Sub-Saharan Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:27 pm on 30th January 2002.

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Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 8:27 pm, 30th January 2002

My Lords, this has been an extremely wide-ranging debate. Indeed, when we drafted the topic for debate it was intended to be as wide-ranging as possible. However, I apologise to the Minister as this debate will perhaps tax her encyclopaedic knowledge of the African continent in the extreme. I shall not give the Minister 100 questions to answer, as I usually do. I have just three questions with which I shall end. I realise that she may not be able to answer them tonight. However, I would be grateful if she could write to me.

I should like to focus on three issues: good governance, problems of conflict, and international aid. In debates such as this, it is our tendency to count DfID as almost omnipotent in its ability to deal with intractable problems. However, having seen the process of development of DfID's policies over the years, one aspect which I believe will lead to sustainable development in Africa is the concept of good governance. Good governance is the cornerstone on which stable democracies can be based. However, one of the problems in Africa is that an association between democracy and government is too closely made.

An issue which I have often raised in your Lordships' House is that government is not the only aspect of democracy. Indeed, one of the reasons that e-mail addresses to the House of Commons and the House of Lords include the word "parliament" and not "" is because Parliament includes opposition and the Government.

An interesting piece of graffiti that was spray-canned on to the road during the May Day disturbances a couple of years ago stated that, "It doesn't matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in". That is one of the problems which has faced many African countries. Therefore, one of the aims of DfID—it has been undertaken in many of the policies and also in the excellent work by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy—is to build the capacity of opposition parties, not just to fight elections, but to fulfil their important function of being government in waiting. I know that we on these Benches take very seriously our role as government in waiting.

The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, laughed. But I seem to remember that it was not that long ago that he stood at the Dispatch Box and the Labour Party was the government in waiting.

That is what makes stable government and is the basis of democracy. Too many problems have been based on the liberation elections that took place after independence, which led to governments which did not leave power. Indeed the "winner take all" mentality is still exhibited in some of the elections that I have monitored and in many countries that have suffered from one-party rule.

The second matter is the issue of conflict—which many noble Lords have discussed—between states, but more commonly, civil war in the countries of Mozambique, Angola and Sierra Leone. The Government handled the recent crisis in Sierra Leone with a great deal of courage and fortitude. The way that the British Army was seen to act in Sierra Leone is a matter of pride throughout the House. It gave resolve to the UN forces in such a way that their credibility was sustained. The RUF have unfortunately not been able to move into the role of constructive democratic opposition. But its guerrilla tactics have largely—although not totally—been brought to an end. However, Sierra Leone is an interesting example of a country that is in the transition to democracy. Great perils still await it. Just changing to having elections will not solve a lot of the problems there.

The major issue that is causing so many difficulties in Africa is the collapse into civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I remember the debate that took place in this House when Zaire looked on the point of collapse. Some of the worse nightmare scenarios have come to pass.

The vacuum has sucked in other countries. Africa is unusual in that its countries rarely take part in conflicts outside their own borders. But the great wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been mentioned by many noble Lords, has drawn in so many other countries. My noble friend Lord Avebury—who is not in his place but is on the other side of the Chamber at the moment—made an extremely educated and informed contribution to the debate tonight. I know that the Minister will heed many of the comments he made.

One issue that should be raised is that, if sanctions are undertaken, those, especially in the Zimbabwean Government, who are directly benefiting from the pillage of Congo's resources should have their bank accounts frozen. Companies that are involved in this should be tracked down and have the full weight of the law moved against them.

Under the issue of conflict, I want to add the issue of HIV and AIDS. In researching the issue of Africa, I came across the International Crisis Group's website. I can recommend the site to noble Lords; it is under crisisweb. Some lines caught my attention. They are:

"HIV/AIDS must be viewed as a security crisis with the potential to affect peoples, states and the international community in a similar fashion to more traditional forms of conflict . . . HIV/AIDS is profoundly destabilising in several important ways. When prevalent in epidemic proportions, HIV/AIDS can destroy, like war, the fundamental elements of a nation: individuals, families and communities; economic and social institutions; military and police forces. In this sense, HIV/AIDS undercuts human security, harming economic and social stability and breaking down governance and social cohesion".

I very much agree with that view. One statistic that sent chills down my spine was that by 2005 it is envisaged that there will be 100 million victims of this terrible scourge, the majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

The other issue that I wanted to dwell on was that of aid. I very much support the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, in his call for a movement towards the 0.7 per cent target. We have had many debates about reaching the 0.7 per cent target. I applaud the Government's attempt to raise the aid budget. However, I was struck by a recurrent theme that we should be aiming not for the 0.7 per cent but for the actual amount of money that is spent. That has been put forward in a number of debates. I believe that we should be aiming for the 0.7 per cent because, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, if the international community went for that, vast amounts of money could be made available. That could be used specifically to deal with the problem of unsustainable debt.

Many noble Lords have dwelt on the subject of Zimbabwe. It is an extremely sensitive subject at the moment. However, I want to put forward a point that has not been raised as strongly as it should. It is the opposition party in Zimbabwe which wants the elections to take place. It believes that it can win the election. It is important that the people of Zimbabwe are given the opportunity, which might conceivably happen, to resolve the difficulties that they have through free and fair elections. Whether the elections are free and fair, and whether we should ever use the expression free and fair is debatable. However, the international community is moving extremely slowly. I believe that the Commonwealth and the EU have a role to move strongly to bring about targeted sanctions.

I finish on the three questions that I said that I would ask the Minister. Two of them concern Zambia. It has recently gone through the election process. There was little mention of it in the press. First, have the Government received the final report of the EU observation mission on the Zambian elections? I believe that the EU mission thinks that the interim report that it has presented is its final report. Secondly, what action do the Government intend to take regarding the accusations of irregularities in the recent presidential elections?

The third question concerns Côte d'Ivoire where the leader of our sister party, Dr Alassane Ouattara, the former Prime Minister was banned from standing in the elections on accusations regarding the nationality of his parents and therefore himself. Can the Minister give us any indication of what action they have taken over that banning order?