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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 08:15 GMT 09:15 UK
African media on Blair's legacy
By Mathias Muindi
BBC Monitoring

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie depart on their African tour
The PM is currently on a farewell tour of Africa

As UK Prime Minister Tony Blair embarks on an African tour before he steps down next month sub-Saharan African leaders, and media, remain divided over his political legacy.

While some former UK colonies such as Sierra Leone are grateful to Mr Blair, for saving their democracy, others like Zimbabwe seem happy to see his exit.

The Sierra Leonean media continues to hail the UK for its 2000 military intervention in the volatile West African state, which led to the restoration of the civilian rule of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

Zimbabwe government officials and state-owned media, however, remain hostile to Mr Blair and the UK.

They are happy with Mr Blair's exit since they see him as the genesis of Zimbabwe's debilitating economic and political woes, and President Robert Mugabe seems to be celebrating the fact that Mr Blair is leaving office earlier than the veteran Zimbabwean leader.

Meanwhile, African interest in Mr Blair's Commission for Africa seems to declining three years after its launch.

Critics seem vindicated that one of the panel's leading commissioners, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has come under international criticism over the deaths of dozens of opposition supporters during the disputed parliamentary elections in May 2005 as well as Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia in December 2006.

Grateful Sierra Leone

It is important to note that for the foreseeable future some Sierra Leoneans will always live to remember the lasting legacy of Tony Blair on Sierra Leone
The Concord Times

Sierra Leone remains grateful to Mr Blair over British military intervention during the country's civil war.

The country's current peace, stability, and democracy, is largely attributed to the UK's involvement.

The man saved by the UK in 2000, President Kabbah, is now preparing to hand over power after presidential elections due on 28 July 2007.

Sierra Leone media presents the intervention as a daring humanitarian gesture in the face of one of Africa's brutal rebel groups, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

A 27 March 2007 commentary by a leading privately-owned newspaper, The Concord Times, argued that "it is important to note that for the foreseeable future some Sierra Leoneans will always live to remember the lasting legacy of Tony Blair on Sierra Leone".

According to the paper, the situation in 2000 was "so bleak that the UN had already given orders for the evacuation of hundreds of non-essential staff".

The paper went on: "As Sierra Leone takes a new path towards socio-economic recovery today, this nation will always live to remember the significant contribution of a British prime minister, who had a unique vision to better the lives of the forgotten people of Africa".

It added: "One only hopes that Gordon Brown or whosoever succeeds Blair's tenure continues with his vision of a better and prosperous Africa."

This appreciation, however, seems confined to domestic issues in Sierra Leone, with the country's media taking a hostile line against Mr Blair in regards to his support for US President George Bush and his role in the Iraq war.

In a 30 November 2006 commentary, the privately-owned Standard Times called for the trial of Mr Blair and Mr Bush for alleged war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"These two leaders deserve to be publicly tried for the degree of suffering imposed upon the people of those countries and the massive killings that have taken place and are still taking place merely in the name of fighting terrorism", said the paper.

Also critical of the Blair-Bush alliance was a 1 August 2006 commentary by The Concord Times, which said that "Blair views Britain's role as a supplicant more than a true partner [to the US], which deprives the world of Britain's conscience and experience, shames the once great Labour Party, and surrenders one more check and balance that should have restrained the neoconservative obsession, but didn't".

Mugabe 'defeats' Blair

The man [Blair] is about to retire, and he wanted a last push...to get Zimbabwe to collapse and therefore get regime change.
President Robert Mugabe

The thread of hostility deepens in another former British colony, Zimbabwe, which remains strongly anti-Blair.

Bilateral ties remain strained over Zimbabwe's internal political and economic woes.

Harare has in the past 10 years maintained a noisy media campaign against the UK and Mr Blair.

Led by President Mugabe, Zimbabwean officials have struck a vocal nationalistic chord tinged with Marxism in the defence of their government.

They continue to boast that Mr Blair has "failed" in effecting "regime change" in Zimbabwe.

The most recent was on 17 April 2007 when Mr Mugabe derided opposition demonstrations in the capital, Harare, terming them "part of Blair's final push before he leaves office in a few months' time".

Zimbabwe TV cited Mr Mugabe saying: "The man [Blair] is about to retire, and he wanted a last push, and we saw from what happened two or so weeks ago - the manoeuvres that he and his government, he and his allies, and the evildoers who act as their representatives here, were trying to do in order for what they regarded as the last, the final push in their campaign to get Zimbabwe to collapse and therefore to get regime change."

The remarks are a continuation of the Blair-is-leaving theme that Zimbabwe's state media seems to have adopted since early 2007.

The media has claimed there has been desperation, on the part of the UK, to see Mr Mugabe out before Mr Blair's retirement.

"If Mr Blair stepped down before achieving his regime change goal", noted an 18 March report by the state-owned Sunday Mail, "that would be interpreted as defeat [for the premier]".

According to the paper, Mr Mugabe's exit would "mend" UK's foreign policy, which the Sunday Mail claimed has been muddied by the UK's military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"For him [Blair] to close the door and leave Mugabe behind would be a personal humiliation. For Blair, the trophy would be to see Mugabe's back as it would be a redemption of British foreign policy so badly bruised in Iraq."

The state's leading daily, The Herald, agreed in a 21 March commentary: "British Prime Minister Tony Blair's legacy in relation to the African continent will mainly be defined by whether or not he was able to force an illegal racist regime change in Zimbabwe..."

A day later, the same paper carried another report claiming that both Mr Bush and Mr Blair were "running out of time" in regards to regime change in Zimbabwe.

According to The Herald, "both men are not keen to go while their nemesis Comrade Mugabe remains, they would rather have him go; if not to justify their ruinous foreign policies, at least to have him as a trophy in light of their glaring failures in Iraq and Afghanistan".

The paper said "the [Zimbabwean] government must brace itself to counter everything thrown at it" and "if it weathers this final assault, victory is certain".

Waning interest in Africa commission

Meanwhile, interest in Mr Blair's Commission for Africa seems to be ebbing away as the twilight of his political career approaches.

Most African governments seem comfortable with arrangements with international, or regional, financial and political institutions.

In stark contrast to the wide coverage observed during the commission's launch in May 2004, and its first report in March 2005, there has been little mention of the panel or its proceedings since early 2006.

African commentators differed from the start on the aims of the commission.

Critics accused Mr Blair of political dishonesty claiming that his panel was not meant for Africa but UK voters ahead of the 2006 general elections.

Others alleged that the commission had been launched to shore up Mr Blair's image in the face of the Iraq war.

Missing Blair

In all, South Africa's privately-owned Cape Times noted on 10 May 2007 that "Africans have more reason to regret his departure" since Mr Blair "put the continent's development plight on the world map".

The paper hopes that Mr Blair will join former US President Bill Clinton in his anti-Aids fight so that Africa would "continue burnishing his legacy" in the wake of the Iraq war.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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