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Author Topic: Blair not Africa's messiah  (Read 8066 times)
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« on: October 14, 2004, 08:38:06 AM »

By Ruth Butaumocho recently in ADDIS ABABA, Ethiop

THE Tony Blair-initiated Africa Commission can best be described as one of the many ploys by the West to undermine existing homegrown forums that are better placed to bring solutions to problems in Africa.

Several delegates to the just-ended two-day meeting for the Africa Commission held in Ethiopia concurred that the Africa Commission, barely a year-old, was unlikely to come to any radical conclusions about how the continent can escape from problems that it currently faces.

In light of the problems facing Africa and the range of previous political declarations by African governments against existing and still unfulfilled promises by industrialised countries, millions of people are sceptical over the need for, and usefulness of, the commission.

The scepticism is aggravated by the way the United Kingdom and European Union have ignored African governments in the World Trade Organisation and pushed for policies that undermine the economies of developing countries.

If anything, the commission is being perceived as one instrument with no legal basis being used by the British Prime Minister, with the assistance of several imperialists, to sideline genuinely African initiatives and ignoring African governments when their demands conflict with those of big business.

Poverty, immense debts to international financial institutions by the majority of African countries, compounded with the ravaging effects of HIV and Aids that have decimated economies in the region, are some of the problems that the continent is faced with.

However, Britain and its allies have done little or nothing at all to arrest these insurmountable challenges that have haunted the continent for years.

Instead, they have watched in fascination while the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank impose unsuccessful, undemocratic and unfair economic policy conditions such as trade liberalisation, privatisation, and investment deregulation that have been detrimental to the economies of African countries.

It, therefore, comes as a surprise when Blair says one of the objectives of the commission "will be a comprehensive assessment of the situation in Africa and policies towards Africa", a point delegates attending the conference dismissed as a ploy meant to render useless existing commissions committed to address problems facing the continent.

"We are tired of lip service. Africa has had such similar forums before, but they have failed to produce anything.

"The problems that African countries are facing today are not due to lack of research or understanding. What is lacking is political will in the industrialised world to make good on existing commitments and to make use of this wealth of knowledge in favour of lasting and radical change," said Ms Patience Daapah of Ghana.

Another delegate to the meeting, Kenyan Mr Patrick Nyambura, said there was no need for such a forum as there were plenty of existing forums, which command the respect of African governments and African civil society.

"They will soon be sidelined in favour of this appointed commission," he warned.

Several delegates questioned the purpose of the Africa Commission, the willingness of rich countries to listen to African demands and the political will of the Blair government to make change.

Although the British government has on many occasions, tried to glorify this commission, launched amid pomp and fanfare in the first quarter of the year, intellectuals, several organisations and individuals have been apprehensive about its objective since its inception.

A week before it was launched the head of policy for the World Development Movement, Peter Hardstaff, spoke strongly against the commission which he felt was many of the useless forums that have not served any purpose to anyone.

"The commission is a diversionary tactic designed to draw attention away from the 30 years of broken promises for Africa.

"It could even undermine other international forums, such as next year's planned United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals, where African countries have a genuine stake and the right to sit at the table," he said.

What Africa needed, said Hardstaff, was the cancellation of poor countries' debts to the World Bank and the revisiting of trade agreements that are currently between the industrialised countries and the continent, among other issues.

While the world at large waited with bated breath for Blair to announce major tenets of the commission, it was already clear that the British Prime Minister wanted to use the commission to his advantage.

"It seems Mr Blair has decided the outcome of the commission already.

"Mr Blair is determined to solve African problems in the way he sees fit even if he has to go against the wishes of the Africans.

"This is the same logic that powered 20 years of disastrous IMF and World Bank structural adjustment policies in Africa," one delegate said.

Despite the strong resistance coming from African countries, who believe they need to adopt homegrown solutions to solve some of their problems, Blair is strongly convinced that he is the "messiah of the world" and has the solutions to problems in Africa.

In his official address to the Africa Commission, Blair asserted he was fully committed to put an end to problems besetting the continent.

"It is clear that Africa deserves the attention of the rest of the international community.

"This is why I have said that Africa will be one of my two priorities for the UK presidency of the G8 in 2005 alongside the climate change issue," he said.

The Africa Commission, which is the brainchild of the British Prime Minister, was formed at the beginning of this year in the United Kingdom and is expected to produce a report on challenges facing the continent and on how to make the Millennium Development Goals work in Africa.

The report would be presented to the G8 summit during the UK presidency next year. The commission, chaired by Blair, is made of 17 commissioners, all working in their independent capacities.

Among them are Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, the only African leaders in the commission.

As the Blair-initiated Africa Commission tries to come up with "its conclusive report on Africa", it should be reminded that the solutions to Africa's problems have been well-rehearsed over the years and do not require a commission of such nature.

Developed nations must write off debt to poor countries, while the United States and the EU must cut agricultural subsidies and open their markets.

Otherwise there is little or nothing in the make-up or professed mission of this commission that will make Africa believe that Britain is sincere in its intention to help the continent.

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