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Irish President calls for Africa poverty reduction policy

Irish President calls for Africa poverty reduction policy

Nov 18, 2014

Speaking at the Soweto Campus of the University of Johannesburg on 17 November 2014, Irish President Michael D Higgins called for poverty reduction to become “central policy” for African governments.

In his keynote address, Challenges and Opportunities in Africa, during a 22-day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa, President Higgins said that the impact of climate change and the depletion of natural resources requires economies to be transformed into environmentally sustainable models.

Students at the campus heard President Higgins urge a shift among governments. “The shift to sustainability, if managed ethically and fairly, offers the possibility of making economies more inclusive and of directing new economic opportunity towards people who are currently excluded from economic growth and prosperity.”

Implementing active and responsive policies to ensure the transformation to economically sustainable markets that make the poor a priority was the best way forward, he suggested, adding that this “would require political will and leadership”.

These interventions will depend heavily on the ability of marginalised communities to exert influence over policymakers, President Higgins said, highlighting the fact that, while African countries have seen some of the highest economic growth rates in the world over the past decade, many people still remain in poverty.

“This demonstrates that economic progress does not necessarily improve the lives of the poor,” he said.

Large power stations not the solution

The solutions that President Higgins suggests must be implemented by governments to reduce poverty across Africa include ensuring people’s rights over land rather than facilitating acquisitions by external investors; the building of thousands of small-scale energy systems for remote communities rather than more investment in large power stations that serve only those already connected to the grid; and ensuring direct climate change finance to the poorest households.

President Higgins said that the basic rights of gender equality and decent work are the “building blocks of empowerment”, which is a critical factor in the fight to end poverty.

“We need to re-legitimise and revitalise public policy. This means we must reinvest governments and the political process with the duty and responsibility to define social objectives for the economy,” he said. “This is the only way in which states and governments can have the ability to make a real social contract with their citizens and deliver on it.”

Prior to leaving Ireland on 1 November 2014 for his African trip, President Higgins said: “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.”

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