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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:52 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:52 pm, 30th March 2009

The hon. Gentleman has raised an interesting point. Different views are expressed by different countries in Africa; I have had some interesting conversations with visiting Ministers on the matter. We need to look at whatever measures will help those countries; there might not be one coat that fits all. Indeed, I have been struck by the danger of generalising about "the African economy", just as one would not wish to generalise about "the European economy".

There have been no fewer than 90 coups in Africa in the past 50 years, and 125 failed attempts. In the past year, coups have toppled the Governments in Mauritania, Guinea Conakry and Madagascar, and the President of Guinea Bissau was assassinated by renegade soldiers. As the Foreign Secretary pointed out, the situation in Zimbabwe has continued to deteriorate and, although a unity Government are now in place, there are serious doubts about their future. Somalia has had no stable Government for nearly two decades. The fragile peace agreement between north and south Sudan is in danger of unravelling, and the recent expulsion of aid groups from Darfur by President Bashir has exacerbated the ongoing humanitarian tragedy. A few months ago, we witnessed appalling human rights abuses on a major scale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Any one of those conflicts merits an entire debate in its own right, and I will return to them later. I am sure that many colleagues will wish to talk about them as well.

First, however, it would be wrong not to pay tribute to some of Africa's success stories, although I recognise that, in some cases, we should add a negative caveat. Ghana saw a remarkably peaceful transition of power after presidential elections in January this year, despite the fact that less than a percentage point in the popular vote separated the two candidates. Botswana has undergone a remarkable transformation from one of the poorest countries in the world in the 1960s to a middle-income country with one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Sierra Leone has emerged from a decades-long, bloody civil war, and it held its first free, fair and largely peaceful elections in 2007. Last year, Rwanda became the first country to have more female than male Members of Parliament. In Liberia, the arrest of Charles Taylor for war crimes sent a powerful signal, and the first female African Head of State was elected in 2005.

The World Bank has stated:

"Over the last decade, Africa has registered its highest and most consistent economic growth."

It went on to describe:

"Average growth rates of 5.3 per cent., now sustained into a second decade for the 15 best performing African countries".

This forward progress needs to be sustained and built on, alongside efforts to bring about solutions to the persistent conflicts.

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