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Last Updated: Friday, 29 June 2007, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Brown's commitment to Africa
By David Loyn
BBC developing world correspondent

The appointment of Lord Malloch Brown to a new ministerial post at the Foreign Office with responsibility for Africa, Asia and the UN confirms the continued importance of international development at the heart of British government policy.

Lord Malloch Brown
Lord Malloch Brown has clashed with the UK and US over Iraq

He has no background in the Labour party, and clashed with the US and UK over the Iraq war while at the UN.

This appointment is the highest profile demonstration of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's desire to make a government of "all the talents".

Lord Malloch Brown is an effective communicator, beginning life as a journalist with the BBC and the Economist, and rising to become deputy secretary-general at the UN.

For much of the decade before this senior post he led the UNDP, pushing the development agency into the centre of UN policy.

Apart from its work on the ground, the UNDP is the statistical gatekeeper, enabling countries to test progress, particularly in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Poverty targets

Next month marks the halfway point to the target date of 2015 for the goals, including cutting in half the number of people living in poverty.

With Africa still lagging behind other continents, this appointment indicates a commitment by the new Brown government to address this issue.

It was Tony Blair who once called poverty in Africa a "scar on the conscience of the world", but government efforts to combat this owe as much to Gordon Brown as to him.

The Commission for Africa Report, bringing in Bob Geldof with a number of African leaders, was driven from the Treasury.

Gordon Brown and Bob Geldof
Gordon Brown has made huge efforts with campaigners such as Bob Geldof

This was the report that provided the intellectual underpinning of the Gleneagles agreement in 2005 when the richest countries in the world agreed to double aid.

But it was the finance ministers' meeting shortly before, when Gordon Brown succeeded in winning a commitment to significantly increase the number of countries to "drop the debt" in 2005, that has made as much difference as anything.

Seventeen African countries have now had their debt cancelled, and millions of children now go to school in Africa who did not before.

And the Future Finance initiative, an agreement to "mortgage" future aid payments, was a - characteristically complex - Brown idea, with this principle now internationally accepted, not just for mainstream aid, but with a fund for vaccination as well, that harnesses private as well as public money.

The Department for International Development tripled its budget during the Blair years, but the new International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander, formerly Transport Secretary, acknowledges that there are still major challenges ahead.

"I will continue to press the world's richest nations to live up to the promises they made in 2005 and to work with developing countries to make poverty history," he said.

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