President Michael D Higgins has commenced a five-day visit to Senegal, his first time in Africa since 2014.
He will stay until Friday, attending a food security conference, visiting a former slave trading centre and holding various bilateral meetings.
On Tuesday morning the President was received by Senegalese president and current African Union chairman Macky Sall at the presidential palace in Dakar. A guard of honour played Amhrán na bhFiann before the two presidents walked a red carpet together.
Mr Higgins told Mr Sall this was his first trip to West Africa, but that he has been to many other African countries, including Somalia in 1992.
This is the President’s third visit to the continent since he became head of state. He attended the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 2013, and also went to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa in late 2014.
In response, Mr Sall said he was very happy to host the Irish President in Dakar and glad at his attendance at the food security conference. “Above all I’d like to congratulate you for Ireland’s membership of the African Development Bank,” Mr Sall said, explaining that the Covid-19 pandemic, and other “scourges” such as the war in Ukraine, had highlighted ongoing challenges across Africa related to food supply.
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In an impromptu address to the press after the meeting, Mr Higgins said he had a “wonderful” meeting with Mr Sall. “We were able to exchange discussion and opportunities for how we can be of assistance to each other in so many different areas,” he said, including regarding technology and culture.
They had also discussed the “long historical relationships between Africa and the outside world”, and the importance of “facing the past” in order to be able to understand the present and the future of Africa. The President said the two had also spoken about climate change, including the “incredible price that the continent of Africa… is paying for emissions that it didn’t create”, saying Africa produces less than 5 per cent of global emissions.
Mr Higgins was greeted at the airport on Monday evening by Senegal’s foreign minister, Aïssata Tall Sall.
The President has been accompanied to Senegal by his wife, Sabina, as well as Seán Fleming, Minister of State with Responsibility for International Development and the Diaspora.
On Tuesday afternoon he visited former slave-trading centre Gorée Island.
Mr Higgins exchanged gifts with Mr Sall, including a book of essays called Poétique du Conte Gaélique et Wolof, which compares the oral traditions of the Irish language and Wolof, one of the most widely spoken languages in Senegal. Mr Higgins also gave Mr Sall a signed copy of his own book, Reclaiming The European Street.
On Wednesday, Mr Higgins will make a speech marking the opening of the three-day Dakar 2 Summit on food sovereignty and resilience. It will be titled “To Make a New Journey of Sufficiency – From our Origin, Africa”. He is expected to speak shortly after Mr Sall and African Development Bank president Akinwumi A Adesina, and before Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari.
The conference is expected to be attended by dozens of heads of state, and Mr Higgins will also speak on Friday. He said he sees the conference as having “the capacity, when it’s followed through” to promote “an entirely new kind of international economics with a very strong leadership from Africa who are of course paying the price for models that have brought us to a point of devastation ecologically and indeed socially and in conflict terms”.
The presidential visit comes as Ireland expands its representation in West Africa and the Sahel region. The Irish Embassy in Senegal is now open and operational, with Irish Ambassador Derek Hannon having presented his credentials to the Senegalese president on January 19th. This is Ireland’s first mission in francophone West Africa.