Previous SectionIndexHome Page

New Africa Initiative

12.30 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Nicholas Winterton): Before I call the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), I give notice that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) has sought permission to speak from the initiator of the debate, the Minister and myself. I am happy to give my permission, and I shall certainly call him.

Tony Baldry (Banbury): In light of 11 September and in a week when the Prime Minister is visiting Africa, it is timely that we should be debating the New Partnership for Africa's Development, which was formerly known as the new Africa initiative. I welcome—

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Will hon. Members who are leaving do so quietly?

Tony Baldry : I welcome the Prime Minister's visit and the Government's commitment to Africa, but Africa's chronic crisis will not be solved by one man on one visit. The Government clearly recognise that the new partnership will need the support of wealthier countries to succeed. I agree with the sentiments that the Prime Minister expressed at the Labour party conference following 11 September, when he said that the state of Africa was a scar on the conscience of the world. If we focus on Africa, we can help to heal that scar; if we do not, it will become deeper and angrier.

A coalition against Africa's poverty is crucial. It is obviously no good the UK Government performing well on debt relief, for example, if the G8 coalition of which it is a part also includes underperformers. A coalition means collective responsibility, and the new partnership can succeed only if it is built on a firm coalition, which includes several players, the first of which is the United States.

Friends of America must wonder whether it is delivering enough. President Bush's state of the union speech mentioned evil five times, but poverty not once. Of course, it is right that we must fight terrorism throughout the world, but we must also fight poverty. Colin Powell is on record as asserting:

We shall have to persuade colleagues in Congress and friends in the American Government that the United States could do more. The United States claims to be the largest development donor in the world, but that does not change the fact that it also gives the most parsimonious percentage of development assistance, at just 0.1 per cent. of gross national income. President Bush will attend the forthcoming financial summit in Monterrey, but it is questionable whether he intends to announce that the United States will increase overseas development and assistance. Instead, it looks as if he will offer poor countries a change in the way in which the International Development Association operates. That might look attractive in the short term, but it will be unsustainable in the longer term, and it is not what Africa needs. Africa—particularly sub-Saharan Africa—needs all Organisation for Economic

6 Feb 2002 : Column 296WH

Co-operation and Development countries to meet the target of 0.7 per cent. of GNI for overseas development as soon as possible.

The second part of the foundation that is necessary for the new partnership to succeed is the European Union. Its communiqué following the first Africa-Europe ministerial meeting last year stated:

There must, however, be concern, because seven of the top 10 recipients of EU external assistance are middle-income eastern European countries, which will soon join the EU. Last year, Poland received three times more aid than Uganda, which is the only African country in the top 10. The Secretary of State told the Select Committee on International Development that the amount of European Union development aid that was given to poor countries was actually dropping and was now less than 40 per cent. We must, therefore, persuade colleagues in the EU, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers that the EU's development assistance and budgets must focus much more on poverty and on Africa.

The third part of the foundation of the new partnership must be African countries themselves. Nigeria's President Obasanjo accurately asserted that the resolution of conflict will be central to the success of the new partnership.

For African countries, the rhetoric of partnership features prominently. As a press release by the South African Department of Foreign Affairs succinctly notes, the new partnership will be

Those may not be new commitments. They are the conditions for which the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have provided aid for years. Importantly, they are now clearly stated African commitments. We need a firm partnership that involves the United States, the European Union, which obviously includes the United Kingdom, and African countries. We must then consider how that could impact on specific policy areas.

The first crucial building block of the new partnership will be Africa's health and education. HIV/AIDS infects someone in Africa every 25 seconds. Even those better off countries such as South Africa and Botswana are suffering catastrophic levels of HIV infection that may kill off a quarter of young men and women in the next few years. That is a fairly horrific figure.

Wealthier countries are clearly failing to deliver more directly for two reasons. First, the global health fund has revived only a fraction of the $10 billion that it needs to combat the pandemic, and we need to ensure that other countries contribute to that fund. AIDS is undoubtedly fuelled by poverty. Secondly, wealthier countries are partially failing on drug patents. I welcome the declaration signed at Doha on TRIPs—trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights—but it remains undecided whether developing countries can import cheap copies of patented drugs from third countries. That would benefit only countries that have their own manufacturing capacity, and that often excludes Africa.

6 Feb 2002 : Column 297WH

Education is equally important. According to UNICEF, infants born to mothers with no formal education are twice as likely to die before their first birthday as those born to mothers with post-primary school education. Again, the European Union is the most culpable, as it allocates only 3 per cent. of aid to basic education through the European development fund, and the gap between disbursements and commitments can mean that as much as 40 per cent. of aid is returned to member states. That must change in order to meet Africa's needs. Furthermore, the lack of public funds now means that in countries such as Tanzania, Ghana and Zambia many poor people cannot afford basic education. In Zambia, as much as three quarters of basic education spending must be met directly by poor parents themselves.

Poor countries are sick because they are poor, but they are also poor because they are sick. That need is even more apparent when we consider the other two building blocks of the new partnership—debt relief and access to market economies. The new partnership clearly sets out how debt relief should be linked with costed poverty reduction: wealthier countries should commit themselves to deeper debt relief for African countries that show a commitment to poverty reduction. However, I am not sure that it happening under current World Bank criteria. The debt payments of Zambia, Tanzania and Cameroon exceed their combined health and education budgets. The poor people in those countries will see the World Bank giving in principle, but taking in practice.

The World Bank's constriction on development sustainability is compounded when we consider the economics of African countries since 11 September. Commodity prices are falling. African countries rely on coffee, cotton and tobacco, but the prices of those commodities have already fallen by 7.4 per cent. this year; and the International Monetary Fund expects them to fall even further. We need to ensure that Africa is given a strong voice in institutions such as World Trade Organisation, but adequate economic access for African goods to the markets of Europe and the developed world.

The erosion of Africa's share in world trade between 1970 and 1993 represents a lost annual income of $68 billion. We have to work out how African economies might benefit from increased trade; that must mean rich countries allowing quota and tariff-free access to their markets. It is particularly important that African agriculture is not undermined by unequal competition with industrialised agriculture.

The new partnership will want to emphasise the importance of developing the private sector in Africa and promote foreign direct investment. Such investment has never been high there; it has fallen dramatically since the Asian crises. Indeed, the Financial Times recently observed that sub-Saharan Africa's neglected ports had significantly held back the progress of their economies.

We will all watch with interest the emerging Africa infrastructure fund that was announced last week. Perhaps the most telling sign is that the nine African countries that are experiencing the worst civil conflicts all have one thing in common. Each has a per capita

6 Feb 2002 : Column 298WH

GNP income of less than $200. Conflict resolution will be crucially important to the success of the new partnership. The onus must be largely on African countries, and I support the comments made by the Prime Minister today in The Times. Some of us were disappointed that the countries of southern Africa were not more effective in helping, for example, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe find a resolution for that troubled country's current difficulties.

I have no doubt that the world will meet the United Nations 2015 targets on poverty, not least because of the improvements in China and India. The danger is that as four continents of the world progress, one—Africa—is at best standing still, and at worst, going backwards. Of course, it is an important matter and it is right that the Prime Minister should be there. None of us should be under the illusion that unless there is a massive political commitment—involving us as parliamentarians, colleagues in the European Union, colleagues in Congress, and importantly, colleagues in Africa itself—there will not be the progress in Africa that all of us want to see at the start of this new millennium.

12.41 pm

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) for allowing me to contribute to the debate. I congratulate him on putting the matter on the agenda of the House of Commons. It is not before time, and it is important that it is not only on today's agenda, but that it remains on the agenda of the House of Commons, and is a popular campaign in Britain.

There is a real danger that the African continent will be completely locked out of the process of globalisation. While the rest of the world gets richer, it is evident that Africa is getting poorer. At the start of the 21st century, sub-Saharan Africa includes many of the world's poorest countries. In a reverse of some of the improvements of the 1960s and 1970s, Africa became poorer in the 1980s and 1990s. Average income per capita is lower now than it was at the end of the 1960s. In Britain, the average income is about £16,300 per annum, or about £313.60 per week. In Africa, it is £320 per annum, or £6.50 per week. That is less than £1 per day. Prices are lower in Africa and money goes further, but it does not go that much further. The discrepancy is huge.

Life expectancy in Britain is 78 years; in Africa it is 49 years. Of the 25 million people worldwide who have AIDS, two thirds are African. Therefore, the continent includes a growing share of the world's absolute poorest. Many problems of development are endemic to African countries. The World Bank recently published a table that showed that, while a few countries have moved forward, other countries—such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Zambia, the Central African Republic, Mauritania, Chad, Ghana, Rwanda, Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, Burundi, Senegal, South Africa, and Nigeria—have all gone backwards in terms of GDP per capita. In other words, the endemic problems—for example, poor primary school enrolment and high child mortality—remain.

I refer to the summary of the World Bank report, "Can Africa claim the 21st century?" It says:

6 Feb 2002 : Column 299WH

The response of recent times has been insufficient to tackle those searing problems. There has been deteriorating capacity, weakening institutions and inadequate infrastructure. Great changes are needed. There must be a concentrated focus on the challenges that face Africa in order to move things forward. Due to the rapidly growing population, 5 per cent. annual growth is needed to stop the numbers of poor from rising. If severe poverty is to be halved by 2015, annual growth of more than 7 per cent. will be required, along with a more equitable distribution of income. That is a massive challenge.

We must link the global and local. We should not think globally and act locally, but simultaneously think and act locally and globally. What do I mean by that? We should address local development projects without neglecting the global need for infrastructures. There are more telephone lines in New York than in the whole of Africa. We must do something about telecom infrastructure and transport and communication infrastructure to allow Africa to be included in the global world.

I welcome the Prime Minister's initiative to visit Africa, and the building of a coalition and a Marshall plan. I also welcome the infrastructure fund, which is greatly needed. I hope that the Prime Minister's visit will be a catalyst for a new, continuing and sharper focus on Africa. That would be linked to initiatives on good governance and conflict resolution.

In addition to challenging politicians in America, we must do more in our communities to build popular support for initiatives in Africa to give resonance to politicians' measures.

In May 1990, a BBC television film called "The March" showed people from Africa who were locked out of the economy. They could see images of Europe getting richer, and they wondered why they should stay in Africa rather than move to Europe. If we want to face the challenges of migration and refugees, we must accept that we live in an interdependent world. If we do not address peoples' needs in parts of the world that are small and vulnerable, we should not be surprised that people want to move to where the goods are.

It is in our interest to focus on the initiative. However, I ask for the new initiative on Africa to be not only a high-level initiative, but to be supported by popular campaigns in schools, neighbourhoods and residents associations in our communities. That would give people basic information to make them aware of how Africa is locked out. We should campaign to say that the globe's real challenge in the 21st century is the inclusion of Africa as a whole.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Before I call the Secretary of State, I am sure that I reflect the views of hon. Members

6 Feb 2002 : Column 300WH

by expressing our gratitude to her for coming to reply to the debate. That clearly indicates the important role of Westminster Hall.

12.47 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short) : I very much welcome the debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on securing it. I agree with him and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) that we desperately need a stronger international focus on Africa because of the needs of the people of that continent and the future security, safety and stability of the world. If a whole continent becomes ever poorer and mired in conflict, that is a desperate tragedy for its people.

Africa is Europe's near abroad. If it is in trouble, that trouble and conflict will spread across the world. For example, bin Laden was in Sudan before he went to Afghanistan. Africa contains rich minerals, which leads to criminality around diamonds. That may lead to drug dealing, which may cause destruction. That may lead to the spread of disease and massive refugee movements. There are more displaced people in Africa than anywhere in the world. There is no conflict among what is morally right, what is necessary for social justice and what is in our intelligent self-interest. It is in our intelligent self-interest to ensure that Africa has better hope for the future.

Poverty in Africa is deeper and wider than anywhere else in the world. Two thirds of the absolutely poor, who live on less than $1 a day, live in Asia, the most populous part of the world. That figure uses purchasing power parity, so it shows what $1 a day would buy in the United States, not in Africa. It is a desperate level of poverty. Some 1.2 billion people live at that level and just about scrape enough to survive. One third live in India; we must keep up our efforts in Asia. One third live in Africa, and nearly half the people on the continent live in such poverty.

At current rates of economic growth, more people will become poorer, because population growth across the continent of Africa is faster than average economic growth, so we can expect further deterioration under present trends. That is desperately serious, and we should pay better attention to the problem.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West said, conflict is also an issue. Some 20 per cent. of people in Africa are living in conditions of conflict. The permafrost of the cold war, which controlled disorder and conflict to some extent, has thawed. Conflict breaks out often because states are so weak that they are not able to provide security. Any bunch of gangsters can go around with a gun and enrich themselves. The conflict in Sierra Leone is about diamonds and everyone having kalashnikovs. Many small arms are circulating and breeding disorder in weak states across the continent. When there is such disorder, people can do very little to improve their lives.

In a moving and eloquent publication from the World Bank, "Voices of the Poor", 60,000 people from 60 countries—among the poorest people in the world—were asked what they felt about the world in the year 2000. Some of the descriptions of the grindingly difficult nature of their lives are very moving. What they ask for

6 Feb 2002 : Column 301WH

most is security. No one can begin to grow cabbages, keep chickens, take children to school or gain access to health care if there is total disorder and no security. Conflict oppresses people, destroys infrastructure and sets back development. It is an enormously serious problem, and it will get worse unless we do better. However, matters are not hopeless.

There has been much reform in Africa in recent years. There is much more democracy across the continent. Important reforming Governments are making progress in economic growth and the reduction of poverty. More than 20 African countries achieved a growth rate of 4 per cent. in 2001, and Uganda, Botswana and Mozambique achieved growth of 7 to 10 per cent. If we are to succeed in halving poverty, there must be 7 per cent. growth across the continent. Some African countries are achieving that. Therefore, Africa can do it if we make a greater effort to resolve conflict and support reform.

Our great opportunity is that Africa is now setting the reform agenda. The world has been hectoring Africa for a long time. In the past, all sorts of reform agendas were written in Washington and flown to Africa, where they were accepted by reluctant Governments who needed the money but never really believed in the agendas and the reforms failed. We have learned that there is a greater chance of success when there is local commitment and ownership and people design their own reform agenda. That is the real importance of the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

Leading African Governments are now supported in the African Union by all the countries of the continent. They can now say that they are going to reform themselves and resolve conflicts. They know the conditions for which they will get the inward investment that will give them access to modern technology: decent democracy, cracking down on corruption, providing security, enabling the local private sector to grow and investing in infrastructure. Africa is now telling itself so, and is taking the leadership. That is an important opportunity.

In his second term, the Prime Minister has made a commitment to partnership with Africa's agenda for reform, because of the needs of Africa and the danger to the world. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West said, the United Kingdom can help, but cannot alone rise to the challenge sufficiently to offer the continent better prospects. The United Kingdom is a member of the Security Council, the European Union—which is significant with regard to trading rights—and the G8, which represents the richest countries in the world, and which promised at its Genoa meeting to offer a response to the New Partnership for Africa's Development. Therefore, the United Kingdom, with all of its alliances and relationships, can respond and begin to help.

More aid is needed—it has been declining, and things have got worse in Africa—but it must be better deployed. It must be deployed to build up the capacity of African Governments to successfully manage their economies so that they can provide services for their people. It should not be used to fund a proliferation of projects, which weakens the capacity of Governments, because they have to spend all of their time accounting

6 Feb 2002 : Column 302WH

to the donors for how the money is being dispersed, instead of strengthening their health and education systems and providing basic universal services for their people.

What happened in Somalia and Rwanda represented disastrous and shameful failures by the international community in its attempts to resolve conflict in Africa. Sierra Leone is a small country, but the success of the peace effort there—to which the United Kingdom made a significant commitment—was important. It marked a turning point. There is now peace throughout the country: all of the rebels have been disarmed, and elections are planned for May.

However, several larger countries must move forward. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan are ready for peace. The Democratic Republic of Congo has never been well governed. Its colonial experience was crude and exploitative. Mbutu was a corrupt kleptocrat, whose regime was propped up by the west because he was a pro-western corrupt kleptocrat. He misused the country's rich natural resources. Now it is divided into three parts. It experienced a civil war, partly as a result of the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. However, the Lusaka peace accords are sensible. They were made in Africa, and they were endorsed by the Security Council and by all of the regional players. They should be driven forward, so that peace can be delivered.

Since it gained its independence in 1956, Sudan has suffered from civil war for all but 10 years. Both sides want a peace process. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan are massive countries; each of them is as big as western Europe. If we put some energy into their peace processes, the prospects of the entire continent would begin to be transformed. We could then begin to turn things around by supporting the reformers, deploying aid well, improving economic performance and increasing the numbers of children who attend school—which is being achieved in countries such as Uganda and Mozambique.

HIV/AIDS is a disaster for Africa, as it is for other parts of the world. Infection rates are increasing in India, Russia and the Caribbean. We must not think that it is only an African problem. However, with regard to the problem in Africa, Uganda shows the way forward. The infection rate among its young children is rapidly falling. In Zimbabwe, one in three adults is infected and life expectancy will fall by 20 years, but the situation in Uganda offers hope. We must campaign, make condoms available, tell the truth about how the infection spreads and treat sexually transmitted diseases early because when they are endemic in a population they spread much more rapidly. We know about many things that must be done. They should be done, so that every African country can do as well as Uganda.

The Prime Minister is going to Africa to listen, so that when he returns he can generate energy in our country, and use that and our historical relationship with Africa to mobilise the G8 and to encourage the Security Council to make a better effort, so that the people of Africa can have more hope of a decent future.

People often ask me about my travels. They say that it must be depressing to meet so many poor people. They are wrong; it is inspiring. The poor of the world are among the most hard-working, creative and dignified

6 Feb 2002 : Column 303WH

people. They live in conditions that we could not survive. They grow their own food, build their own houses, give birth to their children without any healthcare system, and raise them without help. They deserve the chance to use their energy and commitment to make a better future for themselves, their children and their continent.

Things are so bad in Africa that if any of us lived there, we would not be able to get out of the mire. The people of that continent deserve decent Government, peace, basic healthcare and education and the chance to develop their economies. If they were to have those things, we could turn things around. By means of a real partnership of mutual respect, responding to the lead coming from Africa, we could begin to turn that continent's prospects around.

People say that there is nothing to believe in in politics any more. That is not true. We are more responsible for the state of the world than ever before and there is a chance for a great advance if we are big enough to grasp it. Responding to Africa is crucial to the future of the world.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I thank the Secretary of State for her reply. We now move on to the next debate, initiated by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke). Before I call him, I should inform hon. Members that the hon. Members for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) and for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) have shown their interest in taking part and sought the permission of the initiator of the debate, the Minister and me.

Next Section

IndexHome Page