Sub-Saharan Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:21 pm on 30th January 2002.

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Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 8:21 pm, 30th January 2002

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for initiating tonight's debate. I declare an interest in that I visited Angola last September. That visit was organised by UNICEF.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, drew attention to the fact that 30 per cent of Angolan children die before the age of five. I would add that 55 per cent of five year-olds grow to only 70 per cent of their normal size. They have been stunted due to malnourishment. Armed conflict within that country has continued almost unabated for 40 years. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, referred to the fact that many of the roads are so heavily mined that food and other supplies to much of the interior have to be transported by air at vast expense.

Angola is a petro-diamond state. It is the largest supplier of oil to the United States. Its reserves of diamonds rival those of Botswana, and may well exceed them. Yet hitherto that mineral wealth has been largely used to fund civil strife. In such a context, it is imperative that the international community works in concert to promote democracy and sustainable development in Angola. There are foundations upon which we can build. Some areas—the City of Lubango in Huila Province and the whole of Namib Province, for example— relatively are prospering. The governor of the Central Bank has brought down inflation from triple to double figures. It is hoped to reduce the figure to below 10 per cent this year. International financial institutions have an important role in promoting that economic success.

The United States has made considerable efforts to cultivate its relationship with Angola. President dos Santos was due to meet with President Bush last September. That meeting was postponed following that month's terrible events. Angolans are resilient. Their civil society is strong and growing stronger. The churches reach out into rebel-held areas to which even the NGOs cannot gain access. Fresh voices are making themselves heard. New perspectives are forcing themselves into mainstream public discourse. The Government of Angola are increasingly not having it all their own way. President dos Santos is due to stand down this year. That may be an opportunity for positive change. While democratic elections have not been held since the early nineties, some commentators believe that the prospects for peace and elections are improving. Outside investors in Angola put continual pressure on the government to become more transparent and, in particular, to make plain the final destination of their oil revenues.

There are hard questions to put to the Government of Angola. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, enumerated several. Why does much of the population of the capital, Luanda, pay 40 per cent of its income for clean water? But hard questions cannot be expected to reach receptive ears unless the international community is prepared to prove its long-term commitment to Angola. Therefore, it is welcome that Her Majesty's Government are in continuing dialogue with the Government of Angola. Visits from Ministers and senior parliamentarians seem to be fairly regular in the UK. Recently, Dr Sozo, majority leader of the Angolan Parliament, visited the UK Parliament and spoke of his country's work on producing a new constitution. The Angolan Government are interested in our success in Northern Ireland and in what they may learn from that to help resolve their internal conflict.

They wish to develop special trading relationships with the UK and appear interested in membership of the Commonwealth. That is the kind of foundation on which the international community and the UK may be able to build. Development assistance is a fundamental part of the rebuilding process and should be added to the current humanitarian aid. The situation in Angola is one of continuing crisis, but past and present ambassadors from the UK in Luanda have strongly urged investment in areas of stability within Angola, such as Lubango in Huila Province, and Namib Province. Those areas in the south and south-west of the country are some of the best watered in Africa. They have the potential to provide a thriving agricultural and fishing industry. They could provide a model for the people and government of Angola and demonstrate that there is a workable and attractive alternative to civil war and to extremes of wealth and poverty.

Development assistance to such regions would be immensely valuable. Such assistance could be channelled to church organisations and NGOs to ensure its effectiveness. I would ask the Minister whether such proposals are under consideration in this country and whether they are likely to be forthcoming from the European Union. The Government are already taking steps to nurture good relations with the progressive elements within Angola. However, the Government's resources are limited. Most especially, the time of Ministers is a scarce commodity. Therefore, might back-bench parliamentarians across the European Union have a greater role to play in developing the essential long-term relationships with the progressive elements in Angola?

On my visit I was most struck by the sense of isolation and, on occasions, abandonment that the people within Angola experience. I hope that your Lordships may contemplate visiting Angola, if you have not already done so, perhaps under the aegis of the Inter-Parliamentary Union or the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and perhaps think of encouraging our colleagues in this country and across Europe to undertake such visits. There is much good work being done there which deserves and needs encouragement. The churches and NGOs, in particular, do phenomenal work with street children. They are helped, for instance, to build their own homes, which they then take possession of. We can learn a great deal from the resilience and resourcefulness of the Angolan people. I look forward to the Minister's reply.