Address by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter on the occasion of the opening of the Swiss Consulate General at Lagos
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(Honorable Minister), Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Chers compatriotes,
The opening of this second Consulate General of Switzerland in Sub-Saharan Africa, after Cape Town, marks a very special day for us. Switzerland is officially returning to the place where its long-standing friendship with Nigeria started 55 years ago: the exciting city of Lagos!
In 1961, just one year after Nigeria's independence (I do not remember the event very well, as I was myself just one year old!), Switzerland opened an embassy in Nigeria's former capital, thereby acknowledging the importance of this diverse nation state.
Ever since the opening of our embassy Nigeria has been at the heart of our foreign policy on Africa. Although the embassy is now located in Abuja, Nigeria has not lost any of its importance in our foreign policy — quite the contrary!
The economic significance of this country in particular cannot be overstated and is one of the main reasons why we are gathered here today to open the new Swiss Consulate General.
As the biggest economy on the continent, Nigeria not only plays a major role in shaping development in Africa, this position also enables Nigeria to contribute to economic growth worldwide. We are convinced that Africa needs to be an engine for a global economic renewal. And Nigeria will inevitably be at the forefront of this development.
And Lagos is to Nigeria what Nigeria is to Africa: its economic heart. With a vast variety of businesses, ranging from manufacturing and trading in goods to culture, fashion and entertainment, as exemplified by its booming movies industry 'Nollywood', Lagos points to what Nigeria and Africa should aspire to become in the decades to come.
This is the reason why Swiss companies are establishing themselves in Lagos and expanding their operations here and in this country as a whole.
We are proud to have a great number of leading Swiss companies present in Lagos and the surrounding area. They have created almost 9,000 jobs for Nigerians who are eager to participate in this country's development — young people who are keen to build their future and their children's future!
The Consulate General will help to foster further investment and trade by Swiss companies in Nigeria, and through this help to create even more opportunities for Swiss and Nigerian people and companies. Clearly: A new dimension in Swiss-Nigerian economic relations starts here today.
This brings me to my next point: Nigeria's most valuable resource, which happens to be the same as Switzerland's if not in fact of all countries — our youth.
Nigeria has enormous natural resources at its disposal which generate much needed revenue. Sustainable development, however, can only be achieved through engaging the ever-growing younger generation. Young people are driven by the spirit of innovation we need and by a creativity that is unique to their generation. They have energy and ideas. There is only one path to success: involving them in shaping their own future. They need — and are willing — to contribute, and through this they will also learn to take responsibility for their actions.
When I speak to young people I always tell them they have to engage and take responsibility, not just for themselves and their generation, but for their children and their children's generation too.
I would like to cite one example of how we promote this. Switzerland works together with Nestlé on a programme to train young apprentices here in Lagos in the field of mechanics and automation. The best apprentices from each training cycle have the opportunity to pursue their training for a further three months in Switzerland, after which they return home to apply what they have learned.
It is through such initiatives that we can harness the potential of young people for their own benefit and for the benefit of society. We want them to understand the most important thing: that we believe in them and we have confidence in them. We give them the opportunity to participate, work, learn, innovate, contribute, take responsibility, but also to teach us new ways to look at things. We want to encourage young people to play an active part in the development of their country.
The new Consulate General will contribute to achieving this goal.
We also see this cooperation in the light of our broader commitment to the prevention of violent extremism.
Switzerland works with an organisation based in Geneva — known as the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund — that works with local communities to offer people new prospects where they are most needed.
No national government can do this without the support of the local or regional communities — nor without the support of the private sector.
Therefore, I call on Swiss, Nigerian and international companies to join our efforts. It is in your interest and your responsibility. We need you to create new jobs and provide important on-the-job training.
Nigeria has been selected as one of the three first countries for the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund and its projects will start this year.
So do not hesitate to contact us; you know where to find us. Here, at the new Consulate General where our staff will gladly assist you.
In fact, the Consulate General will be at your service for a lot of other requests you may have. The consular services and visa section, however, will remain at the Swiss Embassy in Abuja. This underscores the fact that we regard the Consulate General above all as a Swiss trading point, with a strong focus on business and investment.
It will act as a reference point for Swiss companies and individuals. We hope we will be also able to build on this trust to promote public-private partnerships.
Thank you to all the people who have worked so hard to make this opening possible: First of all, thank you to our friends from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs with whom we also share our Embassy in Abuja. This colocation has proven to be successful and we look forward to pursuing the same model in other regions in the future. Thank you for your hospitality!
Denmark is an especially viable partner for such a colocation — not only because its flag looks very much like the Swiss flag (…!) but also because its foreign policy stands for similar values as Switzerland's. For example, we both promote vocational training, encourage bottom-up initiatives between research institutes, and we both believe strongly in the universality of human rights.
I would also like to convey Switzerland's gratitude to our Honorary Consul, Ms. Marlies Allan, who has represented Switzerland in Lagos for the last 12 years. She has done a remarkable job and I would like to thank her personally for supporting the Swiss community in Lagos and for going out of her way to make sure that Swiss citizens in Lagos feel officially heard.
Our new colleagues here in Lagos, under Ambassador Eric Mayoraz and Consul General Yves Nicolet-dit-Félix, will have a good source of inspiration to continue offering strong support to Swiss citizens and companies.
In this spirit therefore I am happy to represent the Swiss government here and, on its behalf, declare the new Consulate General of Switzerland in Lagos officially open.