kenya.
– We share a long history of friendship and political co-operation.
– We have a legacy of contribution in Kenya spanning over 100 years.
– Both of our countries are endowed with a tremendous beauty and a wealth of natural resources.
– We share a common and painful experience of colonisation, struggle and liberation.
– We are both committed to building free and democratic societies.
– We both are committed to benefiting from regional integration and better trading opportunities with neighbouring countries.
At a gathering with Irish missionaries in Nairobi some weeks ago I was reminded of their long and sustained contribution to Kenyan society for over a century.
Many Kenyan citizens have been educated in noble institutions such as Loreto High School in Limuru, St Mary’s High School in Nairobi, St Patricks High School in Iten — all of which were founded by Irish citizens in the early years of Kenyan independence.
These examples represent but a fraction of the contribution these people have made to the development of Kenyan society for many years.
Destitution and sorrow
This legacy of contribution has been supplemented in more recent years by the work of Irish based NGOs such as Trócaire, Goal and Concern Worldwide, which work in Kenya, supported by a contribution of around €6.5 million (Sh637 million) by the Irish Government each year.
In his annual message for St Patricks Day this year, our President Michael D Higgins recalled how, when St Patrick arrived on the shores of Ireland some 1,600 years ago, his story was founded on hardship, destitution and great sorrow.
However since that time this transformed into a narrative of courage, vision and opportunity.
My wish, as our new embassy in Kenya has re-opened, is that our work is characterised by this vision – in particular through the way we deliver services to Irish citizens and contribute to the development of Kenyan society.
Dr O’Neill is Ireland’s first resident ambassador in Kenya since 1988.
– Business Daily