Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Our Responsibility towards Africa is Based on our Common Humanity, Not our Sense of Guilt | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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At his 1964 trial Nelson Mandela spoke of the principle he was prepared to die for: “the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunity.” Everyone shares that entitlement. Many of us learned this while learning our politics alongside liberation movements like ANC and Frelimo.

We are approaching the 200th anniversary of the abolition by the UK of the slave trade. African states within arbitrary boundaries were run then by European powers. Next they were caught up in the battleground for proxy Cold War conflicts. Even when the Cold War opponents took all their technicians home they left a dysfunctional vacuum which only exacerbated existing conflicts and brought new tensions to the surface. By the early 1990s most African countries were ill equipped to function as states. A paralysing cycle of conflict and poverty set in.

I acknowledge the wasted opportunities, the corruption that held many parts of Africa back. We have a distinct obligation to Africa not born out of guilt but common humanity. The facts speak for themselves:

• Two thousand children under five dying every day from malaria.

• Twenty five million Africans affected by AIDS.

• Two hundred and fifty million Africans without access to safe drinking water.

• Nearly half the continent lives below the poverty line.

• Forty million African kids still not in school.

The Millennium Development Goals are a toolkit to eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal primary education, combat disease. Even on these we are falling behind. 50 years of aid achieved so little that some say it can be a disincentive. Yet the UK pledged to double aid.

Aid will contribute a fraction of what is needed compared with sustained economic growth – just look at South Korea, Vietnam, and China. The factors which have allowed so many Asian states to leap forward so quickly clearly owe far more to a climate conducive enterprise and sustained investment than any developmental support which they received from developed nations. But the reality is that aid has a crucial palliative effect. It addresses some of the issues that prevent development.

It has fallen to this generation to make the difference. The target of 0.7% of GNP for aid demanded by African and Latin American countries and codified by a Ghanaian – Kofi Annan is not some dry economist’s figure. It means no more kids going to bed hungry every night. No kids without schools or books. No one without medicines and mosquito nets. And no more corrupt leaders skimming aid or natural resources that belong to their people.

Conflict, poverty, injustice recognise no borders. Destabilised societies there destabilise us all and test our own interests. We have worked hard on conflict resolution. UK intervention changed the fate of Sierra Leone and we are working constantly on Sudan – the south and Darfur, on the DRC elections, on the tinderbox of Somalia, on the Ethiopian/ Eritrean border and elsewhere.

Debt relief does still more for growth. Fifteen African countries have had their debts to the World Bank’s International Development Association cancelled. Money that would have gone to the banks goes to building a future for the poorest.

The hardest task remains trade and let’s be honest – that is because of protectionism in the wealthy world, quotas and tariffs that keep markets closed. Cows in the European Union receiving more money per head, in the form of subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy, than millions of children in Africa. Where people can produce, get their products to market, buy and sell, you create real wealth. Wealth that reaches ordinary families.

Wealth creation will never happen among people too ill to move. It will never happen across generations unless children can read, write, do some mathematics and, these days, use a computer.

Central to the Gleneagles agreement arrived at in Scotland in 2005 for accelerating efforts towards achieving the Millennium development goals was a commitment by African leaders to improve governance, uphold the rule of law and use new resources to make poverty history. Bribery is against the law in the UK. A couple of months ago I returned £1 million of these ill-gotten gains to Nigeria; small change compared to the £5 – 6 billion stolen by one former African president and lodged in a Swiss bank account.

The African Union now tackles conflict. Leaders are key mediators – Mandela in Burundi, Mbeki in Cote d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe, Obasanjo in Darfur. Hunger and poverty flow from conflict and conflict breeds the crises that end in our own societies. The work of Africa’s leaders to resolve disputes serves us as much as it serves Africa.

Today there is slow, but real progress; more democracies than ever before. Africa will need the international community’s help for some time, building economic structures, training professionals in public service, not poaching key workers, creating transparent legal systems and an independent police and military. If we don’t then the scope for investment and trade vanishes. Investors will go elsewhere.

When Mugabe is no longer leader – and the sooner the better – would we sit back and leave Zimbabweans to recover from the appalling human and economic havoc he has wreaked on them, on their own? Of course not.

Countries like Botswana, Mozambique Senegal, Morocco and Gambia which are increasingly confident, healthy, literate and certain of their children’s future testify that given stability, international support and good leadership, progress is realisable and the results are tangible. As the UK’s Minister for Africa, I firmly believe that we should be doing all we can to ensure that this is a realistic goal for all Africans.

A progressive international community does not leave the weakest to sink or swim. Not in our own countries and certainly not in Africa. We do best working together so that every individual can flourish and make the most of their opportunities.