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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 October, 2004, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Uncertain hopes for Blair's Africa commission
By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa analyst

Ethiopian children
Africa is struggling to break out of a cycle of poverty and debt

"Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer in the past 25 years, 44 million children do not go to school, millions as, you know, die through famine, or disease, or conflict, and Africa risks being left even further behind."

These are the words of British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who in February this year launched what he hopes will push Africa to the top of the world's agenda.

"That's why I have decided with others to form a Commission for Africa to take a fresh look at Africa's past, present and future."

"It will be a comprehensive assessment of the situation in Africa and policies towards Africa. What has worked, what has not worked, and what more can and should be done."

The Commission, which Tony Blair chairs, brings together leaders from the developed world and Africa.

Of the 17 commissioners, nine are from Africa.

The Africans include President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, K. Y Amoako of the Economic Commission for Africa and Anna Tibaijuka, a UN Under Secretary and Executive Director of UN Habitat.

Live Aid

So far it has met in London in May and meets in Ethiopia in October before a final report is published in April.

Mr Blair said that he would use Britain's presidency of two organisations next year to focus attention on the continent.

There have been several commissions and programs set out to help Africa, but most have come to naught.
Kwabena Bekoe, Toronto, Canada

In 2005 Britain will be in charge of both the European Union and the G8 - the club of the world's richest countries.

The idea for an Africa Commission came from former pop star, and long time campaigner against African poverty, Bob Geldof.

It is hoped that Geldof will be able to reach out to millions around the world who seldom give Africa a thought - just as he did when he organised the Live Aid concert that helped raise funds for the Ethiopian famine in 1984.

A scar

Mr Blair's own motivation comes from a long held belief that Africa's poverty is a 'scar on the conscience of the world'.

It also reflects his own past - with his father having taught at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone.

British Prime Minister, Tony Blair
Blair wants workable solutions to Africa's problems
But the most important factor contributing to the Commission comes from Africa itself.

A number of African initiatives have laid out a series of concrete plans backed by African heads of state.

The most important of these is Nepad - the New Partnership of Africa's Development.

This calls for truly massive investment in the continent, in return for improved governance on the part of African leaders.

The formation of the African Union is also important, as it gives the continental organisation the right to intervene in the activities of member states to prevent the worst human right abuses.

This is vital if wars and instability are not to undermine African development efforts.

As the African Union Commission chairman, Alpha Oumar Konare, told the opening session of the organisation's summit in July this year, war and instability were key barriers to growth on a continent that had seen 186 coups d'etat and 26 major wars in the past half century.

Political will

The reaction to the Blair Commission from the African diaspora in London and the aid agencies has been mixed.

No sneering, please. Let's go for it. Give us a hand.
Bob Geldof

Some have been very sceptical, saying Africa's problems are well known and the solutions well documented.

What is required, they say, is the political will to tackle unfair trade, lack of investment and a fairer redistribution of the world's resources.

Others have welcomed the opportunity to put the continent's problems on the world's political agenda.

So there are a number of factors working in favour of the Blair Commission. Does this imply that it will succeed?

That is far from certain. In the end the continent's future lies mainly in its own hands and outside assistance can only play a marginal role in the final outcome.

But a well thought-out report that builds on past initiatives and provides concrete support for Nepad projects might help to reverse Africa's fortunes.

That is the hope embodied in the Commission. As Bob Geldof put it: "No sneering, please. Let's go for it. Give us a hand."


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