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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
What is Blair's African legacy?
As UK Prime Minister Tony Blair continues his last tour of Africa before he steps down next month, BBC correspondents analyse his record in four key areas: Sierra Leone, Darfur, Zimbabwe and Libya.


I have never seen a single bold and swift military intervention transform a country's prospects so comprehensively and so immediately. It was breathtaking.

British soldiers in Sierra Leone
UK troops stopped rebels from over-running Sierra Leone's capital
When Britain sent a battalion of paratroops - just 800 men - to Sierra Leone in May 2000, they came not as peacekeepers but, in effect, as combatants.

They backed the democratically elected government, whose army had fallen into decay and disarray, against a rebel army with a record of recruiting child soldiers, terrorising civilians and chopping off limbs.

British troops were welcomed in the capital, Freetown, and given popular credit for saving the city from another brutal rebel invasion.

Prime Minister Tony Blair remains wildly popular here.

For the British rebuilt the government armed forces, bringing discipline, guns, and expertise - sufficient to end the war not by negotiating a peace, but by winning it; by driving rebel forces out.

The British are still here, though in radically reduced numbers, and their guiding hand remains vital.

The Department for International Development remains the biggest single foreign donor.

It is an irony not lost on generations of Sierra Leoneans that the country, nearly 50 years after independence, is now looking to the old colonial master for leadership and protection.

Many here remember the euphoria that greeted the lowering of the union flag and the raising of Sierra Leone's national standard in 1961.

But if Britain has brought security and lasting peace, the conditions that led to the war in the first place are - worryingly - still in place.


Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest nations on earth, despite its abundant mineral wealth.

Up-country the diamond mines are working again. The people wonder where that wealth is going.

Girl carrying charcoal on her head
Life remains tough for most in Sierra Leone
Climb the hill above Freetown and part of the answer presents itself: the sprawl of new homes - large, luxurious and gated - that stand now on land that was, seven years ago, lightly forested hillside.

The government that Britain rescued seven years ago is still in power.

It has presided over a system of entrenched corruption in which the political elite grows rich while the mass of the people remain poor.

Unemployment stands at 80%. Life expectancy for men is 39.

In the seven years since Britain's intervention there has been no serious anti-corruption drive. Freetown remains one of the world's few capital cities with no mains electricity supply and no running water in most homes.

Poverty and corruption fuelled the last war. Their persistence means that the ending of the war and bringing of lasting peace remains an achievement both remarkable and fragile.


After the campaigns in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, Mr Blair found himself cast as the world's leading apostle of humanitarian intervention. But it was a role that became increasingly difficult to sustain in the later years of his premiership.

Darfur refugee (file picture)
Some two million people have fled their homes in Darfur
The tragedy of Darfur pitilessly exposed one of the central quandaries of British foreign policy early in the millennium: when faced with a brutal regime that retains significant sympathisers or allies, and a significant military capacity, no British prime minister can unilaterally enforce his will.

The Sudanese had powerful friends in China and Russia and could threaten the Western nations with the prospect of a guerrilla war in the arid wastes of Darfur.

The position Mr Blair found himself in is an inevitable consequence of the long decline of British power in the post-imperial age, but also of the dynamics created by participation in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

These foreign wars have sucked up military and political resources to a degree that effectively prohibits involvement in major interventions elsewhere around the globe.

In simple terms, Britain's prime minister did not have the military resources, the international clout or domestic support for any foreign military intervention that was not related to national interests.

As the death toll in Darfur rose Mr Blair found himself called on to act but had neither the power or means to do so with any significant effect.

British ministers would instead point to the deployment of African Union peacekeepers, though they knew soon enough that the small AU force was utterly incapable of establishing security.

For the major powers of the UN Security Council, Darfur has been another exercise in which the requirements of rhetoric have been met - but little beyond that.


In Harare in June 2001, I watched President Robert Mugabe lambast Tony Blair, during a speech at Heroes' Acre.

Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe is taking pleasure in outlasting Tony Blair
"Perhaps Tony Blair is too young to know anything about our colonial history," the Zimbabwean leader scornfully declared.

Over the years, Mr Mugabe has used every opportunity to spew verbal abuse at the Blair government. Once, he famously accused them of using "gay gangsters" against him.

Britain's ability to influence the situation in Zimbabwe has steadily diminished as Robert Mugabe has tightened his hold on power and used increasingly repressive measures to crack down on the opposition.

Tony Blair and his ministers continue to voice concern about the Zimbabwean government's human rights violations, but Mr Mugabe's critics know there is no point in trying to bully him or apply pressure.

"He always spits in their eye," said one diplomat.

The United Kingdom has given 150m ($300m) in humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe in the last seven years, and is supporting Zimbabwean civil society in monitoring human rights abuses and promoting good governance.

However, it is clear that Britain will only re-engage with the government in Harare once there is meaningful change, a return to the rule of law and an end to political violence.


Without question, Tony Blair and - crucially - his foreign policy adviser, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, can take credit for bringing Libya in from the cold.

Tony Blair hugging Colonel Gaddafi
Tony Blair played a key role in ending Libya's isolation
After the discovery that Colonel Gaddafi was trying to build a nuclear bomb, and getting secret supplies from the smuggling network run by Pakistan's AQ Khan, the regime in Tripoli was confronted with the evidence.

Tony Blair gave top priority to the project to coax Libya into full renunciation of any ambition to build nuclear weapons, putting Nigel Sheinwald in charge of secret talks to open the path.

Mr Blair and President Bush both badly needed a "penitent sinner" back in 2003 - to show there was a positive alternative to the invasion of Iraq - and Libya exactly fitted the bill.

Colonel Gaddafi could read the signs too, and accepted international rehabilitation as a prize.

It delivered for Libya hugely expanded trade and tourism after all the years as a pariah state.

Tony Blair's visit to Tripoli in March 2004 and his meeting with Colonel Gaddafi symbolized an extraordinary turning point in relations with one of the most troublesome regimes in North Africa and the Middle East.

Blair set for Sierra Leone visit
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29 May 07 |  UK Politics
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