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Let me now briefly turn to some specific areas of concern. The importance of the UK pursuing an active and consistent policy is nowhere more apparent than in the horn of Africa. In this Chamber and in Westminster Hall we have had a series of debates on the situation in Somalia, Yemen and the gulf of Aden. Ungoverned
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regions are providing opportunities for al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks to consolidate, raise money and plan operations. There are reports that the money that pirates extract through hijackings is helping to pay for the war in Somalia. While there is no sign of a strategic alliance between the pirates and Somali Islamists, that future possibility cannot be excluded. In the same way as drug trafficking and production have been funding the Taliban in Afghanistan, the loot from piracy could be used to finance radicals in the region. It is therefore crucial to prevent such a link from being established, and everything must be done to ensure that that unstable region does not turn into a failed one, with the consequences reaching far beyond the horn of Africa. When the Minister replies, I hope he will be able to tell us in more detail about the Government’s strategy for the region and their attitude towards the increase in piracy.

I am sure that many colleagues will be eager to mention the dreadful situation in Darfur, which, tragically, is now in its sixth year. Following the expulsion of the 13 largest aid agencies by President Bashir, it is estimated that water shortages will occur in the next two to four weeks and more than 1 million people will not have food by May. The Foreign Secretary has emphasised the pressure that the Government, along with our partners, are trying to bring to bear on the Government of President Bashir, and we support that. Can the Minister give us any hope that that pressure will lead to any attempts by the Sudanese Government to reverse their decision? Does he not agree that this callous act by President Bashir compounds the situation and makes life even worse for the poor people living there? Surely we can also all say that we support the action taken by the International Criminal Court to place President Bashir in the dock, and that we should resist any proposed delay under article 16 of the Rome statute that would allow him to escape the due processes of justice.

I also wish to raise the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although we welcome the capture of Laurent Nkunda in Rwanda in January and the signature in Goma of peace agreements between the Congolese Government and the CNDP, and the Government and other armed groups in North Kivu and South Kivu, on 23 March, the immediate protection of the civilian population remains uncertain. When does the Minister expect the 3,100 additional forces for the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which were authorised by UN resolution 1843 on 20 November, to be deployed? The resolution calls for “immediate deployment”, but some four months have now passed, so what progress has been made in eliciting commitments from countries to offer peacekeeping troops for the mission?

I come to what we believe British policy towards Africa should be and how it should be underpinned by five important guiding principles—on this, we come very close to the line taken by the Foreign Secretary. The first principle is that we must recognise that we need African-led solutions to the region’s problems if the solutions are to endure and to have legitimacy.

Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Simpson: The right hon. Lady has been chuntering in a delightful way for the past half an hour, so of course I shall give way.

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Hilary Armstrong: The hon. Gentleman knows that I always chunter. He talks about “African-led solutions”, and we have to do a lot more on those, particularly in helping people in civil society to be active across the board. Perhaps he will join me in congratulating VSO Jitolee—the Kenyan independent Voluntary Services Overseas organisation—which is organising the work of internal volunteers. People from Kenya are volunteering to work not only all around Africa, but in Kenya itself, to go to different communities in order to build up greater knowledge and understanding of different tribes, and of the benefits of working together. That is the way in which Africa will be able to build its resilience against conflict, because such volunteering will make sure that the ordinary people make their difference, while the politicians continue to do nothing in countries such as Kenya.

Mr. Simpson: I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention; she has taken a long interest in this area and I concur with what she said. “African-led solutions to the region’s problems” can be very trite phrase, but we know that the problems in the two major conflict zones where British troops are involved—Iraq and Afghanistan—can be properly resolved only by building up the local institutions, both at the government and at the voluntary level.

The Minister of State in another place, who has enormous experience in the region, has invested a great deal of time in promoting peaceful resolutions of the crises in Kenya and Zimbabwe, and in persuading Zimbabwe’s neighbours to take a more active role. The condemnation of the Mugabe regime by Botswana sent a powerful signal and was, in many respects, a turning point. South Africa, in particular, has the capacity to take a decisive leadership role in the region, as does the Southern African Development Community as a whole. We also welcome the emergence of a new role for a former UN Secretary-General, as a heavyweight regional leader and statesman who has been prepared to put his experience and skill to use in mediating in crises; we hope that Mr. Annan will continue to make a valuable contribution and that he will be joined by others.

The second principle that should guide British policy towards Africa is that we must promote good governance and the rule of law, while recognising, as perhaps we should, that in many countries in Africa local people demand security more than anything else—that is not necessarily the same as good governance and the rule of law.

It is a very difficult thing for any western Government to square that, but we should recognise that sometimes establishing security first is the most important priority.

Britain has made, and can make, a valuable contribution to reforming civil institutions such as the police and judiciary by sharing our experience and best practice. Strengthening rights for citizens and democratic institutions is the best way to ensure that countries become increasingly capable of resolving their own disputes.

Mr. Cash: My hon. Friend implied, but did not quite spell out the word, “corruption”. Are we equally determined to ensure that, throughout Africa, where there are problems with corruption, we will tackle them at our end?

Mr. Simpson: My hon. Friend raises an important point, and successive Governments have tried to do that. It is not easy. Other hon. Members have far more
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experience than I do, but when I have talked to the non-governmental organisations, they say that money should be put in at the bottom end rather than the top end, where a considerable cut can be taken.

Thirdly, we must promote human rights. The current arrest warrant for President Bashir, in relation to crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, is an important milestone in this respect— [ Interruption. ] If I were still teaching at Sandhurst, I would tell those two cadets on the Labour Benches to pipe down. It is rude and they should pull themselves together—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps we may now continue the debate in the usual way.

Mr. Simpson: I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, I got carried away by the repartee.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: On the issue of corruption, does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of the problem in incredibly poor countries is that the Government may have insufficient funds to pay realistic salaries to those who head the judiciary? A fallible judiciary leads to many miscarriages of justice in those countries. Does he support the initiative by this Government and many others to support the development of judiciaries, so that they can pave the way to better justice and help to root out corruption?

Mr. Simpson: The hon. Lady makes a powerful point, and the same is true for the police. Sometimes a culture develops—and it has happened in Europe, too—in which taking what we would now call bribes is part and parcel of a system in which officers are not paid very much. There is no easy or quick fix for that.

Fourthly, we need to continue to address the peacekeeping deficit in Africa. A worrying pattern has emerged of under-resourced African Union peacekeeping forces, well below their mandated strength. It is crucial for additional AU capacity and expertise to be built, not just in terms of troops on the ground for stabilisation and peacekeeping missions, but in logistics, funding, training and civilian policing operations. The shortage of helicopters has already been mentioned.

Finally, our policy must be underpinned by a clear conception of the UK national interest—not just our narrow national interest, but that which is served by helping the countries of Africa—which will best be served by investment, enhanced trade, cultural exchanges, the sharing of best practice in health, the environment and education, and where appropriate, military-to-military training and assistance. We must also recognise that much of the heavy lifting is being done by a wide variety of NGOs, which succeed often despite the best efforts of donor countries and local Governments.

African countries have gone through turbulent decades over the past 50 years. They will face further desperate challenges ahead, and we have it in our power to help them. At the same time we must have faith in the Governments who can deliver a better future for their people, and at times we must try to encourage them in what we would call best practice. They are not perfect, but the examples of Ghana, Botswana and Liberia remind us of the opportunities that are so often denied to the citizens of the wider continent by their own leaders. We should therefore continue to stand by to
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help them move away from instability, poverty and coups towards good governance and the rule of law. I welcome the debate and look forward to hearing the contributions of colleagues from all parties.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that the time limit on Back-Bench speeches is now 14 minutes.

5.25 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): I shall limit myself to three specific subjects that I believe to be worthy of attention, which were addressed most eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I must add, to be fair, that some of them were also addressed by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson).

If time allows, I hope to look in some detail at the specific problems faced by Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but first I want to discuss the effect that the recent global downturn has had on the continent of Africa. This month, the Overseas Development Institute published a paper entitled “A Development Charter for the G-20”. It looks broadly at the impact of the downturn on the developing world as a whole and sets out a list of key recommendations for ensuring that some of its worst effects are neutralised, with safeguards put in place to ensure that they do not happen in future.

I found it very worrying that the report stated that the share of the people in the world who live in hunger is set once more to go over the 1 billion mark. That means that one in six people living in the world today will be hungry and struggling for survival. Imagine, Madam Deputy Speaker, if one in six people in a developed country lived in hunger. Imagine if it were one in 12, or even one in 50. The chances are that the repercussions would bring down any Government of the day.

In Africa, as ever, the effects of the global downturn are set to hit home even harder. At first, some thought that many African economies that were not so keen as others to enter into the supposedly advanced integrated financial markets were insulated from the initial effects of the credit crunch. However, the resulting fall in demand has hit exports and now, as elsewhere, local banks are unwilling to lend. Some $50 billion is set to be wiped off the value of sub-Saharan Africa’s economy alone.

Another problem is the large number of families in many African countries who rely on remittances from relatives abroad to help provide food and clothing. In some countries, that can statistically make up a surprisingly high percentage of the economy. Consequently, a surge in unemployment overseas can end up hurting a local economy almost as much as a surge in that country. Whereas the developed world can offer substantial stimulus packages and loan guarantee schemes, helping to build infrastructures to drive demand, cushioning the worst effects of the downturn and helping to keep credit flowing, the smaller economies of Africa, impoverished by years of debt, manifestly are not so lucky. In the
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developed world, such problems lead to protest, a surge in unemployment and general strikes. In some countries in Africa, the same problems can lead to famine, civil war and even complete state failure. The crisis may be worldwide, but the stakes in Africa are so much higher, and the consequences so much graver.

With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like now to move on to some of the problems faced by those who live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the east of the country. I want to look at the issue seriously, not just because of the 1 million internally displaced persons in North Kivu and not just because I feel that the current situation there has repercussions not just for the DRC but for the whole region, but because the problem has a major impact on the international community, as the DRC is home to MONUC—the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission.

The House will know that recently, the Governments of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC worked together to help to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army—the rebel movement located in the east of the country that was largely responsible for the surge in internally displaced people around North Kivu last year. Considering that the DRC has in recent times not just had what might be called frosty relations with its neighbours, but has in fact been engaged in all-out war with them, we can understand the scepticism of international observers and the local population about the sight of soldiers from Uganda and Rwanda entering the DRC. However, by most accounts, the surge against the LRA has been judged by others to be a success. There was evidence of countries co-ordinating their military tactics, and although not destroyed, the LRA’s fighting force and capabilities are much reduced.

When the armies of Uganda and Rwanda were asked to leave, they left. Putting aside for a second the reason why they were asked to leave, and the repercussions, I feel that that in itself shows how Governments in the region are now demonstrating a commitment to long-term stability, realising that peace in the region will lead to increased prosperity for everyone—again, for the many, not the few.

Where, we might ask in the midst of all the fighting, is MONUC? Surely, the world’s largest peacekeeping force has had a role to play. Alas, no. One of the many concerns when foreign troops first set foot on DRC soil was a lack of communication about their plans and their intentions. Of course, it quickly became clear that, although the armies of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC were to some extent co-ordinating their efforts, no one was talking to MONUC. What does that say about the UN and its relevance in the modern world? I ask that question as a supporter of the organisation.

When a collection of Governments are willing to contribute troops for a peacekeeping force, what better organisation to co-ordinate and carry out the mission than the UN? The DRC and the whole region have put their differences aside in that conflict, to focus their aims on a greater goal. In my view, the UN deserves our full support to do its job.

I now wish to turn briefly to Sudan.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am interested in what my right hon. Friend is saying. Before he leaves the subject of the Congo, does he also think that one of the contributory
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factors to the appalling violence and attacks, particularly on women, in the east has been the amount of money made illicitly from the mining industry, which leads to illicit exports from the Congo—and, indeed, funds a great deal of the unrest and horror that is going on? Does he not think that transparency in mineral extraction is very important?

Mr. Clarke: I do indeed, and that is one of the reasons why I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at an early stage. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). I was saying that we ought to focus on the role of the UN, and I referred to a situation in which a collection of Governments were willing to contribute troops to a peacekeeping force. I repeated my strong view that the United Nations ought to be pivotal in that.

I wish to turn briefly to the issue of Sudan. I will keep my comments short, but I find recent developments too much of a worry to allow them to pass without scrutiny, and I am extremely pleased that the issue has already been raised on both sides of the Chamber. Recently, the International Criminal Court issued and stated its commitment to an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. On hearing of the warrant, Bashir expelled 13 foreign aid organisations and three local ones, largely from Darfur. There are more than a million people in Sudan who rely on that aid. The consequences for them are absolutely dire. It is a wholly unacceptable situation, and I am glad that the House appears to be united in its approach, and in its anger.

Meanwhile, Bashir flouts the travel rule in his arrest warrant by visiting countries not covered by the ICC, such as Egypt and Libya, and does so with impunity. That is all happening while a million people go without food, and much more. We are still waiting for the full deployment of the promised UN peacekeeping force. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), could in his winding-up speech perhaps give us an update on any proposed timetable for deployment of the full peacekeeping force. May I also ask whether any discussions have taken place within the international community about when those expelled aid organisations can get back to work? I do not wish to sideline the importance of the International Criminal Court, but surely those factors must remain our priority, arrest warrant or no arrest warrant. The international community has made a commitment to the people of Sudan not to sit idly by. It really is time to deliver on that commitment.

The Government’s rising levels of aid funding, their record on rescheduling debt and their many other actions on overseas aid matters have shown that we are willing to put our money where our mouth is in terms of our responsibility to developing countries—but the truth is that without stability and lasting peace, we cannot tackle the problems with aid and trade alone, important though they are, let alone meet our commitments to the millennium development goals.

It is easy to become sentimental about Africa—about its people, its beauty, its wildlife and its natural resources—but the plain and simple fact is that a practical response is required to all the problems that we have been debating. Alan Paton’s “Cry, the Beloved Country”, Robert Ruark’s
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“Something of Value” and Trevor Huddleston’s “Naught for Your Comfort” still offer inspiration, but time is running short.

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