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Huge confusion conveyed to Department after unexpected cancellation of flagship Africa Day event

There was much confusion about what events were on after the Department made a last-minute decision to take a different approach to Africa Day.

Image: Brian Lawless

MEMBERS OF THE public, charities and representative groups wrote to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about cancellation of Africa Day’s flagship event at Farmleigh House.

For the past 12 years, Africa Day has been organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs every year on 25 May. The date marks the official day of the African Union. Since 2013, this has involved a celebration in Farmleigh House, Phoenix Park. The event has increased dramatically in popularity in recent years, and drew in over 17,000 attendees last year.

This year, the Department made a decision to take “a different approach” to Africa Day, by cancelling the national flagship event at Farmleigh and handing over the organisation to local authorities around the country, encouraging them to apply for funding from the Department to host grassroot-type events.

Ten local authorities were confirmed to host or facilitate events to mark Africa Day this year, with a cap of €15,000 set per local authority.

According to Freedom of Information documents released to TheJournal.ie, the Department made the change due to “practical reasons, including capacity at the Farmleigh venue”, adding that the change would require “a managed wind down and handover process of the administrative and support functions”. 

Despite announcements made by Minister of State for the Diaspora Ciarán Cannon, there was confusion over what would be taking place instead of the flagship event, with groups including Trócaire, An Cosán, Tearfund Ireland, and Akidwa asking the Department of Foreign Affairs for direction just a month out from this year’s Africa Day.

On 25 April, Trócaire wrote to the Department to request advice on how to get involved in Africa Day without a flagship event.

“Trócaire normally participates in the Africa Day celebration in Phoenix Park – we have a stand with games, simulation activities, installations etc. Trócaire has attended this event as far back as we can remember. We use the event to raise the profile of our Irish Aid funded public engagement work. It is an important moment in our public engagement calendar.”

The Association of Malawians in Ireland wrote to the department to say that they were “proud of the many years of participation in the Africa Day celebrations, and we were looking forward to participating in this year’s Africa Day”.

However, our community was saddened to learn that Africa Day flagship will not take place this year… As a community in Ireland, we are eager to participate, share and showcase our culture in such upcoming events. Hence, we are inquiring to learn more about the new developments.

An Cosán Virtual Community College emailed the department to say that there “wasn’t much time” for people to know about the application for funding, and to ask would the deadline be extended.

 A post had been published on the Africa Day website on 5 April inviting local authorities to apply for funding; the deadline for applications was 10 April. 

The Department replied to say that councils were informed of the available funding on 14 March, and that the website post was only intended to “alert the wider public to this updated approach”.

In most cases, email responses inquiring about how to take part in Africa Day this year received the same response from the Department:

“Further information in this regard will be announced by the Department over the coming weeks, so please keep an eye on the Africa Day website and social media channels for updates. In the meantime, please feel free to contact your nearest local council authority to determine what opportunities may be available in your area to celebrate Africa Day.”

Dublin public relations agency DHR Communications, which had organised Africa Day on behalf of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, sent an email on 15 May to say that there was “quite a steady flow of calls to us today on Africa Day”, adding that since a photo event, there was more awareness that Farmleigh wasn’t going ahead this year. 

Largely, people want to know what’s happening in Dublin and how they can get involved, and this is probably the weakest information we have so far. 

The email included a screenshot of reactions on social media, where a number of people were asking if there was “nothing in Phoenix Park in Dublin this year”, including a number of other messages.

On 18 May, the Department was sent an email from a UCD staff member:

“I would be grateful if you could let me know whose decision it was to cancel the flagship Africa Day event at Farmleigh House. I would like to hear their explanation directly. Thousands of people are disappointed and let down. This was a very important annual event for many families including our own; it did more than anything else to make our African family feel part of Irish society. 

Please don’t point to the extremely small-scale local events – they are not an adequate alternative in any way. It is the equivalent of replacing the GAA Finals with a few local matches.

The Department replied to explain that “a fresh and collaborative approach” to Africa Day was being taken which involved working with 10 local authorities across Ireland that had organised African-themed film festivals, art exhibitions, football tournaments, school visits and a flag procession (for some specific examples, click here).

The Department continued:

“While we appreciate that this year marks a change in how Africa Day is celebrated across Ireland, we no less recognise the importance and potential in our relations with countries all across Africa and with the African community here in Ireland.

“These relations continue to grow and by partnering with a record number of local authorities to celebrate Africa Day this year, we aim to harness the energy and cultural diversity that is now very much a part of our society.”

After being asked to specifically address the query of why the flagship event in Dublin was cancelled as part of this change in approach, the Department issued this statement:

Reflecting on the positive engagements, we decided to refresh the Dublin celebrations, to root them much more in communities – the places where we live each day. We are working with four Dublin councils, and with other institutional stakeholders, to put in place a new, more collaborative approach at local level that will help to promote the concept and values of Africa Day on an ultimately larger scale.

“I do believe that it will help relations within communities here in Ireland and wider relations between Ireland and the countries of Africa to go from strength to strength over the period ahead.”

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