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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 23:12 GMT
Blair gets African message
Village chiefs in Ghana
Tony Blair has had warm receptions on his tour
Nick Assinder

During his tour of Africa, much has been made of Tony Blair's 2001 party conference speech in which he spoke of the continent's poverty being a "scar on the conscience" of the developed world.

The phrase has been revived many times since, and a number of his hosts here have spoken of the sense of optimism it encouraged in them.

They live in countries where the overwhelming majority suffer abject poverty - where even those lucky enough to have jobs exist on less than 50p a day.

But they are places where a privileged elite give their children Western education and run around the potholed roads and facilities-free villages in shiny new Mercedes cars.

And where does much of this relative Western-style affluence come from?

Vein of corruption

From Western aid, of course. The political and bureaucratic classes have ambitions for lifestyles far in excess of their incomes, so they fill the gap by ripping off Western aid supposed to be heading for the poor.

Tony Blair is well aware of the corruption which runs through political life in these countries but he has come here promising to put his money where his mouth is.

Tony Blair and President Kufuor
Many West African leaders share Mr Blair's optimism
He has identified corruption as one of the main problems to be tackled by African countries seeking aid.

But this will require the sort of cultural change that seldom happens in a single generation.

And, as he left Ghana at the end of the second leg of his tour, he took with him a powerful plea for understanding of the nature of the task.

Ghana's biggest selling newspaper, the Daily Graphic, carried a "note to Tony" under the headline "scar on our conscience".

Highlighting the scale of the problem, it points out that since 1983, Ghana's agricultural sector has received investment of some $2 billion, yet production of the country's staple crop, maize, has only risen from 1.4 metric tons per hectare to 1.6 metric tons since 1970.

Bottomless pit

Per capita production has actually dropped. Where has all the money gone?

On "devious projects, seminars, workshops, unapplied research findings, per diem, hotel accommodation, meals, purchase of vehicles and computers".

The answer is not simply pouring more aid into this bottomless pit of greed, but to re-balance global trade which all too often keeps African commodity prices low.

This, according to the newspaper, is the scar on Ghana's conscience.

And this is the battle Tony Blair and the West must finally join.

Tribal welcome

Probably the greatest spectacle during the trip was the welcome offered to the prime minister by tribal chiefs in Kyebi village.

This was straight out of Conrad - scenes we have all seen 1,000 times in Hollywood movies.

But, as with so much here, appearances were deceptive.

Standing on a balcony at the paramount chief's palace overlooking the drummers, tribal elders and the great man himself, I turned to a stunning young African "princess" from the local royal family.

"Hello, I'm from the BBC in London."

"Hello," she replied, "I'm from Ladbroke Grove."

It was one of those moments when the world suddenly shrinks in front of your eyes.

Weird watering holes

Every street in every town and village in Ghana is lined with little bars called "spots".

Ghana street scene
Mr Blair's visit was big news in Ghana
And, in naming their watering holes, the Ghanaians display a wonderful sense of humour and mischief.

One which flashed past as the prime minister's motorcade sped out of the capital went by the name the "Don't mind your wife spot".

But the women have a way of getting their own back.

Ghana is a deeply religious country and a little further down the road was a small general goods store aptly named "the Virtuous woman mini-mart".

It may have been my imagination playing tricks in the heat, but I also thought I saw a car salesroom called the "Put your faith in God motors".

Taking to the roads here is such a heart-stopping experience that if the place doesn't exist it certainly should.

Tony's toilet

The local papers in Accra gave acres of space to Tony Blair's visit and just about everybody wanted to get in on the act.

Even businesses wanted to associate themselves with the prime minister and some even took out advertisements welcoming him to the city while plugging their products at the same time.

One bathroom fittings company may just have accidentally overstepped the taste threshold with its full page colour tribute-come-advert.

Under the large words Tony Blair was a full colour picture of a lavatory bowl and a bidet.

See also:

07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
In Africa with Blair
07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Blair hails new era for Africa
07 Feb 02 | Africa
Low-key reception for Blair
06 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Blair back to world stage
08 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Perils of a globetrotting PM
08 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair flies home to frosty welcome
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