Africa (Poverty)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:11 pm on 30th June 2005.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 3:11 pm, 30th June 2005

Ann McKechin made an excellent speech, which included some powerful points. She demonstrated that Mr. Meacher was wrong to dislike consensus. If hon. Members speak with a united voice, our message is that much clearer to the rest of the world. There are others whom we have to convince, not least Congress in the United States and colleagues in other legislative Assemblies, that what we want to do, and what we are promoting, is correct and that our policies are right. The House speaking with one voice is powerful.

I want to comment on climate change, conflict, capacity, commerce and commitment. On climate change, we have to recognise that what is happening at Gleneagles is not two separate debates on climate change and Africa, because they relate to each other. Climate change is important for Africa and developing countries. If I had one sadness in the last Parliament, it was that the International Development Committee's report on climate change and sustainable development did not get the coverage it deserved. I commend it to hon. Members.

Vulnerable communities will suffer from climate change most. It also contributes to conflict. One reason why we have problems in Darfur is that the Sahel desert is moving south and there is more desertification. Pastoralists who used to move their cattle around over the grass are finding it more difficult to find grazing land. They, in turn, put pressure on farmers, which led to conflict. That is all about climate change. Getting both things right is important. I hope that the G8 tackles Africa and climate change.

On conflict, the Secretary of State was right when he talked about peer review mechanisms and what is happening in Ghana and elsewhere, and with NEPAD. That is brilliant. However, there is no peer group pressure in Africa on conflict. There is no excuse for what is happening in Zimbabwe. There is also no excuse for neighbouring countries not exerting peer group pressure on Mugabe.

These debates are brilliant, but we tend to have two lots of debates. We have international development debates and we have foreign affairs debates, and the two never come together. It would be wonderful if both Secretaries of State were present or we at least had a Minister from the other Department to wind up the debate. The issues all interrelate. I suspect one reason why we do not have the sort of peer group pressure that we should have on Zimbabwe is that the South Africans are concerned about the collapse of Zimbabwe and what that would mean in terms of refugees coming across into their country. There is still no excuse for the lack of pressure, however.

There is no excuse for Nigeria not to hand over Charles Taylor to stand trial in the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone. We understand that it got him out of Liberia and provided him with asylum, but that was a long time ago. A UN-backed warrant has been issued for Taylor to stand trial before a UN-backed court. He should stand trial, and if he does not, I hope that the UN war crimes tribunal will find a way of trying him in absentia. Such trials happened at Nuremburg; I see no reason why they should not happen in Freetown.

On conflict, we do not seem to have a coherent strategy on military or other intervention for the purposes of humanitarian relief. Everything is done on an ad hoc basis: the French went into Côte d'Ivoire; we went into Sierra Leone. We have a different mechanism now for Darfur. The African Union is fine; those of us who have seen its work were very impressed, but we are never quite sure how it is going to be funded. Different Secretaries of State come to the Dispatch Box at different times and say that it will be funded by NATO or the European Union, or perhaps by a bit of money from the United Nations. There is absolutely no coherence on this issue. If we have another humanitarian crisis in Africa, who will take the lead? On what basis? According to what ground rules? There is also no excuse for Ethiopia not acknowledging the international arbitration over Ethiopia and Eritrea. In all these situations, there are some things that Africa has to do and others that we have to do. We need much greater coherence in regard to the way in which the international community intervenes.

The Commission for Africa's report clearly states that capacity is the most important factor. One of the things that strikes us when we visit Departments and Ministries in Africa is how thin the capacity is. The report makes it clear that it is important that more be done to train civil servants, and to develop higher and further education and skills in Africa. About three quarters of those who leave Africa to pursue higher education never return. What has happened to higher education in Africa over the past couple of decades has been a tragedy, and it is now in need of considerable investment. We also need to help parliamentarians in Africa, as we have said on many occasions. We have organisations such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and they should do more to support parliamentarians in Africa, to enable them to understand what is involved in holding Governments to account.

On commerce, the figures show that Africa's economies need to grow by 7 per cent. a year if there is to be any hope of meeting the millennium development goals, yet many are growing by no more than 1 per cent. a year. The vice-president of Sierra Leone was speaking today at Chatham House about how his country was going to go forward, but very little is happening there. It would be very difficult for its economy to grow by more than 1 per cent. a year at the moment. During the last Parliament, the International Development Committee went to South Africa. The unemployment rate in many of the townships there was between 60 and 70 per cent.

We all talk about health, education and AIDS in Africa, but an issue that we must all address is that of enterprise. Where are the new jobs going to come from? We saw Lesotho get a toe-hold in the textile industry for a while, only to get completely knocked off course by what is happening in China. Of course, what happens at the WTO talks in Hong Kong later this year will be very important, but south-south trade is also important, and there is a great deal of trade that does not involve the reform of the WTO rules. It is difficult to see how even a country as influential as South Africa can be sustainable in the long term if it continues to have to support unemployment rates of 60 or 70 per cent. We need to pay a lot more attention to commerce.

On commitment, some people believe that if we manage to achieve what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor hope to achieve at Gleneagles, we shall be able simply to tick that box. However, this is a long-haul issue. We are miles behind on the millennium development goals. What leaves the greatest impression on my mind when I visit Africa is the persistent, grinding, unremitting poverty that so many people have to endure. We must tackle that problem, but it will not be done in a matter of weeks or months; it will require a long-term commitment by all of us in the House over many years. It is brilliant that there is now broad cross-party agreement on that, because Governments—irrespective of their political persuasion—will need to maintain that commitment over the next five, 10 or 15 years. We have a simple choice as a civilisation—either we get this right and meet the millennium development goals or we just turn our back on Africa and shut the door. From some articles and reports in the press it is clear that some people are urging us to do the latter. They do not see the point of investing in Africa or of caring about it. We care about Africans, because they are fellow human beings, and are as valuable, valid and important as any other individual. Our commitment must therefore be long term. The fact that in the past few years these issue have risen up the political agenda in the House and the fact that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are making a political commitment are to be greatly applauded. Everyone in the House hopes that they will succeed at the G8 conference and that we can take a definite step forward to ensure that we meet the millennium development goals by 2015.