Famine (Sub-Saharan Africa)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:14 pm on 30th January 1991.

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Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham 9:14 pm, 30th January 1991

I share the frustration expressed by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) about the condition of Africa today. However, he is wrong to imply that the only or main way in which we can help to resuscitate the African scene is by the provision of aid. Unless African leaders are willing to solve their own political problems and to generate a climate that encourages economic growth and agriculture expansion, it will not be possible to achieve anything except a mitigation of the circumstances as best we can, with the humanitarian aid that we are rightly giving in the horn of Africa.

An interesting factor in our debate is the range of experience and knowledge of Africa across the Floor of the House. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) had experience there in his younger days, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir T. Raison) was Minister for Overseas Development and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and many others all have experience of Africa.

I had my school holidays in the Sudan, which in those days did not experience the starvation that we see today. I happen to have been the last European district officer in Kenya. The only time I have had any fame was when President Mubarak, whom I met when I was a Minister, said to me, "Ah, I am glad to see again the last British imperialist in Africa." Then, for two and a half years I had the privilege of being Minister with responsibility of African affairs, in the early 1980s. All of us with experience of Africa have a great affection for the African people. All of us who see their experiences agonise for them. The hearts of the British people, let alone those of Members of Parliament, go out to the people of Africa.

We have had much evidence of the conditions in the horn of Africa—about 14 million people threatened with starvation, the need of 2 million tonnes of food aid, the background of desperate civil war and disputes in the Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. The questions are: what can Britain do? What can the British Government do? The debate has rightly focused on humanitarian aid to deal with the immediate situation. We have heard that, in the past two years, we have provided £46 million to the horn of Africa, and my hon. Friend the Minister has set out the scene on that. We can debate whether that is enough, but, if we want to avoid returning to this Chamber in two, three or four years' time, to have exactly the same debate all over again, we must solve these problems in the long term.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) on her speech and on leading in this important debate. I am glad that she touched on some of the major longer-term issues. If we do not put our minds to them, starvation will continue. We need to do three things. First, as many hon. Members have said, we need to create a climate of political stability, which must include an element of democracy. By that, I do not mean Westminster-style democracy. I mean a system whereby the people of those countries can, by some mechanism, choose their leaders. Without that, all that one can forecast is that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, and violence will increase, as we have seen time and again in Africa.

Secondly, we must create in Africa the right environment for economic and agricultural development. Some African countries have done well in terms of agricultural development by the pursuit of sensible policies. For example, in recent years Ghana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Malawi have done relatively well. If one examines their economic policies one can see that that success is because many of them have encouraged a good return on investment for the farmer and private ownership, and they give the incentive to those who own the land to earn a proper living. That increases agricultural production.

Thirdly, the African leaders need to show their willingness to accept external advice and help of a bilateral and multilateral nature if they are to help with the development of their countries.

How can we influence all this? If those are the three main factors that need to be dealt with in Africa by the African leaders and the African people, how can we in the west best help?

First, we in the developed world must with renewed energy, particularly at the culmination of the Gulf crisis, insist on a continuous dialogue between the developed countries and the leaders of the developing countries, through the mechanism of the United Nations and the EC and bilaterally, to see how we can discuss the best ways in which we can help them to solve their political and economic problems and obtain peaceful settlements of many of their internal problems. We are not imperialists. We cannot interfere. But we can offer our assistance and suggest ways in which we can help them if they can first help themselves.

Secondly, we should think seriously about developing the concept of a new corps of expert advisers from the developed world, willing and able to act in key positions in Africa and to give advice on practical problems, particularly economic problems, if they are invited to do so by African leaders. The United Nations can provide a good umbrella to assist that.

Lastly, the United Kingdom is well placed to play a prominent role in all this. We have a great deal of experience of Africa. Our voluntary bodies do a great deal. The British Council does a great deal. The Commonwealth Development Corporation does fantastically important work in terms of the economic development of those countries. Private investors can do a great deal, as can international bodies. I serve on the British committee of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, which does an important job with, for example, its immunisation campaign in Africa, in saving the lives of many millions of children in that continent.

But at the end of the day none of that can succeed unless there is a will to achieve things among African leaders and their people. If there is no will, none of this can succeed in the long term, but given that will, we must make it plain that we in the west stand ready to help in whatever practical way we can to enable them to solve their longer-term problems so that we in this Chamber never again have to debate the great tragedy of starvation in Africa.