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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 May 2005, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Seeking a change in Africa
Colin Blane
By Colin Blane
BBC News

In July, Britain will be hosting the G8 summit and the issue of how to alleviate poverty in Africa will be on the agenda. Former Africa correspondent Colin Blane looks at what steps might be taken to try to solve the problem.

Fire at ammunition dump in Addis Ababa in 1991
All these years later, it is still hard to understand how any of us survived the blast
There is a corner of Addis Ababa I have been avoiding for the past 14 years.

I have been in the Ethiopian capital quite a few times since 1991, but I somehow never felt the need to go back out on the Debre Zeit road, to revisit that doom-laden place where I used up all the luck of a lifetime in a single morning.

Five of us had driven to report on a fire at an ammunition dump.

As we tried to find cover to film from, there was an explosion so huge it shattered the windows of buildings two miles away.

Shacks were demolished. Trees left scorched and blackened.

One of my colleagues was killed. Another was badly injured as rockets and bullets flew through the air.

All these years later, it is still hard to understand how any of us survived the blast.

A couple of weeks ago, I agreed to go back to the scene to talk through what happened with a young man, Salim Amin, whose late father Mohamed lost his arm in the explosion.

Mo Amin, of course, was the cameraman whose pictures of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia helped provoke such a worldwide outpouring of emotion and financial generosity.

Walking back round the ammo dump with Mo's son, I found bulldozers levelling the vast site and tipper trucks driving away the remains of long-abandoned jeeps and tanks.

Men with pickaxes foraged among the rubble.

A guard wore body armour in case of accidental detonations.

A small heap of rusting grenades and artillery shells were all that was left of a stockpile which had previously stretched hundreds of metres in every direction.

In the days of the dictator Mengistu this was once Africa's biggest, most lethal ammunition store.

Africa is the only continent which is getting poorer as the Asian economies expand and Europe and the United States consolidate
Over the next few months, it will be filled in and flattened, turned over to a peaceful, civilian purpose. Blocks of flats for families going up where there used to be concrete bunkers for weapons.

I am sure Mo Amin would have approved.

He died a few years after the explosion and although he spent much of his working life covering wars and famines, he believed good things as well as bad could happen in Africa.

Mo was no saint. Even his friends called him a sharp operator but he was also an advocate for Africa.

Fair trade

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair announcing the launch of the report of the Commission for Africa
Blair's commission is asking wealthy nations to double aid to Africa
This year, Africa could be on the agenda again as it was in 1984.

In the 21 years since Mo Amin's pictures and Michael Buerk's script pricked the conscience of a global audience, the gap between Africa and the rest of the world has widened.

Africa is the only continent which is getting poorer as the Asian economies expand and Europe and the United States consolidate.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has set up a Commission for Africa which recommends that the world's wealthiest nations should write off debt, increase aid and improve terms of trade.

He hopes this new deal for Africa can be agreed at a summit in Gleneagles in Scotland in July.

As the commission gathered evidence, I spoke to ordinary Africans and some of their leaders about what could be done to turn the continent around.

Affordable drugs

In Kenya, an elderly coffee farmer complained about corruption.

A crowd shows posters during an Aids march in Durban, South Africa
It is expected there will be 19 million Aids orphans by 2010
He told me poor prices were bad enough but that local middle-men had taken his crop last year and failed to pay him for it. "I hate them," he said.

He wanted honest officials and fairer trade.

In Ethiopia, a primary school headteacher explained that his classes were overflowing with 70 to 80 pupils each, no computers and no laboratory equipment.

He needed more teachers and more investment.

In Uganda, I met doctors working flat out to tackle the medical emergency of HIV/Aids. One told me the impact of the virus on Africa was so great it was dragging down the economy of the whole continent.

It is expected there will be 19 million Aids orphans in Africa by 2010.

More affordable anti-retroviral drugs are needed and better funding for health education.


Sir Bob Geldof
Bob Geldof has called for a change in Western attitudes towards Africa
The man credited with the idea of a Commission for Africa is Bob Geldof, the rock musician, now Sir Bob, who bullied and cajoled millions into giving money for Ethiopia back in the 1980s.

I watched him address a conference at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, with the Gleneagles summit just a few weeks away.

In a speech fizzing with indignation, Bob Geldof argued that poverty was still killing 50,000 Africans every day.

The leaders of the world's rich nations will be meeting in the luxurious surroundings of one of Scotland's finest golfing hotels to consider what to do.

According to Bob Geldof, if deaths on such a scale were happening in Europe, these presidents and prime ministers out on the lush Gleneagles golf course would have solved the problem between the first and second holes.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 28 May 2005, at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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