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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Blair flies out on Africa mission
Tony Blair
Mr Blair: Fit, alert and off to Africa
Tony Blair flies to Africa later on Tuesday for a series of meetings to help find solutions to the problems faced by the continent.

The prime minister's aides insist his health is up to the gruelling schedule after his recent heart procedure.

They say he is "fresh and alert" after treatment for an irregular heartbeat.

During the three-day trip, Mr Blair will attend a session of his Africa taskforce, the Commission for Africa, in Ethiopia.

'Short-sighted approach'

Mr Blair launched the commission in February 2004 to assess the African situation and draw up future policies after calling Africa's problems a "scar on the world's conscience".

African problems cannot be solved by Western donors
Atem Mator, Sudan

It also aims to generate increased support for the Africa Action Plan drawn up by the G8 of leading industrialised nations.

The Ethiopian talks will also be attended by Band Aid organiser Bob Geldof, 20 years after his appeal to help people starving there raised 90m.

The commission is scheduled to report its findings in time for them to be discussed by the G8, when the UK takes over its presidency next year.

Mr Blair has promised to make the plight of Africa one of the twin focuses of his G8 chairmanship, along with climate change.

The commission session, starting on Thursday, will be "workmanlike" and assess progress made so far, Mr Blair's spokesman said.

"It's important that Africa sees this report has been produced with Africa rather for Africa and that's why it's important we meet in Ethiopia.

It's important that Africa sees this report has been produced with Africa rather for Africa
The prime minister's spokesman
"What the prime minister wants is a report which reflects the reality of what works and what doesn't work in Africa, which advocates the importance to the rest of the world on how to turn Africa around."

The key was helping "Africa help itself" but there were no "instant solutions", the spokesman added.

'Worse off'

International development secretary Hilary Benn will accompany Mr Blair on the trip.

Earlier this week, the charity Save the Children called for a longer term approach to aid in countries such as Ethiopia.

Aid should focus on lifting people out of poverty rather than concentrating on food hand-outs, it said.

Spokesman Mike Aaronson, said millions of people in Ethiopia's historically famine-prone northeastern highlands were "worse off and more vulnerable than ever".

He said "lack of political will" by world leaders and "paltry" aid had not helped the nation combat persistent food shortages.

"It is shocking that 20 years after Band Aid millions of children still experience hunger," he said.

"Yet, in the last 20 years, donors have shown a lack of political will and a short-sighted approach to aid that has compounded poverty in Ethiopia."

Closed markets

Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in the world - the average annual income is 56.

But Africa as a whole has fallen dramatically behind other developing regions with declining economic growth rates and increasing poverty.

It is the only region in the developing world which is no better off than it was 25 years ago.

Declining levels of aid from richer countries and closed markets for African goods have made things worse for the continent.

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