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However, it is no good the Secretary of State’s report containing paragraph after paragraph saying that we should never allow another Rwanda to happen, when
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we can look at what is happening in Darfur and ask, “What’s the difference?” My third concern is that for Africa, whether it be Darfur, or indeed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which sometimes does not follow far behind what is happening in Darfur, the international community must put some real commitment into conflict prevention and into intervention to prevent humanitarian disasters. I fear we are not that far away from a humanitarian disaster in Darfur.

For those of us who have been able to listen to the entire debate today, optimistic though we all are, it is sobering to think that if there were a balance sheet of achievements in Africa over the past few years, sadly and frustratingly, the minuses would outnumber the pluses. There are far too many things about which we are increasingly concerned, and far too few things about which we can say there has been real progress in Africa. We have not even spoken today about the increase in HIV/AIDS or other important topics, such as maternal health and infant mortality.

It would be helpful for all of us to have greater understanding and clarity about how the international community intends to finance development in Africa. We need to be much more strident and clear in saying to colleagues and friends in Africa that that goes with a responsibility on their part to help enhance governance in Africa. I hope the Foreign Office will continue the good work which I know officials and others are doing, together with the rest of the international community, to ensure that the responsibility to protect means something, and is not just warm words. The test of that will be what happens in Darfur.

8.19 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): It is impossible, even in 17 minutes, to cover a whole continent and the issues of great importance to it. A number of issues have been mentioned in this debate, and I shall try to touch on some different ones.

Africa is a continent of 50 countries, with hundreds of languages and dialects. The borders within it, drawn on the maps by colonial administrators, do not bear any relationship to the ethnicities or histories of many of the peoples trapped on either side of them. Africa has nomadic people, who, because of climate change and desertification, sometimes have to move hundreds of miles to find water supplies or fresh grazing land. There have been civil wars and wars of intervention from outside. Furthermore, over hundreds of years, and systematically, people from different parts of the world—Europeans, Arabs or people from elsewhere, even including some from Asia—came to Africa, mainly by ship, to get the raw materials and resources and take them back.

At the same time, there have been significant economic developments such as the building of railways and the opening up of communications. However, many of Africa’s trade patterns are geared towards former colonial powers. The ports and communications are often on the coasts. Inter-African trade, between neighbouring countries, is limited. In some countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo being the most extreme example, it is extremely hard for people in the capital city to communicate with other parts of their country; the DRC is as large as western Europe, and there is no easy way to get from one side to the other, except by flying.

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For many ordinary people in Africa, globalisation has not brought the benefits that it has brought to many other parts of the world. However, as we have seen from television programmes and articles in recent months and years, in the past few years the mobile phone has brought an incredible change and an ability to bypass the old technologies and move towards the new ones. I believe that Africa can and should have—I think it will have—an optimistic future based on modern technologies and investment. There is now talk about building massive solar panels across the Sahara to supply electricity for Europe. With an interconnector grid, that same electricity could supply incredible resources to parts of Africa.

Five years ago, I went to Angola with BP representatives on a trip organised by the Industry and Parliament Trust. They took me to a village called Paranhos, where ex-MPLA fighters and ex-UNITA fighters were living together. The village had solar panels that provided the electricity for a clinic, a newly built school and the housing. When they set up the project, BP representatives consulted the people who were going to be living there about the distribution and organisation of the electricity. A communal system was suggested, so that the electricity would go off at the same time every night for everybody. I remembered something similar, because in the 1970s I taught in a mission school in Swaziland, and the generator went off at 8 o’clock. E. P. Thompson wrote “Writing by Candlelight”, but I was marking by candlelight in those days.

In that village in Angola, the people decided that they wanted individual switches and sockets. As a result, suddenly there were power cuts because televisions were being plugged into the light sockets, and that had not been factored in. My point is that even in a rural area people aspired to get the same technology as everybody else had, and wanted to be part of the technological process. Today, there are real opportunities for Africa if only we in the rest of the world recognise that the continent cannot be for the pillaging of resources and that Africa provides potentially large markets and a large number of young people who will be important for the development of the future.

I have mentioned Angola, which has often featured today as one of the countries with phenomenal resources. Some 80 per cent. of Angola’s budget comes from oil, and it has had 21 per cent. economic growth in one year. But does the oil benefit the people of Angola? No; it does not often even get to Angola. It comes from under the sea and is put into the tankers that float around the world to see where they will get the best price. The money is transferred into Swiss or other bank accounts and ultimately ends up being spent by a small elite on luxury goods in the most expensive shops in western Europe or north America.

“Undue Diligence”, an interesting report by Global Witness, has just been published. Its subtitle is “How banks do business with corrupt regimes”, and it has a chapter on how Angola operates. It makes the points that I have just made, and also states that:

the state oil company of Angola—

Those loans, of course, have to be paid back at some point. They will be paid back from future oil revenue, which until now has not been invested for the benefit of the mass of the people of the country. We need to be aware that if a country has such raw materials and resources, that allows it to operate outside the extractive industry’s transparency regimes and outside the International Monetary Fund. We know from Angola’s tragic past that its civil war was financed by arms dealers, Russian oligarchs and others on the basis that they would get income in future from the sale of the country’s assets. The people of Angola have suffered grievously from that.

Although the Foreign Affairs Committee has not produced a specific regionally focused inquiry on Africa, we have, over recent years, dealt with several of the countries that have been mentioned—for example, Somalia, where we drew attention to the allegations of human rights abuses and the very serious internal situation before and during the Ethiopian intervention. In our 2007 report, we were critical of the damaging and dangerous impact of air strikes, which, although ostensibly against terrorist targets, had led to large-scale civilian deaths. In our 2008 report, we were very critical of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for failing to pay sufficient attention to that in its human rights discussions, and for making no mention of the human rights abuses that had allegedly been carried out by the Ethiopian armed forces in Somalia. We recommended that the FCO should make Somalia’s human rights situation a central focus of its annual human rights report. That report came out last Thursday, and I am pleased to say that it refers to Somalia as one of the major countries of concern. I am pleased that the FCO has listened to what we said. Other African countries, including the DRC, Sudan and Zimbabwe, are on its list of about 20 major countries of concern.

Although reference has been made to setbacks to democracy in Africa, there have also been significant moves forward. Overall, despite difficulties, southern Africa is doing much better than other parts of the continent. We have a vibrant democratic Government in Botswana and a functioning democracy in Namibia—although not as pluralistic as in Botswana. We also have the situation in Mozambique, with the voluntary retirement of the President, a democratic election and an effective, functioning two-party system. That was helped greatly by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, with the Labour party helping the FRELIMO party and the Conservatives helping the RENAMO party. I am pleased that over the years we have been able to assist effectively in that transition, with Mozambique, a Portuguese-speaking country, wishing to come into the Commonwealth because of its desire to be associated with its neighbours.

South Africa, which is of course a very big neighbour, faces some internal difficulties during the transition from Mbeki to his successor, Mr. Zuma, in the African National Congress, and it remains to be seen what will happen in the forthcoming election. However, despite the flaws and difficulties, South Africa has shown the way forward, in terms not only of reconciliation but of pluralistic elections at state and local level, as well as at
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national level. There are free trade unions, there is a vibrant free press and there is an independent judiciary: those are important aspects of democracy.

Sadly, one small country in the region—Swaziland, between Mozambique and South Africa—is a blot on democracy. The Commonwealth has spent several years trying to help with the democratic processes in Swaziland. When the Swazis were trying to draw up a new constitution, there were intensive efforts to assist in that process. Unfortunately, however, the outcome has not been very good. The Commonwealth expert team’s report on the Swaziland national elections, dated 19 September last year, referred to

and said:

It continues:

That is good advice, which should have been followed by Charles I, and I hope that it will be followed by Charles III. It is certainly something that we should put to all countries where there is a monarchy. The monarchical system in Swaziland is based on a traditional authority, alongside a Parliament where political parties are not formally allowed—they operate, but they are not allowed to contest elections as parties—and where there has been significant suppression and repression of opposition voices.

In that country, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, United Nations Development Programme and official Government of Swaziland statistics, two thirds of the population live in chronic poverty, a majority depend on food aid, there is the highest prevalence of HIV in the world, and 10 per cent. of the population are orphans. When I went back to St. Philip’s mission, the school where I worked for Voluntary Service Overseas in 1972, I saw a hostel for 180 orphans built next to the church and the school where I used to teach. Life expectancy for a new-born child in Swaziland is now 31 years; deep issues in that country must be resolved. We withdrew our high commissioner from Swaziland. We now have an excellent high commissioner in South Africa, and we need to keep our focus on Swazliand.

8.36 pm

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): It is a pleasure for me to follow the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), who has vast experience of international affairs stretching back a number of decades, and which experience he deploys to full effect in chairing the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.

A little earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) lamented the lack of contributions on the subject of Darfur, though I can safely say that he virtually single-handedly atoned for that error of omission. However, if I needed any encouragement and exhortation to speak on the subject, my hon. Friend generously provided it, and I would like to focus narrowly my
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remarks on the subject of Darfur, which I regard as one of the greatest humanitarian crises continuing to unfold in the world today.

Reference was made earlier in the debate to the issue of the International Criminal Court warrant against President Bashir, and to the immediate and wholly unjustified consequence that 13 international aid agencies were expelled from the country, together with a number of others whose work was curtailed. Inevitably, that has had a deleterious consequence, which was entirely predictable and will not cause the slightest loss of sleep to one of the worst tyrants and thugs on the face of the planet—namely, Bashir himself.

It is important to note, however, something that is factually established, with the signature of the Government of Sudan, and which is therefore clear beyond doubt or argument. There was a joint United Nations-Government of Sudan humanitarian assessment of the situation in Darfur between 11 and 19 March this year, culminating in the issue of a joint report on 25 March. It makes sobering, and perhaps harrowing, reading. What that assessment found was significant: approximately 650,000 people in the region were judged not to have access to full health care; feeding programmes for pregnant women and for malnourished children continue to be disrupted; and 1.1 million people who are currently receiving food rations as a result of the emergency two-month programme under the auspices of the World Food Programme stand to cease to receive those rations unless alternative sources of supply are urgently identified and delivered.

As if all that were not sufficiently grievous, we have to reckon with the UN warning of imminent and major water shortages, which are on the way as sure as night follows day. The implication of that, of course, is that we face a double whammy of humanitarian crisis. Not merely is the ugly phenomenon of thirst and hunger likely soon to be exacerbated, we face in addition the prospect of an exponential increase in diarrhoea, cholera and a plethora of water-borne diseases. If we reflect on the significance of those water shortages—the damage to sanitation, the impact upon hygiene, the detrimental effect on waste management—and of the withdrawal of a vast repository of professional expertise in international NGOs, the consequences for some of the most vulnerable people on the face of the earth scarcely bear contemplation. Yet we have a duty to contemplate them and decide within the international community what action is to be taken.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury rued the inadequate reference to the subject, and one might add that, in addition to our not having said much about the humanitarian crisis that is continuing to engulf the people of Darfur, we have said next to nothing about the security situation and particularly its interrelationship with the humanitarian aid effort. The truth can be starkly stated. Aid workers go about their business not in a congenial or even moderately benign climate but, to their enduring credit, in a climate of fear, suspicion and apprehension about what will happen to them or to those whom they are seeking to help.

There are recent examples that underline that point. Very recently, three Médecins sans Frontières workers were kidnapped by a pro-Bashir militia and taken away from the line of duty and the people whom they wanted to help. As if that were not bad enough, as recently as two weeks ago on 16 March a local employee of a
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Canadian aid agency was shot dead. It behoves the House, the Government and the international community to decide what is to be its response to the wholly unacceptable situation in which a thuggish and tyrannical regime is cocking a snook at the international community and entertaining, apparently without any concern at all, the prospect of an even worse humanitarian plight in weeks to come than has obtained to date. We must have a response to that.

I look forward to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), offering the House the Government’s assessment of the scale of identifiable need both now and in a couple of months’ time when the wet season comes. I should appreciate it if he could give some indication of how the Government and the international community intend to plug the gaps in aid delivery, and how they intend to finalise that planning now so that deliveries can come on stream when the World Food Programme withdraws.

Mr. Tom Clarke: As we would expect, the hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. I hope that he will forgive my saying that I did refer to Darfur earlier. He is making serious and relevant points, and I know that he has paid great attention to these matters over the years. If there is one issue that transcends others and stands in the way of our getting a solution, what does he think it is?

John Bercow: I wish I knew for certain, but I suppose that I feel, in concert with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, that if the responsibility to protect as a doctrine were accorded the status in the international community that it properly warrants, there might follow a diminution in the number and severity of egregious domestic human rights abuses that take place. Now, I do not say that that would broker a lasting peace agreement and its retention for years to come, but the way in which the bestial oppressors in Khartoum treat with abject contempt the doctrine that the international community sombrely proclaimed only four years ago shakes and horrifies me.

Even on a small scale, it would be useful if we could up the ante multilaterally, perhaps through a joint visit by the humanitarian boss John Holmes and Ban Ki-moon to the region to see for themselves the scale of the difficulties. That would at least send a message to Khartoum that the issue will not go off the radar, that it is not being relegated and that we do not intend the regime to be able to continue to act with impunity.

The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), who did indeed refer to Darfur, and dazzled me with his usual display of knowledge and eloquence, causes me now to want to focus on the violence in Darfur because that is the background to the issue.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): As someone who shares the hon. Gentleman’s interest, I appreciate all he says about the Sudan. However, there is a problem with the International Criminal Court citation inasmuch as some of the politics—for example, a visit by the Secretary-General—could never happen because the Secretary-General could not meet President Bashir. That is one of the problems of the legal route going alongside the political route. Like him or loathe him, one has to deal with Bashir.

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