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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:25 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 5:25 pm, 30th March 2009

I shall limit myself to three specific subjects that I believe to be worthy of attention, which were addressed most eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I must add, to be fair, that some of them were also addressed by Mr. Simpson.

If time allows, I hope to look in some detail at the specific problems faced by Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but first I want to discuss the effect that the recent global downturn has had on the continent of Africa. This month, the Overseas Development Institute published a paper entitled "A Development Charter for the G-20". It looks broadly at the impact of the downturn on the developing world as a whole and sets out a list of key recommendations for ensuring that some of its worst effects are neutralised, with safeguards put in place to ensure that they do not happen in future.

I found it very worrying that the report stated that the share of the people in the world who live in hunger is set once more to go over the 1 billion mark. That means that one in six people living in the world today will be hungry and struggling for survival. Imagine, Madam Deputy Speaker, if one in six people in a developed country lived in hunger. Imagine if it were one in 12, or even one in 50. The chances are that the repercussions would bring down any Government of the day.

In Africa, as ever, the effects of the global downturn are set to hit home even harder. At first, some thought that many African economies that were not so keen as others to enter into the supposedly advanced integrated financial markets were insulated from the initial effects of the credit crunch. However, the resulting fall in demand has hit exports and now, as elsewhere, local banks are unwilling to lend. Some $50 billion is set to be wiped off the value of sub-Saharan Africa's economy alone.

Another problem is the large number of families in many African countries who rely on remittances from relatives abroad to help provide food and clothing. In some countries, that can statistically make up a surprisingly high percentage of the economy. Consequently, a surge in unemployment overseas can end up hurting a local economy almost as much as a surge in that country. Whereas the developed world can offer substantial stimulus packages and loan guarantee schemes, helping to build infrastructures to drive demand, cushioning the worst effects of the downturn and helping to keep credit flowing, the smaller economies of Africa, impoverished by years of debt, manifestly are not so lucky. In the developed world, such problems lead to protest, a surge in unemployment and general strikes. In some countries in Africa, the same problems can lead to famine, civil war and even complete state failure. The crisis may be worldwide, but the stakes in Africa are so much higher, and the consequences so much graver.

With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like now to move on to some of the problems faced by those who live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the east of the country. I want to look at the issue seriously, not just because of the 1 million internally displaced persons in North Kivu and not just because I feel that the current situation there has repercussions not just for the DRC but for the whole region, but because the problem has a major impact on the international community, as the DRC is home to MONUC—the UN's largest peacekeeping mission.

The House will know that recently, the Governments of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC worked together to help to fight the Lord's Resistance Army—the rebel movement located in the east of the country that was largely responsible for the surge in internally displaced people around North Kivu last year. Considering that the DRC has in recent times not just had what might be called frosty relations with its neighbours, but has in fact been engaged in all-out war with them, we can understand the scepticism of international observers and the local population about the sight of soldiers from Uganda and Rwanda entering the DRC. However, by most accounts, the surge against the LRA has been judged by others to be a success. There was evidence of countries co-ordinating their military tactics, and although not destroyed, the LRA's fighting force and capabilities are much reduced.

When the armies of Uganda and Rwanda were asked to leave, they left. Putting aside for a second the reason why they were asked to leave, and the repercussions, I feel that that in itself shows how Governments in the region are now demonstrating a commitment to long-term stability, realising that peace in the region will lead to increased prosperity for everyone—again, for the many, not the few.

Where, we might ask in the midst of all the fighting, is MONUC? Surely, the world's largest peacekeeping force has had a role to play. Alas, no. One of the many concerns when foreign troops first set foot on DRC soil was a lack of communication about their plans and their intentions. Of course, it quickly became clear that, although the armies of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC were to some extent co-ordinating their efforts, no one was talking to MONUC. What does that say about the UN and its relevance in the modern world? I ask that question as a supporter of the organisation.

When a collection of Governments are willing to contribute troops for a peacekeeping force, what better organisation to co-ordinate and carry out the mission than the UN? The DRC and the whole region have put their differences aside in that conflict, to focus their aims on a greater goal. In my view, the UN deserves our full support to do its job.

I now wish to turn briefly to Sudan.

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