'It is time for us to rethink our relationship with Africa' - President Higgins
President Michael D Higgins has called for a rethink of the world's relationship with Africa as he arrives in Malawi on an official State Visit.
"It is time for us all to rethink our relationship with and facilitate a new future for Africa," the President said this morning.
As the first Irish President to visit the sub-saharan country he was given full military honours when he landed in the capital, Lilongwe, at midday.
Mr Higgins said Malawi, which has a population of 12 million people, faces the most challenges of any African country, including that like Ireland, of debt.
"I'm very conscious that Malawi combines some of the greatest challenges in Africa, challenges of HIV/Aids, challenges of hunger and also an inherited long challenge and overhang of debt.
"I have been interested myself in Malawi and how it extricates itself from the stranglehold of inherited debt, where for example in 1970 Malawi had a debt of $290m, it repaid $260m and yet two years ago it had a debt of $230m, it had been paying interest," Mr Higgins told the waiting media.
Hundreds of people lined out on the runway of Lilongwe airport with men and women performing traditional Malawian dance for his arrival.
The Irish National Anthem was also played on the runway.
"I think Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa and that is certainly reflected in the great warmth of the reception Irish people receive here, they talk about that.
"As the first visit of an Irish President I am very honoured and privileged to be here and to the talks that I will have of any facility I can towards of being any assistance," said Mr Higgins.
During his three-day visit to Malawi the President will a number of Irish Aid funded projects, which work in the areas of nutrition and agriculture.
"I was anxious to come an experience the work that Irish Aid is doing here as I have said the Irish Aid programme has expanded from about €6.7m in 2007 to €20m last year," Mr Higgins said.