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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Liberal Democrat, Hazel Grove 5:38 pm, 30th March 2009

May I begin by apologising on behalf of my hon. Friend Mr. Davey? He would have liked to have been here, but unavoidably cannot be present.

The title of the debate is very broad. We welcome the debate, and the opportunity to raise a number of issues. I was pleased to hear what the Secretary of State had to say, and his identification of four key themes—governance, conflict prevention, trade and aid, and the absolutely important issue of climate change and its impact on Africa. Before I give some thoughts and commentary on that, I want to make the point that Africa is such a huge subject that it is impossible for any one speaker, or indeed any one debate, to deal adequately with all aspects of it. It is a continent, not a country. I was impressed to see that if the United States, China, India and all 27 European Union countries were all fitted into Africa, there would still be space left for Argentina and New Zealand. It is a huge continent, not a country.

Indeed, there are 50 countries in Africa, and I am not sure that some of them would want to have been dismissed as being the northern fringes, as they were by Mr. Simpson from the Conservative Front Bench. Africa is a continent of diverse cultures, languages, histories and stages of development. It is important that we do not make the mistake of thinking that there is one common problem facing Africa, and it would be extremely arrogant to suppose that there was one common solution.

I begin by celebrating some of the successes that there have been on the continent. The Secretary of State pointed out that there had been significant economic progress, and progress in tackling the millennium development goals. There has been significant progress on governance as well. The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk name-checked a number of them. He mentioned South Africa, where the transition from a warped past to an exciting future has been dramatic, and surely beyond the imagination of those of us who saw it starting 25 years ago. It is now a significant regional power and a vibrant democracy, with which I hope the United Kingdom Government will continue to develop an active partnership in tackling some of the problems in other countries around the continent.

Turning to the subject of Ghana, I have in my constituency a close relative of former President Kufuor of Ghana. I was speaking to my constituent a week or two ago and expecting him to be suitably downcast at the defeat of his uncle and his political party in the elections in December, but he was quite cheerful. He said to me, "We are the only country in Africa with three presidents alive and well and living as free men in a free country." He is proud of that transition and of what has happened, and is looking forward very positively to the future of that country's governance.

But even in the most successful countries, there remain serious challenges—poverty, disease and the lack of access to basic services such as water and sanitation, health and education. In countries that do not have the benefit of good governance, where war and conflict are endemic or where governance is either notional or despotic, those problems can quickly become overwhelming. The attention of the House in this debate is, rightly, focusing on those areas.

Seventy per cent. of the population of Africa live on $1 a day or less—that is, 600 million people or more, 10 times the population of the United Kingdom. Ninety per cent. of the population of Africa, 850 million people, live on $2 a day. That is despite 7 per cent. economic growth in 2007, a growth performance that it is predicted will halve in the current financial year—and who can say that it will not be worse in the year beyond? Making Africa's population secure and prosperous means tackling the very steep barriers to success.

High among those barriers is the impact of conflicts in states and between states. I shall not rehearse or name-check all that there are, but clearly the disputes in the great lakes region are extremely serious, and have cost millions of lives over the past decade. Darfur and the rest of Sudan is another area of great tension and difficulty, and Somalia, too, has been mentioned. In all those places there has been a failure of governance and a failure to control the outbreak of conflicts.

If conflict is a problem, so too is poor and despotic governance. Zimbabwe is close to the hearts of many Members, but we also have to remember Somalia and other places that get on to our radar less often. Despotic overpowering government is dangerous, and so is weak and ineffective governance.

That issue leads straight on to the health deficit, which has already been mentioned, and is one of the targets of the millennium development goals. HIV/AIDS affects more than 16 per cent. of the population of South Africa between the ages of 15 and 49; in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland the proportion is well over 20 per cent. In some ways, HIV/AIDS is the fashionable disease to talk about, but we also need to recognise that malaria is a major killer in Africa, particularly west and central Africa. Tackling those health deficits is clearly of the utmost priority in both the successful and the less successful nations of Africa.

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