Monday 21 January 2019

First female president of Ethiopia pays tribute to Ireland for 'leading the way for women in high office'

(Photo: Twitter/Leo Varadkar)
(Photo: Twitter/Leo Varadkar)
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

The first female president of Ethiopia has paid tribute to Ireland for leading the way for women holding high office.

Newly-appointed President Sahle-Work Zewde met with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the first day of his visit to Ethiopia - the first official visit by a Taoiseach to the country despite 25 years of diplomatic links between the countries.

Speaking to the Irish media following the meeting, President Sahle-Work congratulated Ireland on leading the way on female presidents. 

"Congratulations on having shown the way for having women presidents. I’m humbled with the opportunity I have here and I hope we will [encourage] other countries to follow so you have a good example that women can do their jobs, I’m trying to do that as well."

The leader - who is the only female president currently of all 55 African countries - said she would like to visit Ireland one day.

Gender equality remains a series concern for Ethiopia with education rates, the birth rate among teenagers and unemployment against women all ranking poorly compared to international standards and with their male counterparts.

Gender-based violence also remains an issue with domestic violence and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) rates high in the country overall despite improvements and significant regional differences. As such the fact that a woman now holds the role of president is seen as especially significant.

The links between Ireland and Ethiopia are the focus of the visit - Ethiopia is afforded the largest share of Irish aid spend and several Irish NGOs also have strong roots in the country which still faces economic challenges, poverty and poor health indicators

However, the country is seen to be ushering in an era of reform since the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was appointed last April.

President Sahle-Work said she hopes Ireland will play a role in the ongoing development of the country.

"We have had a long-lasting relationship that has been growing and we hope that Ireland will be the country to continue supporting the all round transformation this country is going through. We rely on our long lasting partners and Ireland is one of them," she said.

Earlier, the Taoiseach met with the Prime Minister at his office in the sprawling capital of Addis Ababa.

The newly installed Prime Minister has been credited with ushering in significant political reforms in the country since he became prime minister in April 2018, succeeding Hailemariam Desagln who stepped down amid significant civil unrest.

Prime Minister Abiy has moved to settle relation with Eritrea following years of poor relations in the wake of a war between the two countries. The border between the two countries is being opened and the PM also ended a state of emergency in the county earlier than planned.

He has pledged significant political and economic reforms for the country and has appointed a gender-balanced Cabinet.

His significant reforms which include free and fair elections in 2020 and sweeping anti-corruption measures have seen him build support among the youth of the country and there is significant expectation among citizens about his promised changes.

Due to his youth and his approach to change the Prime Minister has been likened to an ‘African Macron’, likening him to the French president Emmanuel Macron.

Speaking at the presidential palace, Mr Varadkar said he had received a warm reception from the Prime Minister and the president.

The visit was an opportunity to talk about how Ireland, Ethiopia and Europe may work together on issues such as economic and national development and security he said.

"We really want to build a strong partnership with Ethiopia," he told local reporters.

Ireland's bid for the UN Security Council had been expected to feature in the bilateral meetings during the Taoiseach's visit to Africa.

Speaking in Mali this week he said he is confident of Ireland's chances despite the competition and today he indicated the representations made to the Ethiopian PM were well received.

Mr Varadkar  also attended the launch of the Ethio-Ireland alumni network and said he believed Ireland and Europe needed to expand educational links with Ethiopia.

He said: "The present generation of leaders in Africa, there is a good chance that they were educated in Europe and America. There is a possibility that the next generation of African leaders will have been educated in Beijing or Shanghai.

"And that is a geopolitical strategic risk for Europe and the West which is one of the reason we need to increase our educational opportunity.

"About 100 Ethiopians have been educated in Irish universities. We launched today the Ethiopia-Irish Alumni Association. We want to expand that.

"I think in Europe we need to think about all that. We have so much in common with Africa, so many challenges, so many shared opportunities. If we in Ireland and in Europe do not get more involved in this region and invest in this region, we risk opening a space for other countries to enter, be it China or Saudi Arabia or Russia.

"We need to make sure we are here and we are crowding in."

He also mdiscussed the cultural outreach that has been spearheaded at home in a bid to spread Ireland’s cultural offerings around the world, including the appointment of actress Ruth Negga who has Ethiopian links.

Mr Varadkar paid tribute to the role Ireland has played through diplomacy and aid over the past 25 years in Ethopia and was given some unique insight to that role when he greeted by Foreign Affairs State Minister Markos Tekle who was educated in an Irish Aid secondary school.

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