Queen's Speech — Debate (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:18 pm on 19th November 2009.

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Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 2:18 pm, 19th November 2009

My Lords, I am, as always, delighted to follow the noble Earl in this debate, particularly his final theme of issues in Africa. Significant aspects of the UK's foreign policy are to some degree influenced by the state of affairs on the African continent. It is worth looking at whether DfID and the FCO's resources, in particular, are being effectively deployed in those areas. I declare my interests as vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Africa, a council member for AWEPA-European Parliamentarians for Africa- and the chair of the advisory board of the Commonwealth parliamentary studies unit.

Looking at key developments in Africa over the past few years, such as the advent of the NePAD initiative that also developed the African peer review mechanism, it is clear that that peer review, which was devised and overseen by the African Union, has yet to be established root and branch. Countries that have volunteered for peer review have tended to be from the traditionally democratic African states. There is therefore a view, particularly among African nations, that it has become something of a toothless exercise, much like the SADC review of Zimbabwe that has failed to influence the behaviour of President Mugabe in any strong way.

I will come back to NePAD later. I will now talk a little about progress towards meeting the millennium development goals. Senior African politicians are now very objective in their assessment of the effectiveness of, and progress with, the MDGs. For example, Graça Machel, the former Prime Minister of Mozambique, speaking in Cape Town just last month, pointed out that the international financial crisis and global recession has impacted more severely on Africa than on other parts of the world, not least because some donor countries have cut their funding targets in response. I note our Government's commitment not to do that and to reach the 0.7 per cent of GDP target.

It is also unrealistic to think that all 53 countries in Africa will reach the MDGs on time. African politicians are determined that the failure of some countries should not be seen as the failure of the continent. Through the peer-review mechanism, they note that many Parliaments are struggling. Parliaments in Africa are under-resourced and unable to hold their Executives to account. They need support to develop monitoring capacity over national resources. They need, as Mrs Machel puts it, "to be more assertive" over the distribution of their national resources by their Executives. Mrs Machel begs the question: how many African countries are now allocating 10 per cent of their resources to agriculture? How many are now allocating 15 per cent to health, as promised in the MDGs? It is clear that the MDG target of halving the number living on a dollar a day in sub-Saharan Africa is unlikely to be met. Cutting aid budgets in the midst of a global recession adds to the African crisis of 200 million people going hungry every day and 33 million children being undernourished.

Achieving the MDG on poverty reduction is estimated to be postponed by at least three years now, over which time 400,000 more children will die. To quote Mrs Machel again,

"aid means saving lives, it's not a luxury".

The question for the Government must be: have they got the balance right between aid and foreign policy spending? We know that the DfID budget is set at something like £1.2 billion. The FCO's budget is about £33.5 million for bilateral programmes for political stability and good governance in the longer term. Is that right?

This brings me to progress with parliamentary strengthening and democratic stability. Recently, several African presidents have changed-or are seeking to change-constitutional term limits that prevent them seeking a third term in office. Examples include Uganda, Tunisia, Algeria and Cameroon. In Uganda, President Museveni's long rule has brought a degree of stability and peace, and a developing multi-political party Parliament. There are nevertheless warning signs that this stability could be undermined-for example, the September riots in Kampala that left 27 people dead and more than 100 arrested, and led to the forced closure of at least five radio stations. That was followed by claims of the abduction and torture of senior journalists.

There is a sense among humanitarian organisations such as War Child that there is now a gap between the phasing out of emergency funding in Uganda and the lead into development funding. Human Rights Watch notes that there has been a lack of a cohesive response from the donor community to the events that took place in Kampala in September. It is against this background that the amendment of the presidential term limits from two to three in some countries is not seen as supportive of free and fair elections, but is, in Uganda in 2011, essential to retaining stability and peace in the region. Have the Government had any discussions concerning the changes that are taking place in Uganda's presidential term limits?

We work very closely with the Ugandan Government. I would be interested to know what the Government's reaction has been to, for example, the reappointment of the National Electoral Commission, which has taken place in spite of accusations of fraud in the Ugandan court. What plans do our Government have to provide technical or financial support to the conduct of the 2011 elections scheduled in Uganda? DfID is supporting and training counterterrorism operations in Uganda, but Human Rights Watch and others have meanwhile been highlighting allegations of repeated state-sanctioned human rights abuses. What action are the Government taking to support and develop reforms through current bilateral training programmes?

Looking at counterterrorism in the Great Lakes region, the Lord's Resistance Army remains a threat to regional stability in northern Uganda, southern Sudan, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and parts of the Central African Republic. Civilian protection must remain a critical priority. In this context, there is currently no coherent international plan to apprehend and remove the LRA from the Great Lakes region. However, the United States Congress has before it draft legislation entitled the LRA Disarmament and North Uganda Recovery Act. More than 150 members of Congress have signed up to it. Would the Government consider making commitments similar to those outlined in the draft US Act, which many consider to be an excellent model to follow? In that context, and with MONUC's mandate due to be renewed shortly, do the Government support extending this mandate to include the apprehension of Joseph Kony and other LRA commanders?

The year 2010 will be crucial for the DRC and Rwanda. The DRC will probably hold local elections in 2010, with national elections in 2011. Respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions will need to be embedded to help those elections run smoothly. MONUC is doing a good job, but it needs to prepare for transition by focusing on institution-building, the role of Parliament, the judiciary and so forth. What role are our Government planning for the United Kingdom in institutional strengthening and electoral registration? Resource exploitation and corruption are the underlying sources of conflict in the DRC, as confirmed by DfID's own report and studies into exports over several years. In some cases it was found that the export of minerals was more than double the volumes recorded for tax purposes-a clear case for international corruption investigation, if ever I heard one.

With regard to relations between Rwanda and the DRC, we should all welcome a meeting in August between Mr Kagame and Mr Kabila, but there are still concerns over Rwanda's alleged support of rebel groups in the DRC only last year. We note that Rwanda has formally applied to join the Commonwealth; that application will be considered by a Commonwealth summit in 2010. Do the Government agree that before Rwanda is accepted into the Commonwealth, we must ensure that the criteria of Commonwealth core values of human rights, democracy and democratic institutions in an open and free society are first met?

Other noble Lords have mentioned climate change; I will comment briefly on Africa and climate change. Kofi Annan made the point when addressing the Global Editors' Forum last month that it is a tragic irony that the countries which have done the least to cause climate change are those which are suffering, and will suffer, most from its impacts. Although Africa accounts for only 3 per cent of total global carbon emissions, it must now bear the brunt of climate change. The estimated financial impact could be as high as $130 billion in Africa. The impacts can already be seen in devastating floods in Burkina Faso and the droughts that have killed thousands of livestock in northern Kenya. However, African countries will barely be represented at the Copenhagen conference next month. Do the Government agree that African nations must have a more prominent role in future international climate talks?

Finally, I turn to Africa and China, which other noble Lords have commented on. China is heading to overtake the EU as Africa's biggest trading partner. China is already beginning to exert political influence and power, akin to that of the western imperial powers in past centuries, since Chinese companies frequently plan against 30-year timescales as a minimum. This can be incredibly problematic for western nations, which put democracy, the rule of law and human rights into the mix of international trading agreements.

The worrying case in point is the Chinese position in a growing clash over diplomatic and trade relations with Guinea in west Africa. Guinea is central in the region's trafficking of cocaine and other narcotics to Europe. A common initiative agreed between United Nations agencies and other west African coastal countries to curb this trade has already been compromised by elements of the ruling military junta in Guinea engaged in this very narcotics trafficking. In reaction to the presidential guard publicly raping and butchering more than 150 protestors in Conakry, the EU and the AU have imposed economic and financial sanctions, but their effects are being diluted by China's decision to sign a $7 billion mining deal with Guinea, the world's largest exporter of bauxite. The question for the West, and our Government, is whether China is straying into short-termism by striking secret deals with corrupt Governments and will discover that such investments are high risk over time, and in any case do little to benefit Africa's development.

The whole point of NePAD, the new economic plan for Africa, is to create sound investment criteria through transparency, the rule of law, democracy and human rights and to break the cycle of corruption, despotism and instability which marred the post-colonial period and made inward investment into Africa too high a risk. China, it seems, has to learn from the past mistakes that most African nations are steadfastly trying to overcome.