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Africa

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

As I said at the beginning of my speech, I am very conscious that caveats may be expressed about all the countries I have mentioned. At this stage I am trying to emphasise the positive aspects, although I recognise that there are negative aspects to many of those countries. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for attempting to help me on that particular point.

Let me deal with UK policy towards Africa. We recognise that taking a joined-up approach towards conflict prevention and management in Africa—across the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence—is the right one. However, there is concern that UK policy towards Africa has in some respects lost its way and that the Foreign Office has perhaps not taken a lead in defining policy.

The London director of Human Rights Watch, Tom Porteous, argues in his book, "Britain in Africa" that a shift occurred under the leadership of Clare Short, as British policy towards Africa began to be led by aid policy and not diplomacy. He argues that

"just at the moment when donors began to recognise the importance and centrality of governance to successful economic development, the UK government was transferring decision-making from a department that had the political and diplomatic skills and tools to improve governance to one that"— sadly—

"did not."

He goes on to say:

"DfID's ascendancy on African issues came at the cost of a significant decline in the FCO's diplomatic and analytical capacity in Africa".

This must a concern when an understanding of the extremely varied history, culture and politics of African countries is surely the prerequisite for sound policy making. Porteous continues by saying that "in the very year"—2005—

"that Tony Blair declared to be the year of Africa... the FCO's directorate responsible for Africa was forced to slash its budget—closing embassies in Swaziland, Madagascar and Lesotho".

He also points out that the post of Minister for Africa was reshuffled five times in 10 years from 1997 to 2007.

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