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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 09:33 GMT
Africa Commission report: Analysis
Africa Confidential Editor Patrick Smith says the Africa Commission report faces an uphill struggle if it is to gain acceptance in the West and achieve its goal of raising living standards on the world's poorest continent.

Children in Ethiopia
The commission wants to combat poverty in Africa

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's Commission for Africa urges rich countries - like medical doctors - to take a Hippocratic oath on African policy. That is they should do no harm but help the continent.

And in its 400-page report is a long list of Western policies that damage Africa - such as subsidising Western farmers to compete against African ones; selling arms into war zones; demanding repayment of dubious mega-debts and warehousing stolen state funds in Western banks.

Speaking directly to the industrialised countries of the G8, which Britain chairs this year, the report calls for a new kind of partnership with Africa "based on mutual respect and solidarity" in what British officials regard as the most serious review of Western policy on Africa in a generation.

The commission's recommendations on trade, corruption, arms sales and aid have long been touted by African activists but will meet strong opposition from Britain's fellow G8 members and British businesses uneasy about more regulation and accountability.


However, signing up to the report alongside Mr Blair, were 17 commissioners including the UK's Finance Minister Gordon Brown and Development Minister Hilary Benn together with France's former head of the IMF Michel Camdessus and veteran US senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker.

Cotton picker in Sudan
Few in Brussels believe Mr Blair stands much chance of getting farm subsidies dismantled by 2010

Rich country finance ministers will cavil at the commission's calls for an extra $25bn a year in aid to Africa by 2010, more so at calls for a further $25bn a year by 2015.

The United States has its own highly conditional aid plans known as the Millennium Challenge Account, for which few countries have qualified, but it will not sign up to Mr Brown's development bond plan, the International Financing Facility (IFF).

And Canada, whose aid budget is more generous than either the US's or Britain's in percentage terms, is also unwilling to join the IFF plan - although it backs many of the commission's other proposals.

Distorting markets

The US Treasury also opposes the commission's plans for 100% debt relief and the US trade secretary has rejected calls for an immediate end to subsidies on cotton and sugar, as called for by the Africa Commission.

Last week, the World Trade Organisation judged US cotton subsidies to have breached its trade rules

Malawi chicken seller
The US opposes many measures which could help trade

But instead of complying with the ruling, US officials offered to negotiate with Mali and Brazil - two of the countries most affected by the US's market-distorting subsidies.

Other G8 countries such as France, Germany and Italy benefit hugely from the European Union's (EU) common agricultural policy, which is targeted by the Africa Commission as the world's most protectionist trade regime.

Few in Brussels believe Mr Blair and his team stand much chance of getting either the US or the EU this year to commit to dismantling all farm and export subsidies by 2010.

And it's questionable how much support Britain will get in promoting its African agenda from Russia which takes over the chair of the G8 in January 2006.

Stark challenges

British diplomats have a formidable policy agenda to sell not just to their G8 colleagues but to other Whitehall officials and British companies who will resist many of the commission's recommendations.

Britain has become the 'laundromat of choice' for companies and individuals handling stolen funds from countries such as Kenya and Nigeria.

Patients in Malawi
Britain has been one of the worst poachers of African health workers

Many of the main arms bankers and financiers selling into Africa base their operations in Britain.

A leading provider of military equipment to President Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe has indefinite leave to remain in Britain.

Successive UN expert reports on links between exploitation and conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo have accused several British companies of malpractice, which they have all denied, and asked Britain's Department of Trade and Industry to investigate, without result.

And Britain, along with Canada, has been one of the worst poachers of African health workers; the commission calls for one million new health workers to be trained in Africa by 2015 to cope with the HIV/Aids pandemic.

But perhaps the starkest example of the mountain to be climbed is in Sudan, where the UK government has played a leading role in mediating a peace deal between the Islamist government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the south, while Khartoum sent its soldiers and militia allies on military strikes in the country's western province of Darfur - killing more than 100,000 and displacing at least 2m.

If the G8 and China - hovering on the club's threshold - lack the political will to stop the killing in Darfur and provide serious support to the African Union peacekeepers there, the Africa Commission's avowal that "the right to life and security is the most basic of human rights" will ring hollow indeed.

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