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President recalls a shared history as he starts Malawi visit

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Pictured is President Michael D Higgins with Vice President of Malawi, Rt Hon Saulos Klaus Chilima, after his arrival to Kazumu International Airport, Lilongwe Malawi being greeted with a traditional welcome on the ninth day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Copyright Fennell Photography 2014

Pictured is President Michael D Higgins with Vice President of Malawi, Rt Hon Saulos Klaus Chilima, after his arrival to Kazumu International Airport, Lilongwe Malawi being greeted with a traditional welcome on the ninth day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Copyright Fennell Photography 2014

Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Pictured is President Michael D Higgins with Vice President of Malawi, Rt Hon Saulos Klaus Chilima, after his arrival to Kazumu International Airport, Lilongwe Malawi being greeted with a traditional welcome on the ninth day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Copyright Fennell Photography 2014

President Michael D Higgins was welcomed to Malawi with song, dance and Irish flags.

Mr Higgins was the first ever Irish President to visit the sub-Saharan country and received full military honours on the runway as the Irish anthem was played.

And hundreds of Malawians performed traditional songs and dances at the national airport to welcome the President.

Mr Higgins said that the countries share similar histories as the colonies of the British Empire. Malawi commemorates 50 years of independence this year.

ability

"Our countries share more than just an ability to indicate warm welcomes to each other," Mr Higgins said at a State dinner last night.

"Of course, in the last century, both of our countries struggled for independence. In Ireland we will soon celebrate the 100th anniversary, the moment of our independence.

President Higgins said that the debate around the commemoration of our struggle for independence is a challenge but one that is being carried out with honesty.

"In Ireland we have entered a decade of commemorations, of a series of seminal events which led to our independence in 1922 and we've had to think about, how we can in a fair and comprehensive way, deal with memory and the past," he said.

challenge

"To do so in a way that can win the confidence of all but also to express an invitation to future generations is a huge challenge, but it is one that we are doing with honesty - both ethical and historical.

Malawi is his second African country to go to as part of an official State visit, having already visited Ethiopia. The President will depart for South Africa on Thursday.

During his three-day visit to Malawi, the President will go to a number of Irish Aid funded projects, which work in the areas of nutrition and agriculture.

"I was anxious to come and experience the work that Irish Aid is doing here. The Irish Aid programme has expanded from about €6.7m in 2007 to €20m last year," the President said as he arrived in Malawi yesterday.

He also called for a rethink of the world's relationship with the continent.

"It is time for us all to rethink our relationship with and facilitate a new future for Africa," the President said at the airport.

Mr Higgins said Malawi, which has a population of 12 million people, faces the most challenges of any African country, including that of debt - just like Ireland.

hunger

"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 still endied up with a debt of $230m due to accumulated interest," Mr Higgins said.

hnews@herald.ie


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