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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 22:33 GMT
Blair urges action on Africa
Tony Blair
Tony Blair has been attacked over "globetrotting"
Tony Blair has arrived in Nigeria at he start of a four-nation west Africa tour, insisting there is the best chance for a generation to tackle its ills.

Mr Blair, whose stops also include Ghana, Sierra Leone and Senegal, said the international community had a duty to do its best to relieve poverty.

Risking attacks that he is engaged in yet more "designer diplomacy", the prime minister stressed it was time to start building and bolstering successful nations across the continent.

If you allow a series of failed states to rise, then sooner or later you end up having to deal with them

Tony Blair
And he warned that neglect of failing states by the developed world ran the risk of a repeat of the situation in Afghanistan.

Many believe the abandonment of that stricken country after its battle against Soviet occupation produced the terrorism and drugs that have harmed the West, he said.

Mr Blair told The Times: "We have got a duty to act. We can act.

"The reason I'm so passionate about this is that I think we have got the best chance in a generation to make a difference."

Richest states

And he answered criticisms that he was "grandstanding" on the world stage at a time when there were severe problems at home.

It has also been pointed out that most of the African leaders he is meeting will be in Paris on Friday for a summit on African aid hosted by President Chirac.

His spokesman said the prime minister believed real progress could be made on the continent and said, just because he could not do everything did not mean he should do nothing.

"He believes that, in politics, you have to do what you think is right. But no one is pretending that in four days visiting four countries you are going to solve the problems of Africa."

He stressed there would be no major new initiatives announced during the visit, during which he will be accompanied by overseas aid minister Clare Short.

But he said its main aim was to set out a route map for the next meeting of G8 industrial nations in Calgary.

The prime minister has said that he wants to make help for Africa a key foreign affairs goal of his second term.

At last October's Labour conference, he described the state of Africa as "a scar on the conscience of the world".

He hopes that this week's mission will pave the way for agreement from the world's richest states at June's G8 summit in Canada on the implementation of the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad).

Nepad offers a package of trade and aid help for Africa, coupled with assistance in ending civil wars and improving governance across the continent.

Appalling consequences

Mr Blair stressed that support for Africa was in richer states' self-interest.

Drug producers and terrorists had taken over Afghanistan because it had failed as a state, with appalling consequences for the West, he said.

The same could happen in Africa, he warned, adding: "If you allow a series of failed states to rise, then sooner or later you end up having to deal with them."

Chancellor Gordon Brown has said the government would match funds raised for aid overseas during events to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

"People recognise that we must not only fight a war against terrorism but a war against poverty," he said.

The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"The prime minister has made clear that the problems of Africa weigh heavily on his mind"
Prime Minister Tony Blair
"We have a duty to act"
Mark Seddon, editor, Tribune magazine
"With a series of industrial disputes on the way, shouldn't he be here?"
See also:

06 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Blair back to world stage
05 Feb 02 | Business
Blair mulls Africa's economy
08 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Perils of a globetrotting PM
08 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair flies home to frosty welcome
06 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair handles diplomacy hazards
08 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Make or break on transport
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