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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:02 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South 6:02 pm, 30th March 2009

Yes, that may be true. I do not want to go too far down that road; I made my point in passing.

To return to the generic issues, we all know that there has so far been very little progress on tariff reform. It is vital that industrialised countries sweep away the barriers to the import of goods from Africa and some of the subsidies in Europe and America that make African goods uncompetitive, particularly agricultural products. It is crazy that some of the most fertile countries in Africa are importing from heavily subsidised, first world farmers food that they could easily grow themselves.

HIV/AIDS and malaria, which the hon. Member for Hazel Grove was right to mention, are a vast problem, especially in southern Africa, but they are one of the matters on which considerable progress has been made. As I believe the Foreign Secretary said, 3 million Africans are now on antiretroviral drugs, and I am glad to say that the South African Government have given up their head-in-the-sand approach to AIDS, so progress is being made there. Large resources have been made available, especially by the United States, and there are tentative signs that the tide may be turning, although the Pope's recent remarks were not very helpful.

Non-governmental organisations and others always call for more development aid, but there are limits to what it can achieve. Properly regulated, the private sector is far more effective as a means of creating prosperity. Besides creating a safety net for the poorest, the primary role of the state is to create the conditions—above all, the rule of law—that make African economies attractive to outside investment. That is why, in recent years, British aid has rightly been concentrated on trying to provide the expertise that enables African countries to govern themselves effectively. I believe that that is called capacity building. For example, it has been mentioned that we are training African peacekeepers. In fact, we have helped to set up a military academy in Ghana. That is exactly what we should be doing.

We can help to establish, as the Crown agents have in Angola and Mozambique, an effective taxation system so that the state has available to it resources that can be invested in education and health. Once Governments have the ability to provide basic services for their own people, instead of just stopping things happening they can make things happen. Gradually they will win the respect of their people, who will begin to have faith in the democratic process.

As others have said, the one issue that dominates all others in Africa is governance. As long as corrupt elites with no concern for the welfare of their countries continue to pillage them, large parts of Africa will continue to go backwards and no amount of outside assistance will make the blindest bit of difference. I had the privilege of attending on behalf of the Government the inauguration of the wonderful woman who was elected President of Liberia. I have not been to Somalia, but Liberia is probably the most devastated country that I have ever visited. She said in her inauguration speech, "Liberia is not a poor country. Liberia is a rich county that has been grievously mismanaged." That is true of much of the rest of the continent.

The need for accountable government is the single greatest issue facing Africans. There are rays of light here and there, and Members have referred to them—Botswana, Ghana, Tanzania, even Nigeria on a good day—but Presidents who leave office voluntarily and Governments who accept defeat at the ballot box remain the exception rather than the rule. Africa desperately needs institutions that are stronger than the individuals who from time to time preside over them. There are still too many leaders who come to power uttering fine, democratic sentiments and introduce constitutions limiting incumbents to two terms of office, but who end up becoming Presidents for life and ruining their countries.

I was present at the African Union summit in Addis a few years ago when Kofi Annan addressed it. He had in front of him many of the big offenders, including General Eyadéma from Togo, President Bongo, Mr. Mugabe—they were all there. He looked them in the eye and said, "One of the tests of leadership is knowing when it's time to leave office." Then President Chissano of Mozambique got up. He was leaving office voluntarily, and he pointed at some of those guys and said, "And we all know who Kofi was talking about, don't we?" It was an electric moment.

China has been referred to only briefly in the debate, but we have to engage with it. We cannot let it become a neo-colonial power in Africa, seeing it simply as a means of finding raw materials as we did in years gone by. One thing that has undermined our efforts, especially in trying to encourage African countries to be transparent about their dealings with the extractive industries, is that just when we get to the point where the country—for example, Angola—is about to sign an agreement to be transparent, along comes China and offers a large, no-conditions, no-questions-asked loan. If that becomes the norm, it will undermine all the progress that has been achieved.

In Darfur, where I have to say the Chinese have occasionally played a positive role, we cannot allow them to buy all Sudan's oil and then take no interest in what the Sudanese Government do to their own people. The only way around that is to engage with China. It is going to be a world power, which we welcome, but with that comes responsibility. I think that the Chinese are beginning to recognise that. Their Africa Minister was here a while ago and was saying some of the right things.

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