|You are in: Talking Point: African Debates|
Monday, 11 February, 2002, 16:22 GMT
Can Tony Blair deliver on his African promise?
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is to underline his commitment to offer both economic and military aid to conflict-hit African states during a speech to the parliament in Ghana.
The prime minister received the unprecedented invitation to address the country's political leaders in the capital, Accra, after his keynote speech in Nigeria on Thursday.
During his last election campaign he promised to make Africa his first foreign policy priority.
Despite the criticism he has received, his tour of West Africa is increasingly being viewed as significant by the region's leaders.
Has Tony Blair delivered on his African promise yet? What can he achieve on this visit? What can he do for Africa overall?
We discussed the role of the West in alleviating poverty in the developing world on Talking Point ON AIR, the phone-in programme of the BBC World Service and BBC News Online. Our guest was the UK Minister for International Development, Hilary Benn MP.
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
All this achieves is the perpetuation of the false image of Africans as western dependents when the truth is that it is our dictators, whom he so happily shakes hands with that are at the centre of all of Africa's current problems. Who cares about the past? What's done cannot be undone, colonialism is in the past. What we want now is:
1. Market access.
2. Insistence upon free and fair elections before giving any government international recognition.
3. Smart sanctions against the dictators themselves not the suffering people who already have it tough enough.
4. Africa to set up it's own internal free trade area so that it does not depend on western goodwill for its survival and can bring some punitive power to bear on the larger trading blocks.
It's this strong minded robust resilient mindset lurking just beneath our wounds that Africans must begin to assert forcefully and unapologetically to force the changes that we want.
James Mensah, Middletown. USA
Why should he keep these promises, he hasn't kept a single one of the ones he made us.
Everything that Mr. Blair seeks to accomplish internationally always seems to be criticised by British people. Britons complain about their own education, transport and health etc. But believe me, you will be complaining if you lived in Africa! The poorest man in Britain lives better than most Africans; I call it a selfish attitude. Selfish attitudes have created the Bin Ladens of the world. Tony Blair is the best Prime minister we have had since W. Churchill.
He is the only Prime minister I remember that thinks "long term". Education, Transport, Health have been neglected, the only way to solve them is "long term investment". That is why British people will not see the effect straight away. Africa needs somebody to invest in Africa in the "long term", that is why I believe Mr. Blair's plans in Africa will be successful if everyone believes in him.
The social factor most needed for true, sustainable, grassroots economic development is trust - between communities, between layers of society, between communities and institutions. But the factor which most effectively destroys trust in society, usually for generations, is the proliferation of weapons. When a country like the UK cannot resist the temptation to find outlets for its huge military-industrial capacity (about 10% of the country's economy) in underdeveloped and conflict-prone countries, it indirectly, but effectively, stifles real economic development in those countries for decades.
The development aid gestures which the UK make amount to a tiny fraction of revenue from weapons exports. It is therefore understandable that many of those who have suffered from armed conflicts in the arms-importing countries cast serious doubt on the UK's good intentions.
It is not a matter of whether Tony Blair can achieve much, it is a question of whether he should even be in Africa at all!
The fact that he promised to make foreign policy in Africa a priority at the last election is not justification for spending yet more time away from his own country which is erring on crisis. After all he should have his own house in order before he goes preaching to others. but, he is there now and we can't stop him - so if he's going to continue with his mission how about taking a closer look at Zimbabwe, or looking at fairer trade conditions for Africa rather than offering military support etc
Although I am highly critical of Mr Blair in general, I believe that as the political figurehead of the country he is quite right to increase the profile of Britain abroad, and, act in the statesmanlike manner for which he is being lambasted. Besides, I think we owe Africa our best efforts. We are all too ready to court rich European nations for self-serving trade, and it is sad when the poorer nations - which really need our help - are ignored.
Does anyone remember the book "Around the World in 80 days"?
The story of Philias Fogg, an English aristocrat bent on winning a gentlemen's bet that he can set a new and unthinkable record by circumnavigating the globe in just eighty days.
Sounds pretty familiar doesn't it!
Surely after seeing the rest of Africa's reaction to what Mugabe is doing here in Zimbabwe, the British must know that most African leaders never want rule of law or free and fair elections.
They want to stay in power as long as they can no matter how much damage they do to their own people and country.
Angus, Hong Kong SAR
Of course he can't. He can't even fix Britain.
Blair should concentrate on the UK's problems as that is what he was elected for. He should use his Foreign Secretary to do the Africa appeasement bit. Although I wouldn't wish Jack Straw on any nation including ours!
'President Blair' does it again! I'm proud that it is our Prime Minister who is taking the matters of Africa to the international stage. He is right to say that we have commitment to this part of the world and it has already been clear in Mozambique (donated SAR helicopters). Sierra Leone is reaching stability and the international spotlight is now fully on Mugabe in Zimbabwe. This latest trip proves that Tony Blair is at least trying fulfil his international commitments.
Many of your contributors stress that Africans should take the initiative for their own development. This is already happening - five heads of state working together have developed the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NePAD) which in attempting to do just this. But Africa cannot do it alone. We don┐t want more cash - it doesn┐t work. We want fairer terms of trade. Unfair European trade protectionism on agricultural goods is hindering the only area where Africans might compete. Debt relief is also critical to jumpstart health and education.
To sceptics I would acknowledge that Africa has caused many of its own problems. But it is salutary to consider that many of these problems (artificial boundaries, mono-crop economies, a poor culture of accountability, underinvestment in human capital) have their roots in European colonialism. It would be fitting if Europeans could help with the solution.
As ever Tony Blair's promise is less than it seems to be at face value. This is a Prime Minister that says one thing, and then does another. In this case he is pushing ahead with the privatisation of the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), which has meant that it has raised its "investment" criteria to require a minimum payback of over 25%. This is already starting to exclude many of the smaller agriculture schemes it used to finance in favour of larger scale property development schemes.
CDC Offices have been closed in Uganda, Malawi and the Ivory Coast, while new ones opened in Egypt, Nigeria, Mexico and China. Presumably the first set weren't profitable enough, as they don't need new property developments.
This is the organisation that the government is hoping to sell off, and to help may even give it off-shore status to make it more attractive to potential investors.
Tony Blair┐s visit to Africa will certainly not solve the African problem of war and poverty. As he said it himself in labour's conference last year it is a scar in the world. What is needed in Africa is democracy and ways of curbing escalating corruption committed by the African leaders and their cohorts.
I wish Blair would stop trying to get the Nobel Prize and start sorting out problems in this country. As soon as some problems in the UK arise he jets off to another country on some mission to save the planet. The British public didn't vote him in to become Saint Blair. I pay your wages so get back here and sort MY country out!
For too long Governments have been ignoring Africa, while they depend on aid, at the mercy donations, while big business plundered them turning a blind eye to the corruption etc. I'm glad Mr. Blair is opening the door of opportunity. There is more than enough wealth to go around.
It's interesting that both Blair and Brown have taken to move the emphasis of their activities to the "relief of world poverty - help the masses" issues with all of the associated press coverage this generates.
For us poor souls in the UK this suggests their realisation that they have failed in solving our domestic problems and want to move the debate onto global good deeds. The terrifying thing is that this simple ploy seems to work with the UK's chattering classes.
The West has never been genuinely interested in the social upliftment of Africa. This public showmanship by Blair is only self-serving. Britain's arms sales to Africa is at an all-time high. The visit only boasts the ego of the leaders of the African countries visited and also the West. No easy solutions, please.
Sylvester Okoro, Hayward, USA
Any financial aid to Africa is a total waste of time. Corruption is widespread, few countries have democracy and tribalism abounds. Until the people of Africa learn, if at all possible, to stand on their own feet, there is little hope of any country becoming politically and economically viable.
Tony Blair's visit to Africa is an ego trip meant to bring more attention to himself.
For sure, the world will notice his visit, but at the end of the day, nothing will have been accomplished.
It is very unfair to raise African people's expectations by this visit only to disappoint them.
Paul Bryant, UK
I am glad that Blair is paying attention to Africa, and he has come under a certain amount of criticism for doing so. However, I feel that this is not justified for the simple reason that there are no other World leaders talking about Africa, and he is right - development of this most underdeveloped continent is so important for the people of Africa, just as it is for us in the West, otherwise the unequal relationship will perpetuate. Was this not the reason for the EU and its own development policies? The idea that if poorer areas of Europe had investment they would be able to integrate properly into Europe and help the economy to grow. As others have stated Africa has suffered from debt, and a historical imbalance in trade. This means we set the price for the goods they produce, which is always a bare minimum, as supermarkets in the West want things cheaply. The Western countries need to look at the trade imbalance to enable African producers and countries to get a fairer deal for their products. This has been made difficult in post-colonial Africa in many cases due to corruption (leading to weakened currency and bargaining position), and so steps need to be taken against African leaders who are exploiting their own people skimming off the fat, while their national debt increases. A multi pronged approach is needed looking at the trade imbalance between the West and Africa, debt relief, and corruption and Blair must not be afraid to bring up these issues with sovereign African states.
Finally, we are guilty for the State of Africa, and it's "scar" which Blair mentioned, Britain, France and Portugal (and Russia to an extent as well) created this mess, and this is why we must help.
As usual, Blair is talking complete and utter rubbish. Having lived in Africa for 20 years I can speak with a certain amount of experience. What Africa (ie Africans) have to do is adopt the values and cultures of other countries that are economically successful. Hanging onto tribalism, producing far to many children and not having a proper work ethic all hold back the development of African countries. It is also important to recognise that all the richer countries went through a development period - child labour, long hours, poor conditions etc. Africa will have to do the same. However, this period of development can be shorter in Africa if they choose to imitate successful western countries.
Mr. Blair's assertion that Africa should be helped in order to avoid future terrorism is, to me, a wrong premise to advocate for aid. Africa, like all other continents should be assisted in their own right and not simply to save the West the scourge of terrorism in future.
Matt Robinson, Lilongwe, Malawi
I have a great deal of respect for Tony Blair. However, I strongly object to his recent comments about poverty stricken sub Saharan Africa being some sort of breeding ground for future bin Laden. Has the PM not been reading any newspapers of late? How many terrorist suspects in Cuba were born and bred in Britain, one of the worlds richest nations?
I am not convinced that these "designer grandstanding" tours will do us any good in Africa. The Clinton trip to Africa some years back was all hype. Unless and until the root cause of Africa's poverty - informed by underdeveopement - is squarely addressed by the G7 and all the promises made kept, we are not out of the woods. Africa does not need prime ministerial visits if the unjust terms of trade still favour British and other Western transnationals. Britain must do something about dropping the debt the repayment of which is crippling Africa. On the humanitarian plane Britain must assume its resposibilities to Kenya's Mau Mau veterans, to those Chagossians long exiled from the land of their ancestry and to the land mine victims of Samburu. Lastly, the future of Africa is in African hands and not in the messianic dreams of these latter day missionaries with their neo liberal global agenda!
Yes, Mr Blair will achieve his objectives - picture in the paper, good headlines, boost to ego etc etc.
Max Jimmy, London, UK from (Sierra Leone)
Christopher Warwick, Berkshire
Tony Blair is to be applauded for making the time and effort to try to accomplish what no Western leader has succeeded in doing: helping fight global poverty. Shame on the selfish cynics who criticise him for doing so.
Mervyn Cornwall, Oxford, UK
Tony Blair cannot deliver sufficient results for his own country - I suggest he stops tampering in the affairs of others.
It has been less than a century since the countries of Africa threw off the yoke of imperialism. Why can't Mr Blair and the rest of the West, give Africans at least another century, without interference, to find their own feet? Listen to Robert Mugabe and "mind your own business!"
Firstly Tony has to be clear on what he intends to do in Africa lest he be judged to be after safeguarding the interests of whites on the continent. Money is not the answer to Africa's woes and that should be clear by now. It is wars and corrupt dictators who are the problem. Africa can take care of itself. It is embarrassing for African leaders to be so dependent on aid and I take it as a sign of failure on their part. The world must surely help Africa as Tony is planning on doing. This should come in the form of encouraging democratic institutions in and the end of wars. That's the help we need.
The single greatest step that Tony Blair could take would be to push for the abolition of the developing world's debt. The interest accrued on these loans is crippling many African economies, even those that would otherwise be quite affluent.
Acknowledge that it was wrong to encourage these developing nations to take the loans in the first place and release them from this debt. That will be a far greater step that any amount of patronising and charity.
James Redcliffe, UK
I just have lots of respect for Tony Blair. He is one man who does what he says. Forget about other key persons worldwide who mention many more things - especially about Africa - and do nothing. If he were not going to do anything, Blair would have simply kept quiet.
The process of building up international relationships between countries has been neglected by our last two prime ministers. By restarting the process, we will all benefit. The rest of the world's problems really do affect us - and it requires more than charity alone to put things right. Many of the problems in Africa are political, and require a political solution.
Why has Tony Blair taken on the task of putting the African continent on the right track? As an educated person he should know that any aid given for development will end up in some Swiss bank account. I have lived in Africa for 18 years and
therefore speak from experience of which Blair has none.
I am glad that at least one world leader can see that a path to lasting peace consists of building bridges, not blowing them up.
Russ, Birkenhead, UK
Many people, especially Tories, constantly criticise Tony Blair for taking up the role of head of state instead of letting the Queen visiting foreign countries. I utterly reject the argument. Real power in the UK lies with the prime minister. Others criticise his grand-standing, his designer diplomacy. I am sorry, but as an international figure, he is far better than his two predecessors.
Like many other people, Tony Blair dreams about a world at peace, where democracy would reign along with prosperity. What is wrong with that? And what is wrong with him using his position as prime minister to say it?
To me, Mr Blair is about to experience a great voyage. This journey could be long, but there is hope for the Africans. I think that all African leaders should be thankful to this man, for he is about to do what no British Minister has done. However, I want to see him focus much more on children's education and rights. He needs to make it clear, and I mean clear, to all African leaders that "until no child is left behind their respective countries, the continent will forever be in chaos." Perhaps, if I may say so, that the current plight of Africa is illiteracy and corruption mixed with tribalism. Thanks!
I am glad to learn that the UK Prime Minister has finally decided to visit West Africa. Britain has a big stake on the African continent. But I am equally saddened by what some of us see as a failure of his foreign policy toward the continent. A case in point is Zimbabwe and other dictators. Settle the land issue and Mugabe will be history. Help us freeze foreign accounts of the ill-gotten gains of many African leaders and officials. Then return the money to develop our continent. Picking up a quarrel with any leaders plays into their hands. It is easy for any leader to use colonialism as an effective tool against you. Help us either forgive the debts owed or reduce them to enable us have economic development however slow that may be. Nurture free and independent journalism on the continent. Lastly, try to have more friends than enemies, that is, show neutrality and shy away from threats which invoke colonial sentiments which in turn give dictators a weapon against you. Thank you.
I will strongly urge the British Prime Minister to use the visit to make a workable commitment on how to reduce or cancel debts owed by Nigeria and some other countries in West Africa. The debts, no doubt, are contributing to the level of poverty in these countries. If Europe and the West are sincere in their efforts to reduce poverty in Africa, they must also encourage the exportation of agricultural products from these countries by any means possible.
Layi Oladapo, U.S.A.
Tony Blair is one Western leader I greatly admire. I expect him to help use his visit to Africa to help strengthen the fledgling democratic processes especially in Nigeria. The UK should also assist Africa in agriculture and food preservation as well as opening up the British economy to African exports.
It is a very kind and excellent move for Tony Blair to visit West African countries. Showing concern is very much appreciated but more can be done to help the poverty of the African people. It is true that some countries in West Africa, Nigeria being a notable example, are not poor in terms of resources and money. The corruption and mismanagement of the national leaders has put the countries in the poverty league. This is quite unfortunate but I still think the Prime Minister Tony Blair can do more than just a visit. My message for Prime Minister Blair is: Help Africa tackle corruption and mismanagement in their leadership.
No amount of money will change Africa's current situation, what will really, really help is providing better education for my fellow Africans so they can sort out their own problem. Change of policy would be a good idea as long as it include unlocking their markets for the developing countries.
The African continent is riddled with many problems ranging from wars, political instability, Aids, poverty and underdevelopment. I am not really aware of Tony's agenda as far as the above issues are concerned. But what is quite clear is that he has not yet started to do anything substantial apart from targeting countries such as Zimbabwe. His visit will be nothing more than a solidarity gesture to his kith and kin. As far as I am concerned, he has succeeded in safeguarding the interests of the rich white minority in Africa at the expense of the poor black majority.
1) To facilitate the development of their economy.
2) To provide diplomatic clout to their aspirations and economic difficulties (for the global economy can seem a cold and lonely place at times). Partnership should be the main target.
Jacob Lagu, UK
No, because in the last conference on racism and colonialism in South Africa a week before the World Trade Centre building was destroyed in the US, the British never apologised for the evil called colonialism. It is when Britain (and other countries that practised colonialism) agree that colonialism was evil, wrong and the major cause of all the problems in Africa, that Mr Blair can make at least a good step forward in the Africa delivery process.
How can Tony Blair be expected
to deliver in Africa when in his
own country public services are
crumbling? He has not fulfilled any
of his election promises to his own people.
How then can such a person be trusted?
I expect him to make as many promises
as his time in Africa will permit him, and he will forget
about all of them before he is back to
Britain. He made a lot of promises to
Thabo Mbeki when he visited Britain in
2001 and he never fulfilled any
of those promises. I am sure this
is why he will not visit South Africa
now - because Thabo would ask him
what has happened to the previous list
I've lived in Africa for 21 years and the solution to our problem is not just visits from presidents and prime ministers who promise all sorts without bearing any fruits. Our problem is down to education. At the end of the day it is the survival of the fittest. Even donations from charities are stolen for their own good, fleet of cars in one's drive way from corruption.
Wiping debts will not help. We need education.
If the new Government established in Afghanistan is anything to go by, then I think Tony Blair will achieve anything he sets his mind on. It's time we all got behind him on this one, as I certainly don't want to see another September 11.
Andrew Bartlett, York, UK
I appreciate Tony Blair for thinking about Nigeria and seeking to help, if Nigerian government had the same attitude as Mr Blair, that nation wouldn't have been in such a mess as it is at the moment.
Can Tony Blair deliver what exactly? He has failed the domestic agenda and should concentrate on this country rather than posing abroad.
15 Jun 01 | Africa
02 Oct 01 | Africa
Top African Debates stories now:
Links to more African Debates stories are at the foot of the page.
|E-mail this story to a friend|
Links to more African Debates stories
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>> | To BBC World Service>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy