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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

I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention; she has taken a long interest in this area and I concur with what she said. "African-led solutions to the region's problems" can be very trite phrase, but we know that the problems in the two major conflict zones where British troops are involved—Iraq and Afghanistan—can be properly resolved only by building up the local institutions, both at the government and at the voluntary level.

The Minister of State in another place, who has enormous experience in the region, has invested a great deal of time in promoting peaceful resolutions of the crises in Kenya and Zimbabwe, and in persuading Zimbabwe's neighbours to take a more active role. The condemnation of the Mugabe regime by Botswana sent a powerful signal and was, in many respects, a turning point. South Africa, in particular, has the capacity to take a decisive leadership role in the region, as does the Southern African Development Community as a whole. We also welcome the emergence of a new role for a former UN Secretary-General, as a heavyweight regional leader and statesman who has been prepared to put his experience and skill to use in mediating in crises; we hope that Mr. Annan will continue to make a valuable contribution and that he will be joined by others.

The second principle that should guide British policy towards Africa is that we must promote good governance and the rule of law, while recognising, as perhaps we should, that in many countries in Africa local people demand security more than anything else—that is not necessarily the same as good governance and the rule of law.

It is a very difficult thing for any western Government to square that, but we should recognise that sometimes establishing security first is the most important priority.

Britain has made, and can make, a valuable contribution to reforming civil institutions such as the police and judiciary by sharing our experience and best practice. Strengthening rights for citizens and democratic institutions is the best way to ensure that countries become increasingly capable of resolving their own disputes.

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