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Africa

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

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

I was going to mention the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Electoral Reform International Services—stalwart efforts are made by United Kingdom NGOs, although the WFD is largely funded by Her Majesty's Government.

A lot of help can come from international organisations and there has been great success, but the task is an uphill one. I am very impressed by some of the things being done by the UN, including what is being done by a department within the Secretary-General's office and the United Nations Development Programme, which does not do much now by way of election observation, having subcontracted that, but does much more on assistance in the process of democratisation.

The progress chart is limited, but there have been some spectacular successes. Almost everyone has spoken of Ghana and Botswana, which are both countries that I know well. The only other country that is really deemed to be democratic according to the Economist Intelligence Unit is Mauritius, which is not strictly on the African continent, whereas the list of those countries that are truly appalling is long. The 2008 election in Ghana was another that met international standards. It is a poor country, but it is now developing energy, which is often a guarantee that a country will fail to be democratic. That is because energy generates too much money for it to be shared with ordinary people or other members of the political elite, and I desperately hope that Ghana will buck that trend.

Ghana has such a good record now in good governance, the protection of human rights and organising honest elections. Its central election commission—few other African countries have this—is outside and immune from political influence, which is so damning and dangerous to countries seeking to democratise. As has been said, defeated Governments rarely like going into opposition, and I welcome the fact that there is a small society of African ex-Presidents who go around Africa promoting democracy and do so as examples of politicians who lost elections—I hope that the number of individuals involved will grow.

Becoming the Prime Minister or the President of an African country often required their spending a spell in the slammer, as a guest of His Majesty's Government, followed by political office. That seemed to be as vital on an African politician's CV as Eton, Cambridge and the Guards would be on that of a budding Tory MP. Nkrumah followed that remarkable path, being escorted out of prison and taken to the Parliament building to become, in essence, the Prime Minister on the same day. I would love to see the reverse taking place in some countries—whereby people would go from being President to going to jail.

Ghana has become a beacon of those countries that seek to become more democratic. A number of things have to be done within Africa to create and sustain democracy. There needs to be a political culture that is receptive to democracy; a strong civil society, including a strong trade union movement; free and fair elections; a strong Parliament—a wonderful report was published on DFID's behalf that said, "We have spent too little time supporting Parliaments and we have to spend more time doing so because it is one way of securing accountability"—support for NGOs; and an independent electoral commission.

A lot of great work is being done in Africa on observing elections. If someone were to ask me which NGOs are the best in the world at dealing with elections, I would answer that at least two of them are in Africa—in Ghana and Kenya. I hope that we can build on that, so that organisations such as the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of West African States and other NGOs bring about democracy progressively.

I mentioned the Economist Intelligence Unit, which uses a sophisticated methodology to rank countries. Those in first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth place are the insufferably honest Scandinavian countries. The UK just about makes it to 21st place—thankfully France is in 24th place. The only African democracy in the list of the top 30 is Mauritius. The EIU has a second category of "flawed democracies", which includes most of the eastern European countries, as well as South Africa, Cape Verde, Botswana and Namibia; I believe that six of the 30-odd countries in that category are in Africa. The next category is that of "hybrid regimes", where one finds a clutch of African countries. Unfortunately, in the final category, that of "authoritarian regimes", one finds Mauritania, Egypt, Morocco, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Comoros, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Angola, Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire—I shall give this list to Hansard—Swaziland, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan, Zimbabwe and a bunch of 10 others thereafter, as I said.

Surely there is an enormous problem to be dealt with by Africans themselves and by those who have the interests of African people very much in their minds. About half the worst tyrants in the world come from Africa, and there is a great deal to show that. I argue strongly that the UK is doing a great deal to help. I promised the Minister that I would mention elections; I wish that the FCO would seriously fund elections in the OSC area, because it is going to do much less than it had previously. It is important, too, that election observations by NGOs, the Carter Center and the European Union are all to speed, because election observation is crucial to ensuring the quality of democracy, about which all of us here are concerned.

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