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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

Yes, that has been a substantial weakness. A further weakness is that African leaders are very wary of criticising each other. There just is not the collective discipline to enhance governance and, until that happens, there is a danger that such money as is invested is being squandered. We have to ensure some coherence about how money is invested in Africa, and we have to do something about the deal to improve governance in Africa.

The third thing that concerns me is intervention for humanitarian purposes. Surprisingly, we have heard little about Darfur in today's debate. I am sure that if he catches Madam Deputy Speaker's eye, my hon. Friend John Bercow will rectify that and rebalance the debate. The House and everybody else keeps saying, "Rwanda—never again." I am not sure where our abhorrence at the nightmare of Rwanda finishes, and what is not sufficiently abhorrent about Darfur for it not to be Rwanda again.

I sometimes facetiously say to my children, when we get round to discussing which part of the garden I will be buried in, that I have no fear of death. I have been to hell. Hell has been Gaza, because I cannot imagine anywhere after death that is worse than Gaza, or Darfur. On the occasions that I have visited Darfur with hon. Friends, it is incredibly difficult to imagine how life can get any worse than we see in Darfur.

I am sure it was right of the International Criminal Court to have imposed an arrest warrant on Bashir, but with 13 aid agencies being expelled as a consequence, huge numbers of people in Darfur will get no access to water or basic food. What is going to happen? They will be forced to leave the settlement camps for internally displaced people in which they have been living for a very long time, and they will have to go to neighbouring towns and villages, where they will get picked off.

Very large numbers of people in Darfur are at risk of losing their lives over the next couple of years. It is difficult to see what the UN can do to prevent that. Much UN assistance had for a long time been delivered through well-established professional NGOs, which have been expelled. Apparently, Bashir has said that if the warrant is not removed by the end of this year, the rest of the development agencies will also be expelled from Darfur.

We heard in 2005 that the General Assembly of the United Nations had passed a resolution on the responsibility to protect. On 12 January this year the Secretary-General published a report to the General Assembly entitled, "Implementing the Responsibility to Protect". The General Assembly will shortly debate that, but the international community as a whole has not yet managed to find one single helicopter of the 22 helicopters that the UN peacekeepers in Darfur have asked for to support the UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur. If the entire international community jointly cannot find a single helicopter to help in peacekeeping in Darfur, what hope have we of seeing any effective implementation of the responsibility to protect?

Simon Hughes last week helped convene here at Westminster a meeting of parliamentarians from around the world interested in enhancing conflict prevention. Such initiatives are worth while, but they will be as naught if the international community is not prepared to put some commitment behind the warm words of UN resolutions such as that on the responsibility to protect. I suggest that the test of that will be Darfur. I fully understand that the UK Government and UK armed forces personnel are totally committed in Afghanistan, but we are not the only nation in the world. The UK is not the international community. I am not suggesting to the Minister that we single-handedly have to sort out Darfur.

However, it is no good the Secretary of State's report containing paragraph after paragraph saying that we should never allow another Rwanda to happen, when we can look at what is happening in Darfur and ask, "What's the difference?" My third concern is that for Africa, whether it be Darfur, or indeed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which sometimes does not follow far behind what is happening in Darfur, the international community must put some real commitment into conflict prevention and into intervention to prevent humanitarian disasters. I fear we are not that far away from a humanitarian disaster in Darfur.

For those of us who have been able to listen to the entire debate today, optimistic though we all are, it is sobering to think that if there were a balance sheet of achievements in Africa over the past few years, sadly and frustratingly, the minuses would outnumber the pluses. There are far too many things about which we are increasingly concerned, and far too few things about which we can say there has been real progress in Africa. We have not even spoken today about the increase in HIV/AIDS or other important topics, such as maternal health and infant mortality.

It would be helpful for all of us to have greater understanding and clarity about how the international community intends to finance development in Africa. We need to be much more strident and clear in saying to colleagues and friends in Africa that that goes with a responsibility on their part to help enhance governance in Africa. I hope the Foreign Office will continue the good work which I know officials and others are doing, together with the rest of the international community, to ensure that the responsibility to protect means something, and is not just warm words. The test of that will be what happens in Darfur.

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