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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:02 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 8:02 pm, 30th March 2009

I think that we would all agree with what Kate Hoey said about Zimbabwe. To echo the comments of my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton, it has been a grim time in Zimbabwe. One has to hope that the small glimmer of hope will start to get brighter as the days go on.

Like everyone who has taken part in the debate, I am really pleased that we are having a whole day's debate on Africa, with Foreign Office and Department for International Development Ministers present. That is important, not least because there has been a tendency in the recent past, through no one's fault, for DFID to take a lead on some issues of policy, and for the Foreign Office to do so on others. The problem is slightly heightened by the fact that the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN is not in this House but another place. It is healthy to have a whole day's debate that involves both Departments, those who take an interest in Africa from every part of the House, the Chairman of the International Development Committee and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee; the latter will, I am sure, contribute in due course.

Like my hon. Friend Mr. Simpson, I hope that we will have such debates more regularly, and do not have to wait several years before we have another. It is slightly curious that the Ministry of Defence has about four days' debate devoted to defence matters each year, whereas all too often, we have to scrabble around for debates in Westminster Hall if important issues of foreign and international development policy are to be properly debated in this House.

International development policy on Africa has a curious history. We had great hope in 2000, after the publication of the millennium development goals. For a while, it looked like the whole of the international community was focused on Africa. To his great credit, Tony Blair, when Prime Minister, really wanted to take forward a focus on policy on Africa. In the lead-up to the Gleneagles summit, the Commission for Africa provided a very good, comprehensive study of what was needed and required. Tragically, various bombings then took place, and instead of us focusing on the war on poverty, the language was suddenly all about the war on terror. The focus moved from what we could do on development in Africa; the focus was increasingly elsewhere.

I suspect that I am not alone in being somewhat confused about what the international community is doing, in terms of its commitment to funding development in Africa. The UK Government commendably say that they are committed to reaching the 0.7 per cent. target in due course, and that is absolutely fine, but it is now rather unclear by what mechanism the European Union and the other major donors are committed to giving development assistance to Africa. There tends to be a number of important but ad hoc commitments to, for example, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and money is spent elsewhere on education. There does not seem to be an overall process and commitment to ensuring that the millennium development goals are not only achieved, but funded.

All of us in this Chamber know that, whether we like it or not, in politics, process is very important. When we have International Development questions once a month, it is always possible for Ministers at the Dispatch Box to tell the House what they are doing on particular initiatives and in particular countries, but we have lost the sense that there is an overall narrative, in terms of a commitment to funding development in Africa. Of course, that is all the more important now, given the global downturn, which will obviously hit Africa harder than most. I was pleased to hear what the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon, in a key part of his speech, which I think will bear re-reading in Hansard. I think that I understood him to say that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and organisations such as the Overseas Development Institute, will closely monitor what is happening in various countries in Africa, so that we can get a much better impression of how the present economic situation is affecting different countries.

In the House there is great expertise on Zimbabwe, as we have just heard, and we heard the great expertise that Mrs. Curtis-Thomas has on Sierra Leone, but sometimes, what we hear is slightly too anecdotal, and it would be very good if the Foreign Office were able to share with us a much more informed, detailed appraisal of what is happening in individual African countries as a consequence of the downturn. What is quite clear is that the downturn will not be good news for Africa, so we need a much more focused commitment towards funding in Africa.

Another thing that we have lost over the past few years is the deal. It seems a long time ago, but way back at the start of the millennium, in initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the commitment was that we—the west, the developed world, the north—would continue to give more and more development assistance to Africa, but the quid pro quo was to be an enhanced improvement in governance by African countries. We have today heard of a litany of coups, from Mauritania to Guinea to Guinea-Bissau; one had to get the map out. We all looked desperately hard, but between us, we could find only two or three countries, including Ghana and Botswana, that had improved their governance. Improvement in governance in Africa has been lamentably poor over the past few years.

Of course, all of us, being good liberal democrat Panglossians, want Africa to succeed, so we always tend to look for whatever glimmer of hope we can find, but the truth of the matter is that governance in Africa has been lamentably slow in improving. We should make it much clearer that there is a deal: we will meet our commitments under the millennium development goals, but there is a quid pro quo, which is that there must be enhanced governance not just in Zimbabwe, but throughout the whole of Africa, and the African Union must ensure that that happens.

Under NEPAD, there was meant to be peer review of how countries were performing, but there has been little peer review in Africa. We saw very little pressure on Zimbabwe until it became blatantly obvious that South Africa had to do something. It was pathetically slow at bringing pressure to bear on Zimbabwe.

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