Africa Business Forum: Technology Revolutionising African Development

My colleagues and I from Trade Division and Irish Aid attended the Africa Business Forum this morning, kindly hosted by Microsoft at their Sandyford headquarters. The event was organised by the Irish Exporters Association and Emerald Freight and was the fourth of five held this year (the fifth will be on 3rd December). Our MC for the event was Sean Findlay of Geoscience.

From the presentations, it is clear that technology is allowing African countries to leapfrog their economic development: put simply, African economies do not have to replicate the 18th century financial institution building that laid the groundwork for European economic development. In many ways, the private sector – broadly defined to include individuals as economic actors – is forging ahead and dragging government development along with them. The clearest illustration of this is in mobile phones: in African countries it is becoming commonplace for more citizens to have mobile phone than bank accounts. This is opening a huge market for mobile banking and payment services: already 500 million Africans have mobile phones. Since many Africans don’t have proper addresses or social security numbers, mobile phone usage is now serving as a platform for governments to catch-up. To this do, governments need big data analytics, the better to know their populations and make plans accordingly for infrastructure and services.

Marketing and Operations Director at Microsoft, Richard Moore, took us through digital megatrends: namely (i) digital mobility, the capacity to work anywhere anytime with your full office capacity online; (ii) social media, which allows for dialogue between companies and their stakeholders including suppliers and customers; (iii) big data and analytics which is now available to SMEs; and (iv) the Cloud which allows for unprecedented speed, scale and cost savings. The long and the short of it is that the digital revolution is the great leveller between large and smaller companies and between countries at divergent rates of development. This opens up literally a world of opportunity for smart companies.

PwC’s Cian Watson looked at the megatrends in Africa. Half of the world’s population growth to 2050 will be in Africa. Its middleclass is now 313 million and as it is the fastest growing in the world. As it grows so does the market for goods and services that the middle classes everywhere expect and demand. Mobile broadband growth 2013-14 was a staggering 43%. Rapid urbanisation is creating huge opportunities in construction. Again he cited technological breakthroughs as shaping the African business environment with mobile penetration now exceeding landline penetration. Kenya, he noted, was a leader in ICT development and a ready platform for companies looking to have a footprint in Africa. The M-Pesa system allows 18 million Kenyans carry out financial transactions every day.

Harcus Cooper of Barclays showed how traditional modern banking such as the Swift system is evolving through technology to serve African financial services. He cited the fact that 40% of Ugandans have mobile phones but less than 25% have bank accounts. John McNamara of Business Cost Management (BCM), told his story of business development from his home in Limerick to a franchise with over thirty offices in eighteen countries, a twenty year scaling made possible only by the internet and the digital revolution. He told me afterwards that the help of our Embassy in Nigeria was crucial in assisting on due diligence when it came to selecting their Nigerian partner.  If you are doing business in Africa or thinking about it, your first port of call should be to Enterprise Ireland but don’t forget to let the relevant Embassy know:  our diplomats want to know and are keen to help.  Details on our Embassy network are here.

On a housekeeping note, the Irish Exporters Association’s Export Industry Awards 2015 is on 13th November next at the Convention Centre: contact for more details.

Eamonn McKee

Director General | Trade Division | Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade |

2 Clonmel Street, Dublin 2

( Tel: +353 1 408 2718 | * | ::

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A Visit to EI’s International Markets Week

Earlier this week the Minister of State Seán Sherlock, who has special responsibility for trade at the Department, my colleagues here at Trade Division, and myself paid visits to Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week at the RDS. It’s a great event for Ireland’s exporters and potential exporters: they get the chance to meet with EI’s 32 international representatives who cover over 100 markets. I was accompanied by Brendan Flood, Divisional Manager for International Sales and Partnering. It was a great opportunity to meet some of EI’s representatives and indeed some of our exporters. There were specialist desks on global sourcing, capability and mentoring, public procurement, Horizon 2020, and research and innovation. AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank were there to offer advice on capital investment.

What’s often most valuable is what generates surprise. I met for example Thessa Brongers who is EI’s representative in Lagos, Nigeria. Thessa said that the Nigerian economy is taking off and will likely enter the top twenty global economies in the coming years. We talking about a market of 170 million people and a GDP of $522 bn.

The GDP per capita income of $3,700 does not really tell you the full story about market potential. Try these instead; Telecommunications and ICT investments in Nigeria from 2001 to 2013 are estimated to be worth around $25 billion. Active lines for subscribers and data went from 96 million in 2010-11 to 127 million in 2013-2014. There are 45 million mobile phones and with wifi penetration across the country a priority, the potential for devices and the software operating them is vast. Don’t forget too that ICT often leapfrogs in African countries because they provide information and services that public systems can find challenging. Years ago on visit to Sierra Leone I was amazed to see smart-card vendors every couple of miles in what was then a war ravaged country.

In Nigeria, the market for pharmaceuticals is estimated to double from $2.3 billion (2013) by 2016: and this is a highly import-dependent market. With twenty one commercial banks and $135 billion in assets, there are enormous opportunities for financial services in the burgeoning market of financial products and insurance not to mention all the software needed for retail electronic banking, secure payments and database management.

At EI’s International Markets week you can move from these macro-economic teasers to grounded discussions with EI representatives like Thessa about whether the market is right for you and if so where to start. And if you decide to enter a market, don’t forget that the Embassy is always ready to help; our Ambassador in Nigeria is Séan Hoy and you can check out the Embassy’s website here. We’ve been there since 1960 so we know a thing or two about the place!

So if you’re thinking of exporting Enterprise Ireland is there to help and our Embassies are open for you too. Think about putting International Markets Week in your calendar for next year.

Eamonn McKee

DG, Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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Ireland’s Top Exporters

I attended the launch of the Irish Exporter’s Association immensely useful and user-friendly  Top 250 Exporters 2015 this morning. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD, launched the publication, noting in his remarks that with our recovery providing the platform and strong growth now powering our economy, we should aim realistically for a return to full employment. We have deeply rooted companies driven by exports that are fostering growth throughout the regions.  With two out of three Irish companies investing in technology, we can see how dominant technology is to our top companies and to our economy.

Minister Bruton noted too that there was a strong entrepreneurial culture developing in Ireland and that the linkages between indigenous companies and FDI companies are intensifying. This is really very significant because FDI was never an end in itself: rather, in providing productive capacity, technological development, exports and jobs, FDI was conceived as a catalyst for the development of the indigenous economy, cut off as we were at independence from the island’s existing industrial base by partition.

The IEA’s Top 250 Exporters 2015 is an indispensable guide to what is going on in the Irish economy. We have come a very long way from the time when Ireland was a largely agricultural economy serving the food needs of Britain’s industrialised cities, often beef on the hoof. Today, the leading sectors in our export drive are ICT, medical devices, life sciences and high-end food and beverages. As the CEO of the IEA, Simon McKeever, noted in his remarks, ICT accounts for 44% of our exports, Life Sciences 32%, miscellaneous 13% and food and beverages 11%. Simon pointed out that there is great dynamism too, driven by acquisitions, with Ireland’s largest company Medtronic moving from 20th last year to 3rd this year on the list; Ingersoll Rand from 35th to 5th; and Activas from 70th to 6th.

Investec has partnered with the IEA in producing this report for the last five years.  In his presentation, Investec’s  economist Philip O’Sullivan noted that Irish GDP is at an all time high.  Exports have been growing steadily, year on year.  Moreover, growth in the “traditional” industrial sector is now in double digits.  This, combined with growth unbroken in the last eight quarters, shows the increasing depth of our recovery as we enter a strong growth phase.

The Top 250 Exporters 2015 is not just a list but a short health report on the export sector, with profiles of the top companies and commentary from, amongst others, the IDA’s Martin Shanahan, Enterprise Ireland’s Julie Sinnamon, Bord Bía’s Aidan Cotter and key players in different sectors.

You can download a copy of the report here.

Best wishes,


Eamonn McKee

Director General, Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade

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Ambassador’s Farewell Message, 20 August, 2015

It has come time to say goodbye to Israel.  My family and I are to return to Ireland tomorrow because I have had the honour of being appointed Director General of the Trade and Promotion Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  It is a fantastic opportunity and I am delighted to have the chance to engage in this vital area.  In the normal course diplomatic postings are of four years duration but it happens from time to time in one’s career that Headquarters has other ideas!

We have enjoyed our two year stay here and we have learned an awful lot.  We have been thrilled to set foot in Bethlehem, the Negev, Masada, Galilee, and countless towns and villages, but above all in Jerusalem where it seems that heaven and earth are bound closer than anywhere else.  It was exciting to explore and uncover aspects of Irish Israel relations from the past, such as the key roles played in Israel’s history by such Irish figures as Col. Henry Patterson and Mike Flanagan.  More contemporary highlights included the visits of Ministers Shatter, Coveney, Lynch and of course the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan last February.

And in my two years here, I have experienced the start of the Kerry peace talks, the collapse of those talks, the war in Gaza, the end of a government, elections and the start of a new government.  For a diplomatic posting of any length that’s plenty!

Cultural highlights included our own reading of Joyce’s Ulysses at the Residence for last year’s Bloomsday and the production of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape this year.

More discreetly, we engaged with peace builders and NGOs who patiently build the foundations for Israel’s peaceful future.  As we learned in Northern Ireland, this work is often unseen and thankless but ultimately vital.

All the preparatory reading about Israel cannot substitute for living here.  I leave profoundly impressed with all that Israel has achieved in such a short span of time – in state building, militarily, economically and socially.

Of all the places I have visited, none have impressed me more than Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum.  In its moral clarity, in its accounting of what happened that is both respectful of its victims and of the facts, in its architecture that is both labyrinthine and cathedral-like, it inspires an awe that deepens rather than dissipates on each visit.

And then there is the Occupation.  I profoundly share the Irish Government’s position that it must end.  Only in the realisation of self-determination can both Israelis and Palestinians reach their full potential as distinct communities of people.  Only in separate and sovereign self-determination can both live as two cooperative neighbours, governed by democracy, law and mutual respect.

We have very happy memories of time spent with the Israel Ireland League and count many of its members as friends, including the irreplaceable and effervescent chairman, Malcolm Gafson.  Diplomatic colleagues were not only knowledgeable guides but some have become good friends.  We encountered remarkable people involved in peace building, the arts and academia.  And we’ll never forget the thrill of walking into our garden and simply picking lemons, oranges, kumquats, and mangos from our trees!

I would like to say a special thanks to Mary my wife and my children.  My kids have followed me to the US, Korea and Israel.  In New York we lived through 9/11.  They listened in Seoul to CNN warn of an imminent attack from North Korea in April 2012 and stood in the Residence’s bomb-shelter last summer as Iron Dome very audibly did its work in the skies nearby.  More than that, they adjusted to life in new societies and new schools.  Mary is the other working half of this partnership and was very much captain of the Residence.  She worked briefly too in the Embassy providing vital assistance when it was needed.

I would like to pay a special tribute to David Lee, who began as my PA and is now our office manager; he has been the epitome of courtesy, commitment, enthusiasm and above all integrity, a quality that I have come to value more and more.  We are now supported in the office by Joseph Sa’ad, a great addition as driver/office secretary.  I would like to thank too all those who responded to my messages from time to time.

There is disappointment at not having two more years here, a thrill about the new job and excitement about going home after six years abroad.  The Embassy here will be in good hands under the leadership of Ambassador designate Alison Kelly, my friend and colleague, and the new Deputy Head of Mission, Tim Reilly.

I wish you the very best.

Shabbat Shalom and farewell,


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador, Tel Aviv


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Easter Rising, 1916-2016

As you know, the one hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising will be commemorated next year. 

There has always been a lively discussion in Ireland of the Rising itself.   The courage of the rebels and their willingness to die for their country was not in doubt.  Yet a question remains about the Rising’s utility, from a military perspective; an essentially guerrilla army, lightly armed, embedding itself in fixed positions around Dublin and waiting for the army of the world’s largest empire to come and get them. 

Yet it is clear that the Rebels knew exactly what they were doing in seizing Dublin.  It has to be remembered that Dublin was captured by the Anglo-Norman warlord Richard de Clare, aka Strongbow, in 1170.  In an act of fealty and self-preservation he quickly conferred it to Henry II.  The English crown’s hold on Dublin remained throughout the next seven hundred and fifty years, the city and Dublin Castle acting as the lynch-pin of its conquest and occupation of Ireland.  The 1916 rebels were the first to shake that hold.  They expected the symbolism of their act to resonate profoundly with the nationalist people of Ireland. 

The rebels were correct in their assessment of its impact.  Their Rising proved to be a seminal event in Irish history, sweeping aside the Irish Parliamentary Party with its genteel ambitions of home rule and igniting the final and successful push for independence.

The Department of Defence are compiling an official register of relatives of participants in the Easter Rising for the purpose of invitations to Ireland 2016 commemorative events, particularly the Easter Sunday parade (27th March 2016) and evening reception in Dublin Castle (a reception that has a weighty symbolism of its own!)

Registration forms and details of how to apply are available on the Department of Defence website  The closing date for registration is Wednesday 30thSeptember 2015.

If you are a relative of participants in the Rising, you may wish to apply to attend these important commemorative events.

Best wishes,


Eamonn McKee


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News from Ireland Israel, Ambassador’s Message 11 June 2015

Here’s some updates on events in Israel with an Irish interest.  You can stay in touch with us through our website ( ) which carries a live-feed of the Embassy’s Twitter account with links to articles and photographs of interest, and through my twitter account @EamonnMcKee.

Prof. Guy Beiner was not long returned to Ben Gurion University after his sabbatical when he organised an Irish symposium on 1 June last.  The main speaker was Queen’s University Professor Keith Jeffery, a renowned historian most know for his history of Britain’s external intelligence service MI6 (MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service, 1909 to 1949 (London, 2010). Prof. Jeffery also wrote the seminal Ireland the Great War which was the topic of his fascinating talk at BGU. He is a wonderful and engaging communicator about history and he held the audience with his wit and erudition.

We had a full house at BGU with over a hundred guests, comprising faculty, students and even some interested locals. The event was supported by a grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. For the Irish themed party afterwards, Guinness and Tullamore Dew provided product support and lively traditional Irish music came courtesy of the band Black Velvet. The day was a great mix of the educational and the social, perfect.

Thanks to Guy for his enthusiasm, energy and academic brilliance not least on Irish history: His book Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History and Social Memory (Madison, 2007) was highly acclaimed.

The Israel Ireland Friendship League gathered to recall a unique piece of history at the Armoured Corps Museum at Latrun. It is a wonderful place, set on top of the strategic hilltop guarding the road to Jerusalem with panoramic views around the rolling hills. Peaceful now, even with the presence of tanks serried in all their quiet might, Latrun has been the scene of some fearful battles, including in 1948. An Irishman, Mike Flanagan, took some Cromwell tanks from his own unit of the British Army to help the nascent state of Israel defend its existence. My remarks at the event available on this blog (photos found on the sites noted above).

Thanks to the passion and commitment of Prof. Linda Ben Zvi at Tel Aviv University, this year’s Samuel Beckett Event was not a lecture as is traditional, but a performance of Krapp’s Last Tape by ITIM Theatre Ensemble, with the great Doron Tavori in the lead role under the brilliant direction of Remi Yerushalemi. We had a panel discussion with the audience and of course an after-party. Thanks to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a grant which made this possible and to Guinness for adding another Irish dimension through their support for the after-party. My opening remarks on this blog.

Finally, we are approaching the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo. This is seen as the climatic and definitive encounter between France and counter-revolutionary forces allied under Britain’s leadership. However, there was an important, even vital, Irish dimension and you might find my blog on this of interest: you can find it on this blog. How we in Ireland view Waterloo says much about our awakening as a society from what Joyce termed ‘the nightmare of history’.

Shabbat Shalom,


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador, Tel Aviv

on Twitter: @EamonnMcKee

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Annual TUA-Embassy Beckett Event, Tel Aviv

Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett

Remarks by HE Dr Eamonn McKee, Ambassador of Ireland

Without doubt, Samuel Beckett is a colossus of 20th century literature. Paradoxically he is one of literature’s most distinctive voices yet his themes are the most universal: existence, awareness, memory, the nature of self and the ineffable quality of reality.

Paradoxically too Beckett is both a recognisably Irish writer in his characters and experiences and words. Yet, he sought to sublimate this Irishness on a wider, unnameable and infinitely more universal canvas.

If the origin of the universe is the big bang, the origin of Beckett as a writer is what he called ‘the disaster’. If reality was unreliable, and if consciousness seeking certainty of itself could only achieve uncertainty, then this was a disaster.

The only possible negotiation of this was in the act of writing. Only writing could bridge the gap between the bearable and the impossible; between ‘I can’t go on’ and ‘I must go on.’

In his writing, Beckett is detached from his characters but in a benign way. He is a forgiving God in his universe. It is we who judge ourselves. In Krapp’s Last Tape, Beckett has his character use recordings to listen to and to cast judgement on his younger self or younger selves. But he is in fact casting judgement on himself, on his life. Does he find redemption or condemnation in these encounters?

We cannot escape the question, would we?

Beckett moved seamlessly from prose to the theatre. The theatre offered him one thing that prose could not – silence. Beckett is probably the greatest exponent of the tension between the spoken word and silence.

More than that, as the great Irish literary critic Seamus Deane has observed in his wonderful précis of Beckett in Field Day Anthology III, the stage for Beckett offered tangibility. Because of this tangibility, Beckett was famously exacting about the quality and precision of the theatrical performances of his work.

Again prose could not offer this: Drama provided physical characters in the form of the actors themselves: The stage offered a reliable three dimensional space. And the performance provided measured time, real time. Where all of these could slip into nothingness in prose, on the stage they were actualised.

However, in their actualisation, Beckett wanted exactitude. In drama, Beckett was the composer and conductor. The actors were the instruments of his words. The whole production was the realisation of the world he was creating. As his instruments, actors must achieve precision of timing and quality of tone, just as the director must find exactitude of intention.

Only the most committed of directors and actors dare to perform Beckett. Only the greatest directors and actors can achieve this. With certainty of just such achievement, I am honoured to welcome you to this performance.

I would like to thank Prof. Linda Ben Zvi for her enormous commitment in sustaining this annual event. This year it is a very special one thanks to her inspiration. I would also like to thank Rina Yerushalmi, one of Israel’s most renowned directors and Doron Tavori, one of Israel’s most accomplished stage actors, for making this evening’s event possible.  Thanks too to ITIM Theatre Ensemble for their enthusiastic support from the outset. I would like to acknowledge the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for its financial grant and Guinness for their support in a different form of liquidity!

Thank you

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