Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:09 pm on 30th March 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South 7:09 pm, 30th March 2009

I was going to make that point. However, although there is a superficial attraction, including in financial terms, to my hon. Friend's argument, if we were to do what he wishes, we would wash our hands of Zimbabwe, which I would not want.

I welcome this debate, and my contribution will focus on democratisation, human rights, good governance, elections and election observation. Some might think that that will make for a remarkably short speech, but there are times when I am encouraged, such as every time I think of Ghana. I also used to be encouraged every time I thought of Kenya, but I am less so now. It is important to point out that the results of democratisation in Africa have so far been, at best, mixed, but we should also acknowledge that research has shown that about half the countries in the world have some sort of democratic system, so perhaps we should seek to build on that.

I do not seek to be deferential towards Her Majesty's Government, but what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Government as a whole have done has been significant and largely very beneficial. I would also like to be able to say with greater conviction that this House has played a significant role in the process of democratisation on the African continent. The speeches we have heard today have displayed a great deal of experience, and much of that has emanated from an initial visit to a country that a Member might be supporting, organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The impact on Africa over so many years of Members of Parliament having their continuing interest in the continent stimulated is important, because when Members visit a country they often come back and join or found an all-party group, and therefore there is a strong body of opinion in support of assisting Africa.

Africa is very important to us. That is not because many of us have a feeling of guilt, even though we were not responsible for the history of colonisation. That was in many cases pretty rotten, and although we were not the worst colonisers by any stretch of the imagination, there is much that we need to feel rather guilty about. Africa is important because it is right that we assist the continent, in conjunction with other countries that have gone through the process of democratisation. We want to give African countries the support that will help them make the journey from authoritarianism up the scale—just as the football structures of this country go higher and higher, up to the highest level. Much has been done, but much remains to be done.

Although we should talk about evil leaders in Africa, as we have done—we have just heard about one of the worst, although apparently there are 10 who are even worse than Mugabe, hard though that is to believe—we must also speak with a degree of humility. It is only within living memory—more within the living memory of those in the other place than Members of the House of Commons, although with some exceptions—that the European continent produced dictators to make some of the dictators in Africa seem almost benign: Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar, the Greek colonels and most of the Governments of east and central Europe before and after the war. A degree of humility is therefore in order, as is a recognition that many countries and parts of the world go through an appalling process, after which it is to be hoped that they emerge at the other end as a more transparent, decent and humane society.

I was recently rereading a book that I read as a student—which was rather a long time ago—by a famous British diplomat, Margery Perham. She wrote in the "Colonial Reckoning" of 1961:

"New Africans at once appropriated to themselves the civil liberties which Englishmen had slowly wrestled from the monarchy, and turned them against the re embodiment of royal autocracy represented by their governor. They enriched their great natural powers of oratory by demanding in sonorous English the rights of herbeas-coupus, the liberty of the press and any other 'palladium of British liberty' appropriate to the moment. They quoted the Bible, Blackstone, Burke and Shakespeare. They were turning against Britain her own political and judicial weapons."

That is very apt. Unfortunately, however, after some countries turfed the British out and lowered the Union flag, what went up was less the embodiment of the best of British, than the worst of the Soviet Union. A number of countries, including Ghana, went through that phase.

With the third wave of democratisation, which began not in eastern Europe but 15 years earlier on other continents, including Africa, where the process was accelerated, we saw the flowering of a number of democracies, which we must welcome.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website