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New Partnership For Africa's Development

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2003

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2 pm

I am delighted to have been fortunate to have my application for this debate supported by Mr. Speaker and for us to be able to debate the implementation of a new partnership for Africa's development—NEPAD—before our Government go to the G8 summit at Evian to discuss with the other G8 members the progress made since decisions were taken last year at Kananaskis in Canada about how the rich world—the G8—would respond to the new partnership.

Earlier this month, when the World Bank published its African development indicators, the bank's chief economist for Africa, Alan Gelb, said:
"Africa urgently needs rich nations to deliver on their promises of more generous aid and wider trade opportunities to reverse the cruel effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, civil wars and persistent low growth rates."
He is right, but it is not all gloom and doom in Africa. The figures published in the World Bank's reports show that over the past two decades life expectancy in the Gambia, for example, has increased from 45 to 53 years. Fertility rates have fallen in every African country, and the percentage of the population involved in education has more than doubled in several African countries, including Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Mali and Uganda.

Growth is poor throughout the continent, but not in every country. Between 1990 and 2001, which is the period covered by the World Bank report, several African countries—Mozambique, Mauritius. Botswana and Uganda—averaged growth of between 2 and 4 per cent. year on year. However, other countries—Sierra Leone, Burundi, Rwanda and Angola—had consistent negative growth during that period, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) will point out. It is clear that there is a correlation between conflict and negative growth.

Africa will certainly need strong and consistent economic growth if it is to meet the millennium development goals. Aid will be important in providing infrastructure, in dealing with health needs in the continent and in providing for primary education and education at higher levels, but it will not deliver growth on its own. Growth will depend on trade and investment and on avoiding things such as war and corruption. NEPAD's strength is that it identifies what conditions make it easier to obtain high rates of growth and what conditions make it harder to obtain them.

The question before us is whether NEPAD will work. There are plenty of sceptics who predict failure: indeed, some predicted failure before NEPAD was launched. People say that the attention of the developed world will move elsewhere following the conflict in the middle east. It is true that important deadlines in the Doha trade negotiations have been missed. Developing countries were relying on those deadlines to ensure that the round was indeed a development round. Africa has failed to grapple with the crisis in Zimbabwe, which many people in western countries see as a test of the rigour and effectiveness of NEPAD's commitment to good governance and human rights. There has been a less than wholehearted commitment to the peer review process, which people in developed countries regard as an important part of the partnership.

These are important issues but I do not believe for one moment that they spell the end of the road. We need to recognise who the sceptics are, on both sides of the Mediterranean and in north and southern Africa. There are western leaders who do not want to commit to more aid or to refocus their aid on the alleviation of poverty. They do not want to change the terms of trade between the rich and the poor worlds in the Doha talks. They do not want to have to adjust the way in which the rich world deals with rural economies. There are African leaders who do not want to be accountable to their people. They do not want to meet the democracy goals, the requirement for good governance in NEPAD, the human rights requirements and the requirement to establish the rule of law.

It is on the record that President Mbeki said in his opening speech to NEPAD that credit and aid had undermined African development. What does the hon. Gentleman have to say about that remark?

There are applications of credit and aid that have been highly damaging for developing countries. There are problems of debt and the need for the rich world to respond with debt forgiveness. However, it would be a mistake to believe that Africa can achieve the millennium development goals without aid as part of the package. Similarly, it would be a mistake to believe that aid alone can achieve the development goals; it cannot. Private sector investment and production for profit will also be necessary if those goals are to be met.

For every sceptic in Africa there is an enthusiast, and the enthusiasts and their countries will benefit most from NEPAD. Over the years, many African developments have failed because they have been built on expectations that people outside Africa would do certain things, particularly in providing more aid. NEPAD's strength is that it concentrates on what Africa can do for itself. Unless Africa creates the conditions to encourage investment, that investment will not take place. No national or international agreement will produce investment if investors cannot see a return on their investment in the country in which they are considering investing. No agreement can guarantee investment if law and government practice do not create the conditions to encourage it, and no international agreement can guarantee exports to African countries if Africa does not produce things that people elsewhere in the world want to buy.

The "everything but arms initiative" from the European Union and the Africa growth and opportunity active initiative from the United States place some real hurdles in the way of African exporters, and they have not created as much growth in exports from Africa to north America and the European Union as they could have done if all the opportunities that have been opened up—tariff-free access was opened up by those agreements—had been fully exploited by African countries.

The changes in economic conditions in Africa that are needed to encourage private investors to invest and do business with the continent will not happen overnight. However, they will happen. That is not because I want them to take place or because Tony Blair or George Bush want them to happen, but because Africans want them. Anyone who talks to the African middle class in Africa or in this country knows that they want conditions in which their businesses and enterprises can thrive. However, G8 members and other rich countries, including Development Assistance Committee donors, can do several things to assist the implementation of NEPAD, and I hope that the Minister and her colleagues in the Government will raise these points at the G8 summit in Evian.

All G8 members must recognise that it is a long-term process and that we are in for the long haul. The G8 group of personal representatives of the Heads of State and government played an important role in crafting the G8 response to NEPAD at last year's summit and in preparing reports for this year's summit. I hope that that group will continue to operate for the foreseeable future, because the momentum of the rich world's response to NEPAD will falter if there is not a continued, co-ordinated response from representatives of the leaders of our countries. I also want a commitment that Africa and the G8's response to NEPAD will appear on the G8 agenda at subsequent summit meetings. If that does not happen, once again the continuity of the commitment from the highest levels of government in the rich world will be interrupted.

We talk, rightly, about the need for transparency and accountability among Africa leaders, which is why the peer review process is so important and why it is encouraging that it is beginning to happen. However, transparency and accountability are needed from the rich world, too. As G8 countries, we have signed up to many proposals in response to NEPAD and the G8 Africa action plan, which was published after last year's G8 summit. This year, we need a written report that states what progress has been made on each of the commitments given and statements made at and following the Kananaskis summit. The report should also include proposals for future action that G8 countries intend to take, and the document should be provided for and published after G8 meetings in subsequent years. We also need to know what each G8 country has provided in aid, including untying its aid and refocusing it on the needs of the poorest people in the poorest countries, and what its plans are for future years. We need transparency and accountability from our leaders and African leaders.

I agree with the case that my hon. Friend is making. Does he agree that that transparency and accountability should go as far as arms control? As we know, the greatest problem with Africa is that it is awash with arms that are fuelling many conflicts. So rather than supply arms to all of the squabbling groups, would it not be better to use some of that in vestment to try to build up their armed forces and law-and-order bodies so that they can provide the stability needed for economic advancement?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I agree with it absolutely. I was encouraged that when the United Kingdom published its implementation plan, highlighting the areas on which it would concentrate in the first year of NEPAD, conflict resolution was put at the top of the list. One way to avoid conflict is to reduce the flow of arms into conflict regions and, as one of the world's major arms producers, we should take action to limit that. We should also be transparent and publish information about where the arms are produced and how they are supplied. Several Members are present who will surely raise the issue of conflict in Africa.

On that point, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we could provide one example in this country by taking a much stronger position on private military companies, to which most of us would refer in some respects as mercenaries? We could take a lead by making such activities entirely illegal and by preventing British citizens from leading conflicts in African countries, with the harm that we see around us.

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. He may want my hon. Friend the Minister to respond on the Government's behalf, and I am sure that she will, but I have great sympathy with what he says.

Many hon. Members want to speak, so I shall raise just three other points that I should like the Government to press at Evian. In addition to the recognition that we are in this for the long haul and that there is a need for accountability on the G8 side, greater coherence is needed among G8 countries in their development policies and among all Development Assistance Committee members. There are enormous inefficiencies in the delivery of aid when different donors require recipient countries to produce separate, but often quite similar, poverty reduction strategy reports and other reports. We should work towards a situation in which donors collaborate. They might appoint one of their number as a lead donor in a particular country that would negotiate with all the other donors about their requirements, with that leading to a poverty reduction strategy. They would agree jointly to be bound by a single strategy that the country develops.

It is particularly important to improve co-ordination among donors because of the creation of a United States millennium challenge account. I warmly welcome the fact that the US has greatly increased aid. According to the DAC annual report, which has just been published, the percentage increase in US aid is greater than that for any other donor country. Albeit the increase is from a fairly low base in percentage terms. As that account will concentrate large amounts of resources on a relatively small number of countries, it is important that the US talks with other donors about the implications for the aid that other donors give. In other words, we need to work together and share thinking.

No. I shall make progress so that others have time to make speeches.

I should like to see further progress on the quantity of aid that is provided. I was pleased that, in the statement of the most recent African Heads of State and Heads of Government meeting on the new partnership for Africa's development in Abuja, there was warm support for the proposal from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to create an international financing facility. I hope that that is raised at Evian and that we receive commitments from other G8 countries to advance work on creating such a facility. Unless more money goes into assisting development in the poorest countries, the millennium development goals will not be met. We know from the Zedillo report to the Monterrey summit that about a doubling, in real terms, of development assistance is needed between now and 2015 if those goals are to be met in Africa. The only proposal on the table anywhere in the world that offers a hope of doubling the volume of aid in real terms between now and 2015 is that of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so I hope that our team at Evian will push it as vigorously as possible.

Finally, we must make progress on the development dimension of the Doha trade round and, most significantly, on access to medicines and reductions in agricultural subsidies. I was pleased that, in his statement on new proposals for Africa, President Chirac included recognition that a temporary elimination of export subsidies is needed. That is an important step forward by France, although if export subsidies to European farmers damage the prospects of African farmers in the short term, they are also damaging in the long term. The goal must not be a temporary removal of export subsidies, but elimination as part of a wider reform of a common agricultural policy.

2.19 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on securing this debate on a matter that he, I and many other hon. Members consider to be extremely important. The countries of Africa have slipped off the agenda somewhat in recent months because of our concentration on Iraq and other matters in the middle east. NEPAD is an historic initiative by the nations of Africa to take up the challenge of eradicating poverty through the pursuit of sustainable growth and development, underpinned by the advancement of good governance, democracy, human rights and conflict resolution. It is most important that that is all done in partnership between the countries of Africa and the developed world.

We should congratulate the leaders in Africa on their vision and courage in taking up a formidable challenge that has eluded the best efforts of the international community and international institutions for nearly half a century. In particular, I should like to place on record my recognition of the efforts of the President of Senegal, who got a democratic mandate in 2000 in Senegal's first universally free and fair elections since it gained independence. President Wade was a worthy winner of Liberal International's freedom prize last year. He is certainly a catalyst in bringing together like-minded leaders across Africa to forge the principles of NEPAD and to formulate its implementation programme.

We should congratulate the African nations on striving to take control of their own destiny under the auspices of the African Union. We should support them and not listen to the sceptics. We should also be careful not to rush to judgment on how quickly the African nations make progress in NEPAD. We must not fall into the trap of comparing unfavourably the aspirations of the African Union with the achievements of the European Union. Democracy and human rights have been enshrined in the principles of good governance throughout Europe for centuries, if not always practised. However, the concept of democratic representation in Africa is probably less than three generations old and in many places is still untested. In our new partnership with Africa, our over-riding objective must be to ensure that NEPAD succeeds. If NEPAD fails, Africa will continue to be marginalised and it will be a failure for us all.

Against that backdrop, we need to examine and to pursue, as the hon. Member for City of York did in his speech, the status of the UK's action plan for NEPAD and to examine the progress on the implementation reports for the forthcoming G8 summit at Evian. Initially, we would like the Minister to clarify the UK's position on NEPAD's African peer review mechanism. The first review could be completed by the end of 2003. I understand that some 13 states have already signed up to the mechanism. I also understand that the mechanism will use expertise from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the EU and will be serviced by the NEPAD secretariat.

It is pretty obvious from the progress made so far that the resources available to the NEPAD secretariat and to NEPAD in general are somewhat, if not severely, stretched. Have there been any discussions between our Government and NEPAD representatives to see whether any assistance can be given in that regard? The reviews are due to start this month—we are almost at the end of the month now—and Ghana is tipped to be first. We have no further news of that on the NEPAD website. Again, if the Minister can give further information on that it will be most welcome.

So far, the G8 response to NEPAD has focused on a range of extremely worthwhile and fundamental objectives, including democracy and political governance, prevention and reduction of conflicts, human development, information and communications technologies, economic and corporate governance, action against corruption, stimulating private investment in Africa and increasing trade, which are both essential, combating hunger and increasing food security. That is a worthy list but challenging if it is to be achieved in anything other than the long term.

Recognising that G8 funding goes not directly to NEPAD but to individual countries, it is clear that peer review performances are a key aspect. I understand that those performances will be taken into consideration when deciding on enhanced partnerships with individual countries. I am concerned that the monitoring and mentoring process that will undoubtedly be applied in those individual partnerships should be reasonable. Expectations of progress must recognise the capability of the countries to make that progress. We must not fall into the trap of making the comparison between our achievements in the EU and the aspirations of the African Union.

I understand that there are six areas in the United Kingdom's plan: peace and security; trade; health; education; aid effectiveness; and, significantly, transparency in the extractive industry. However, as yet, I have been unable to find any further details on that plan, or any report on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. Will the Minister give us an update on how far that planning has progressed? I understand that the UK priorities for the G8 summit are still under discussion, particularly with regard to trade and education.

As the hon. Member for City of York emphasised, trade is a key issue. We must see fair trade and look at reducing subsidies. The French initiative is welcome, but we need more than that. We must remove the barriers to imports. Will the Minister tell us what progress the UK is making with our EU partners on establishing a fair trade process with the African continent?

As the hon. Member for City of York said, the G8 personal representatives will report to the Evian summit on progress in implementing the G8 Africa action plans. In that context, the international finance facility proposed by the Chancellor, which is intended to help to meet the millennium development goals across the underdeveloped world and is aimed at the poorest countries, has direct relevance to the progress that can be made with NEPAD.

The intention to double official development assistance has been welcomed by NEPAD, as long as it does not increase Africa's external debt burden. According to the Treasury, the new facility,
"providing an additional $50 billion a year, could thus help in partnership with additional resources mobilised by developing country governments"—
which would be very worth while—
"to ensure that every child has primary schooling; radically reduce avoidable deaths from infant and maternal mortality, and tackle HIV/AIDS; and halve world poverty."
Those are admirable aims that we all wish to see achieved. However, I am concerned that that does not remain just a wish list, and that our representatives to the G8 promote positive action and concrete and achievable objectives.

I have a number of concerns about how the process regarding the G8 and NEPAD will unfold. What are the Minister's views on who should take the lead in the NEPAD-G8 action plans? Should the lead be taken by the presidency of the time and, if so, is there not a danger that responsibility for implementation will shift with the presidency, and that no one will take any real action? We have seen examples of that in the EU all too often, but I would like to think that the G8 is somewhat more constructive.

Can the Minister explain what mechanisms will be put in place by the G8 to ensure that the objectives are met? Can she tell us whether the NEPAD representatives are being asked to report to or to attend the Evian summit? That is not clear.

What safeguards are in place to ensure that the results of the African peer review mechanism are not unreasonably adversely affected through aid provision? We all understand the need for monitoring and mentoring, but it is vital that we do not set targets that are not achievable. At the same time, of course, we must have some safeguards to ensure that the international finance facility is used as intended. What measures are being developed to avoid creating higher unsustainable debt, which is, rightly, a great fear among NEPAD participants?

Can the Minister tell us what progress has been made on the Government's Africa action plan? Will the Government make Africa a priority under the UK's presidency of the G8? NEPAD faces many challenges before the vision can even begin to become a reality, not least the creation of an effective African peer review mechanism. The major concern for many must be whether NEPAD has the resources necessary to back the will to make that mechanism work.

There is a particular point about the situation in Zimbabwe, which is seen by many in the west as a test case for NEPAD's resolve. It is vital that the United Kingdom in particular does not attempt to offload its responsibilities on to an as yet fragile mechanism. If the concept of partnership that is enshrined in NEPAD is to have any meaning, the UK must continue to play a leading role in working with African nations to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Before I call the next speaker, I remind Members that winding-up speeches must begin at 3 o'clock. I hope that those who wish to speak will bear their colleagues in mind and exercise self-discipline.

2.33 pm

As both previous speakers said, there is an understandable risk in an uncertain world that attention switches far too quickly from one area of need to another; for example, from post-9/11 Afghanistan to Africa at the G8 summit last year, on now to the middle east and, recently, to Iraq. The danger is that none of those places receives the sustained commitment that they clearly need. On Africa, it is absolutely vital that the start that was made at Kananaskis in building international support for NEPAD is carried through at Evian and beyond.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on obtaining this important debate at this vital time and on providing a comprehensive account of progress in a very positive way. I join other Members in welcoming the positive tone that he set for the debate and the emphasis that he gave to the need for long-term thinking.

I wish to make a few points about the finance that will be needed to support NEPAD. We can all have aspirations and action plans, but nothing will be achieved unless we back them with resources. I agree with my hon. Friend that aid alone is not enough. However, aid will be essential if NEPAD is to come to fruition. I believe that it is now generally accepted by all parties in the House and, indeed, more widely, that the global aid budget of $50 billion, which is what is currently spent each year on aid, is no longer adequate. The addition that was agreed at Monterey of $12 billion, which includes the millennium challenge account and the UK's commitment to 0.4 per cent. of GNP by 2006, is very welcome. Nevertheless, it is widely recognised that if we are to achieve the millennium development goals of halving world poverty, ensuring that primary education is universally available and so on, not least in Africa, we must double the amount of development assistance that we make available.

I warmly welcome the call of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor that was outlined in many documents, including the Red Book and his statement to the International Monetary Fund on 12 April, for an international financing facility through which richer, developed countries can borrow in the capital markets to finance the health, education and livelihood needs of the poorest people in the world. I was pleased to see in the communiqué issued at the end of the IMF's spring meeting that the international finance facility proposal is under active consideration. However, there is a long way to go and I would like the United States and Germany in particular to show more enthusiasm for an idea that could mean that from 2010 the world would be delivering $100 billion a year in development assistance.

The potential for the international finance facility to give life to NEPAD is clearly understood by African Heads of State. At their meeting on 9 March, they warmly welcomed the proposal from our Chancellor and committed themselves to work in support of it. Evian provides an opportunity for the G8 to build and share that enthusiasm. I seek the assurance of my hon. Friend the Minister that the United Kingdom will do everything possible at the G8 summit to further the development of the international finance facility. As my hon. Friend the Member for City of York said, it is the only show in town and the only way in which the considerable increase in development and assistance can be delivered, particularly to Africa, which requires aid on a level and within a time scale that allows us no pause for breath.

My second point is a plea to all of us, whether Back-Bench Members or Ministers, whether we work and campaign with non-governmental organisations or with international institutions, to understand better the way in which the various strands of our strategy to defeat poverty connect and sometimes overlap. I have referred to development assistance and the international finance facility proposal. I remember, as no doubt do other hon. Members, standing in the streets of Birmingham five years ago forming a human chain to demand more generous debt relief. In June, we shall be lobbied in our constituencies by campaigners for the trade justice movement demanding fairer trade, particularly for developing countries. Aid, trade and debt relief are not separate strategies; they are part of one strategy to defeat poverty.

On a recent visit to Ethiopia, I saw the plight of coffee farmers and the effect of collapsing commodity prices. Does my hon. Friend agree that such matters are linked because they have an impact on debt relief and through the HIPC initiative? Unless trade, aid and so on are combined to create poverty reduction strategies that rely on all three of those areas working together, the major achievements and advances to which he refers will not occur.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend and will refer specifically to Ethiopia in a moment.

My main point is that when the connections cannot be seen, we may not see the unintended consequences that the overlapping of the various strands can have. I shall give an example that refers to three countries: Niger, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Those heavily indebted, poor African countries hope for debt relief through the HIPC initiative, to which my hon. Friend the Member for City of York referred, and for more generous development assistance. They are making determined efforts to improve good governance in their countries and have adopted and are working on good, poverty-reducing strategies. Niger wants to extend the scope of primary education. Rwanda wants, among other things, to build up and extend the capacity of its justice system to underpin a more stable society. Ethiopia, understandably, wants to improve food security and ensure that agriculture provides a real basis for its development. To make those things happen, however, they need more aid and a significant part of that aid will come in the form of loans from the International Development Association. Those are soft loans over long terms at low interest, but if those countries take them they will exceed their debt sustainability thresholds, which apply under the HIPC rules. It is crazy that one aspect of that strategy is defeating another, and we must find a way through that issue.

About a year ago, the United Kingdom and the United States had a fundamental disagreement about whether IDA loans should be given in the form of loans or grants. A settlement has been reached on that issue, and it is unlikely that it will be unpicked. However, it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that the Government intend that the money made available through the international financing facility will be in the form of grants rather than loans so that that kind of problem can be avoided, especially in very poor African countries.

The most important feature of NEPAD is that it is led by Africa and, through the peer review mechanism, will be accountable to Africa. The developed world's role, particularly through the G8, is to provide political and financial support for that process. The Evian summit is a hugely important opportunity for us to give that support and to show that we, too, are active partners in the development of Africa.

2.41 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on raising these important matters. In the past few months, our attention has naturally been focused on the middle east, but there have been many other crises in the world. Many of the crises in Africa have been largely ignored and hidden from view, and I hope that at the G8 summit in Evian the world community will correct that omission and focus its time and resources on the urgent needs of some of the poorest people on our planet.

The NEPAD agreement devotes its first chapter to peace and security, which must, of course, remain a top priority if its other aims of encouraging investment and development are to be achieved. Unfortunately, conflict is still the chief obstacle to progress in Africa, and I should like to focus my remarks on the continuing crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sadly the humanitarian situation in the eastern DRC, and particularly in the Ituri province, has not improved despite the recent peace negotiations. The conflict in the DRC has cost an estimated 3 million lives since 1998, and just this month a massacre, which is estimated to have killed more than 1,000 civilians, occurred in the Ituri province.

The international response to that region of the world, which has been virtually stateless for many years, has been practically negligible. There are less than 5,000 UN observer troops to cover the entire territory within the DRC, which itself is roughly the size of western Europe, and there are only eight military observers in Bunia, Ituri, to cover a population of 4.5 million. That is completely inadequate to meet the needs of the area. More than 500,000 people have been displaced from Ituri, and there have been more than 50,000 violent deaths in the past three years.

To give just one comparison—I will not compare the DRC with the middle east or eastern Europe—Sierra Leone has suffered 50,000 violent deaths, which is about the same as Ituri. In Sierra Leone, however, there are 17,000 members of the British armed forces, which shows the scale of the response—or the lack of it—in the DRC.

Support and resources from the international community are long overdue. Our scandalous inaction in the face of that appalling tragedy should result not in more of the same but in a determined attempt to engage with our colleagues in Africa through NEPAD in order properly to address the increasingly dangerous political and security vacuum and to resolve the humanitarian crisis.

The G8 members, and especially its European members, have a vital role to play. The conflict in Ituri runs not only on tribal lines—principally, the Hema and Lendu groups—or as a national dispute for control of the DRC itself, but increasingly as a dispute between two neighbouring countries, Uganda and Rwanda. Both Rwanda and Uganda rely on significant amounts of aid from the UK and the other G8 members, and we have a unique position in NEPAD from which to influence a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

In 1998, as the Minister will be aware, Uganda occupied the Ituri province and its army is still present, with recent reports of a significant increase in troop size. Of the nine armed groups operating within Ituri, all have at some stage benefited from Ugandan support. Actual power in the area has rested with a spectrum of different political factions that change according to the infighting and shifts in Ugandan patronage. The Rwandan influence is more recent and there are reports of a growing relationship between the groups and the Hema political party as well as incidents of Rwandans providing ammunition and military training. There have also been sightings of Rwandan soldiers in the area.

There is a growing extremism in the level of violence with regular reports of torture, rape, mutilation and even cannibalism, and there is every reason to believe that the killing is increasingly based on ethnic genocide. The external support from Uganda and Rwanda allows the militia groups to be more sophisticated in their attacks, using heavier arms and land mines.

Urgent and decisive action is needed to prevent both an uncontrollable human rights disaster in Ituri and a potential re-ignition of the great lakes conflict with neighbouring states. There have been numerous reports in recent weeks of troops massing on the Rwandan border with the DRC and Ugandan forces preparing for conflict in Ituri itself. If fighting were to break out, it would effectively wreck the current Congolese peace process, which has been hopeful in many other respects, and set the chances for sustainable peace back by years in a huge swathe of the African continent.

Today I strongly urge the Minister to ensure that the UK Government raise those issues at the G8 summit and persuade our European and other international partners to assist in significantly strengthening and increasing the size of the MONUC observer force. As the Minister will be aware, the UK is the biggest bilateral aid donor to both Rwanda and Uganda and I ask the Government to continue to use their influence—I know that the Department for International Development has already done so—to put pressure on the Governments in the great lakes region to withdraw from military conflict in the DRC.

I ask the Minister to persuade the G8 members through NEPAD to offer appropriate political and financial support to the Ituri Pacification Commission, which was set up as part of the peace settlement, and press for a high profile facilitator who can gain the respect of all parties. Time is not on our side; nor is it on the side of the people of Ituri or the DRC, and I hope that the Evian summit will produce a substantial result to prevent future tragedy in the region.

2.47 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on three counts: first, on securing the debate, secondly, on his excellent speech, and thirdly, on his robust and diligent leadership of the all-party group on Africa. One of the reasons for constituting that group was the recognition that Africa's problems and opportunities were so great that a more consistent effort to raise those issues in the British Parliament was required.

My hon. Friend outlined the clear link between conflict and poverty. We have just heard more on that in the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin). In the New Partnership for Africa's Development, conflict is a headline priority for the G8, particularly in the great lakes region, Angola and Sudan. During my brief speech, I trust that hon. Members will permit me to dwell on the problems facing the great lakes, notwithstanding the preceding adept description of those problems.

I was going to say that some MPs might be unaware that 3.3 million people are estimated to have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998, but if they listened to the speech of my hon. Friend, they will have been disabused of their ignorance on that subject. I would like to point out that, in ballpark figures, that number is equivalent to the entire population of Ireland. I find it astonishing that we hear so little about it. The G8 comprises the world's richest countries with enormous military capabilities, as we are all aware, and they must take responsibility to end this carnage.

In the joint DFID and Foreign and Commonwealth Office document entitled "G8 Africa Action Plan: towards the 2003 summit", the Government commit to supporting

"the resolution of conflict and consolidation of peace in the Great Lakes region"
and to supporting the development of a long-term plan to build conflict management capability in Africa and an effective African peacekeeping force.

I shall return to what we currently have in terms of the African Union's contribution, or putative contribution, to peacekeeping, but there is some good news. The recent all-inclusive peace deal in the DRC, as we have heard, offers a chance of peace. The bad news, as we have also heard, is that the violence continues. I shall not repeat what my hon. Friend said, but shall just mention the numbers involved in the UN mission in the DRC. Some 200 troops have recently been deployed to support the military observers in Ituri. We have heard about the terrible situation there and that move is very much welcomed. However, many more troops have been promised and I was told that a battalion of Bangladeshi troops would be deployed there. There has been no sign of that, and I wondered whether the Minister could update us. Ugandan troops have begun to pull out, and we need to consider what will happen if, when they pull out, there is a power vacuum because we do not have sufficient peace-keeping forces available.

Briefly on Burundi, the transition from the current Tutsi President Buyoya to the Hutu Vice-President Ndayizeye will take place tomorrow. Again, that is very welcome. Equally, the arrival of the first African Union peacekeepers in Burundi last Sunday is a positive step but that contingent represents only 43 of the promised 3,500 troops. Despite numerous peace deals, violence continues. Just last week, the capital Bujumbura came under shell fire for three days. The African Union and all regional states need to be pressed into making that African Union force a reality as soon as possible.

Finally, I turn to natural resources. The G8 Africa action plan is explicitly committed to working with African Governments, civil society and others to address the links between armed conflict and the exploitation of natural resources. My hon. Friend and I have visited Rwanda, and I have also visited regions of the DRC, where we have seen the link between the exploitation of natural resources and the prolongation of conflict. Work on the Kimberly process on conflict diamonds and the extractive industries transparency initiative are welcome, but those measures alone are simply insufficient. Multiple reports, including that of British MPs who went to the DRC—the first delegation of British MPs ever to go there—have identified the exploitation of natural resources as the single most important factor in the continuing conflict in the DRC.

That report of the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention and numerous independent reports, including, most recently, one released today from Amnesty International and one from the UN Security Council, have come to the same conclusion. Yet there has been no concrete action. What assurance can the Minister give us that the G8 will honour the commitment made at its last summit and break the insidious link between conflict and resource exploitation? Until that happens, I fear that Africa will continue to be cursed by riches.

2.54 pm

I, too, offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on securing the debate, which has, as always in this Chamber, been interesting and illuminating.

At the launch of NEPAD, President Mbeki said:
"The programme is anchored on the determination of Africans to extricate themselves and the continent from the malaise of underdevelopment and exclusion in a globalising world."
That is good stuff. It is extremely important, as we have heard. The initial action plan talks of strengthening the conflict prevention measures. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) brought up the important issue of arms control. Democracy, good governance, economic factors, and corporate governance must be taken into account if NEPAD is to succeed. It has stated clearly the things that it feels are important. They include, above all, peer review to end wars and corruption; we have heard about that from other Members. I understand that 13 states have so far signed up to what is a really admirable initiative.

NEPAD is a political agreement between African leaders; it is not a funding mechanism. We must keep that very clear in our heads. The G8 countries will not be funding the initiative directly, but countries that show commitment to all the things that NEPAD stands for will be rewarded in ways that hon. Members mentioned in their speeches.

People often ask me, "What is the most important single factor in development?" I say, "Well, there are about 10 actually and they are all of equal worth." We have heard much about such factors this afternoon from hon. Members. While telling us that there was much good news in Africa, the hon. Member for City of York said that the importance of trade and the reform of agricultural subsidies has to be absolutely way up on the list of priorities. As he quite rightly reminded me, the countries will need aid for many, many decades to come. Trade is the key issue for them. He emphasised that we must get the matter on the G8 agenda, and make sure that the report goes to the G8 every time it meets, that it gives us a report back and that there is some sort of audit and measurement of what is going on in relation to the NEPAD process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) talked a lot about peer review. I am glad that he mentioned Zimbabwe, because everyone in this House is going around with an awful sinking feeling about Zimbabwe. How can we do something about Zimbabwe? If anyone can do anything about it, it should be an organisation such as NEPAD. If NEPAD is talking about peer review and stands for all the things that it says it stands for, it should be putting on pressure, led by President Obasanjo and President Mbeki in particular. It should be leading the fight against what is going on in Zimbabwe.

The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) talked about the importance of the international finance facility recently set up and debt relief. Such huge financial issues are crucially important. The hon. Members for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) talked about the Congo, which is another country that is going through the most terrible traumas. The whole of the great lakes region in Africa is awash with guns, war and suffering. Hopefully, NEPAD will be able to do something about that too.

I was rather surprised that there was not much mention of AIDS. In sub-Saharan Africa, a third of the population is now infected with HIV. They need not just drugs, health care and health centres where those drugs can be delivered, but protection from other diseases. What I am really concerned about, and what we must flag up today, is that if SARS—a dangerous and infectious disease—reaches Africa, the population suffering from HIV will be wiped out.

Does the hon. Lady recall from our visit to Rwanda and the subsequent report of the Select Committee on International Development three years ago the astonishing figure that AIDS was estimated to be wiping out 1 per cent. of Africa's gross domestic product per annum? Does she know whether that figure is increasing or decreasing?

I do not know, but I thank the hon. Lady for raising the point, because it is crucial to NEPAD's ideals. The difference with HIV is that it wipes out the economically active population. Other diseases in the history of the world—even SARS, malaria and tuberculosis—wipe out the very young, the very old and the weak, but HIV/AIDS wipes out the economically active. All our plans for African development could fall if SARS reaches the continent, as that population will die because they will not have the immunity to resist. I hope that someone is bearing that in mind, because the African countries may not have the surveillance procedures in place that they will need to stop the epidemic spreading.

We have heard a lot about Africa in the past two years, particularly from our Prime Minister in a wonderful speech that brought tears to my eyes. In his conference speech in autumn 2001—after 11 September—he described the state of Africa as a scar on the conscience of the world and promised to send more aid, to write off debt, to help with good governance and to train soldiers in peacekeeping and conflict resolution. He promised that Africa would have access to our markets in the west and the G8 countries. After all those promises, what did we get? We got Afghanistan and Iraq. I do not want to start another debate; I want only to say that we can always find billions to make war, but we never seem to be able to find the little extra needed to fund development that, in the long term, would prevent wars.

Yes, since the Prime Minister's speech there has been conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, if our Prime Minister had not said to the other G8 leaders that they must invite Thabo Mbeki to the Genoa summit, the question of NEPAD would not have been on the G8 agenda. If he had not kept on pushing it, the response would not have been made at the Kananaskis summit. That is good, and we should all feel proud of it.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman feels proud of the Prime Minister, but I should also point out that the problems that have been created in the past 12 to 18 months also fall on the budget of the Department for International Development. That makes me angry. I know that the Treasury coughs up to a certain extent, but reconstruction processes take money out of DFID. We hear different protests that they will not affect the millennium targets or other aims, but they will.

The war in Iraq is only just beginning; we are in only the early stages of what will happen in that area. We know that Afghanistan is descending once again into lawlessness and chaos, and huge humanitarian problems are developing. We know that war does not solve the problems and that more money will have to be spent. We have a bottomless bucket of money for war but never quite enough to deal with the problems of Africa and the developing world.

We have had many initiatives, and I have often asked DFID for a glossary of development initiatives and acronyms. There are the millennium targets and the Okinawa, Copenhagen and Skagen declarations. There is also the Cotonou agreement, which is very good, but is yet another agreement. We have the EU-Africa Cairo plan of action, the international finance facility, the global health fund and the HIPC initiative. Yesterday, I heard about SWAPs—the sector-wide approach to development—which is something else to get one's head around. I presume that it will have to link in with NEPAD somehow, because it has some of the same ingredients as the NEPAD ideals. There are many of these initiatives, and I very much hope that NEPAD will be able to bring them together for Africa.

I dread the possibility that NEPAD, if not taken seriously, will simply become a glossy and expensive talking shop. There are already enough of those in the world. Africa needs action.

3.6 pm

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on introducing this important debate. I intend to stick more closely to the subject of the debate than did the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), but I point out to those who might wonder why so many hon. Members from both sides of the Chamber are not here today for the debate how unfortunate it is that due to the modernisation of our procedures the debate is taking place at the same time as the meeting of the Select Committee on International Development, which is considering aspects of the Doha agenda, and at the same time as the meeting of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which is considering aspects of the war against terrorism. I do not doubt that more hon. Members would be present if that were not the case.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that I have taken part in many such debates in the Chamber before modernisation took place, and there have never been many more hon. Members present than there are today. It is missing the point to blame the lack of attendance on modernisation.

That is a perfectly valid comment. [Interruption] I must make some progress, as I want to talk about the issue, not why other hon. Members are not here.

This is a very important debate. We support the idea of NEPAD. It has only been one year since NEPAD's implementation, and we are very much at the start of a process. We should not make harsh judgments about what it has achieved so far. It represents a significant shift in pan-African politics and, as Kofi Annan warned, we must
"not mistake hope for achievement".
NEPAD has no teeth in terms of its implementation. I am reminded of the comments made by Christian Aid, which, before the G8 meeting in 2002, warned that
"NEPAD has been developed predominantly between African heads of state along with G8 leaders. It is not yet a partnership between African Heads of State and their own people, or between African peoples."
It recommended that
"poor people themselves, the experts on poverty, must be placed at the heart of NEPAD. Their needs and priorities must be the foundation upon which NEPAD is based. Ordinary Africans must also be involved at all stages of NEPAD. They should be consulted as NEPAD is revised and must be central to its implementation, and scrutinise its impact."
That must be right.

The African peer review mechanism is an important development, and we warmly welcome the statement of the chairman of the steering committee this month that the independent panel of experts is expected to be appointed within the next couple of months. However, I share the frustration, which has been expressed, that so little has been said about Zimbabwe. Baroness Amos, the Minister with responsibilities for these matters in the other place, said that the attitude of African leaders towards President Mugabe was "disappointing". That is a great understatement. The decision by the African Union not to attend the EU Africa conference if President Mugabe was not invited contradicted all the commitments it made at NEPAD to provide and support good governance, not putting African solidarity as its first priority.

We are in no position to punish a whole continent for the actions of one country, but there must be more recognition by the Governments of Africa of the deteriorating, critical situation in Zimbabwe. Indeed, it makes it hard for the rest of the G8 membership to promote NEPAD if there is no such recognition. Tony Leon, the South African Democratic Alliance leader said that
"the real threat to NEPAD is not the war in Iraq. It is the situation in Zimbabwe…the silence of Africa on Zimbabwe is so damaging and decisive because the failure has been almost complete."
What discussions has the British Government had with members of NEPAD about the formation of some form of sanctions mechanism to punish bad behaviour and the breaching of their commitments in that regard? Can the Minister say whether pressure to do that could be applied through other bodies that support NEPAD such as the United Nations?

For NEPAD to make real progress towards the 2015 millennium development goals, Africa's nations must be supported by the international community. The plan, agreed at the G8 summit in Canada last year, sets out specific actions in areas of peace and security, strengthening institutions and governance, fostering trade and investment, debt relief, education and health as well as HIV/AIDS, agriculture and water, all of which will be discussed at the G8 Evian summit on 1 to 3 June.

It is important that the Africa action plan and any NEPAD implementation plan should be set within the context to which hon. Members have referred of chronic food insecurity and HIV/AIDS in Africa. Both need to take account of the negative, knock-on effects that those issues have on the time scale and human resources for all those plans. Of course, Save the Children, among other organisations, has called for the vital need for food assessments to go hand in hand with all health and education plans.

The importance of peace and security has been mentioned today. Conflict management and prevention and peace building is at the heart of the Government's Africa policy. That has been carried forward within the Africa conflict prevention pool in which the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence work together to make our approaches to conflict in Africa more strategic and co-ordinated. That is very good; but we do not know what criteria DFID and the FCO use for targeting conflict countries in Africa in terms of our involvement. They argue that different criteria were used regarding Zimbabwe and Angola, but both countries have 6 million children suffering from deprivation and conflict. What mechanisms are in place to ensure the transparency of the process of our involvement in African conflict?

It is no good our insisting that there is transparency and accountability in African countries and governments if we are not transparent and accountable in deciding between different desperate situations in different countries in Africa. With Oxfam and Save the Children, we support the publish-what-you-pay initiative. What is being done to press for the enforcement of regulations to control the economic exploitation of natural resources, which have played such a significant part in so many African conflicts?

We also support and call for corporate social responsibility and transparency in terms of dealings with natural resources, especially in Africa. Further, we support the development of a long-term plan to build conflict management capacity in Africa. Specifically, we support an effective African peacekeeping force and the ambition to achieve it by 2010. Can the Departments involved provide more information on the force? If the Minister cannot do so today, will she be kind enough to write to those who have spoken in the debate to tell us what is going on with regard to the force? Will it be run through the African Union or through NEPAD? To whom will it be accountable? What support in the form of money, resources and expertise do we plan to give? Which will be the lead Department in respect of the Africa action plan?

Another aspect of the Government's approach to international development that I question constructively is the sector-wide approach—the so-called SWAP approach, which many non-governmental organisations have criticised. It looks attractive. Instead of saying, project by project, "Let's send in the NGOs that know most about this project," whether it relates to education, health, agriculture or water, we say under the sector-wide approach, "No, let's ensure that the Government of the country controls the programme and that we finance that Government to do something according to our criteria."

I have a real problem with that approach because many countries simply do not have people with the same professional achievements—accountancy or information technology skills, for example. Often countries do not have sufficient resources—either capital or human resources—to implement such an approach. It is possible to do so in some countries—thank goodness—but in many others it is not, so I am watching critically the development of the sector-wide approach to ensure that it does not do more harm than good in some of those countries.

Africa has 12 per cent. of the world's population, but only 2 per cent. of the trade. Of course, I agree that trade is extremely important to the future development of African economies and people. Full integration into the international trade system would hugely benefit the development of Africa's many countries, but this is a hugely difficult issue on which to make progress with the G8 and the European Union. The last three deadlines at the Doha trade negotiations—2 December 2002 and 1 and 31 March 2003—have been missed. Doha was a crucial kick-start on trade, but to date there has been a disappointing lack of progress. The greatest disappointment has been the failure of the United States to agree to amend the trade-related aspects of the intellectual property, or TRIPS, agreement to provide for developing countries to import patented drugs cheaply, as initially agreed in Doha.

Following the missed Doha deadlines, what is the risk that the agenda at Cancun in Mexico in September will be overburdened and will fail in terms of discussing all the issues in detail and moving forward? What plans are there to increase African participation in the international standard setting bodies? How are we working with NEPAD to ensure that trade barriers and tariffs between African countries, as well as between Africa and the G8 and EU countries, are tackled? What assessment has DFID made of the impact of declining commodity prices on developing countries' economies, and what steps will it take in light of that?

Another aspect of international development that has cropped up this afternoon and which I wholeheartedly underline is the problem of health. A fifth of an African person's life is spent in poor health. We recognise that fact especially in terms of HIV and AIDS, and we have debated it often enough. However, if we consider the international impact of the SARS virus and the fact that no expense is spared to protect the rich nations of the world and other nations, including China, that are developing fast, that puts into perspective the problem of malaria in Africa. Up to 3,000 children a day and 1 million people a year die from malaria, and the number of cases has quadrupled in the past 20 years.

Medecins Sans Frontieres has called for renewed efforts and the provision of new anti-malarial treatments, as traditional drugs are failing due to growing resistance. Even the proper use of mosquito nets could reduce malaria transmission by up to 60 per cent. and death rates in children by a fifth. A massive effort is needed by African Governments to eliminate sales tax on malaria bed nets. What pressure are we putting on NEPAD to achieve that?

The African countries that are NEPAD members need to be reassured that this country and this Parliament take an intense interest in the progress of a young body that has huge potential to do great good for the people of Africa. We wish them well, but we will be critical in our assessment of not only their achievements, but the achievements of our Government in seeking to deliver what should be a massive step forward.

3.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development
(Ms Sally Keeble)

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on securing the debate and on the work of the all-party group on Africa, which is important in raising and discussing the issues. The debate on the New Partnership for Africa's Development is obviously extremely timely in the run-up to the G8 summit, at which G8 countries will reflect on their support for it through the G8 Africa action plan.

Hon. Members have raised many different issues this afternoon, and I shall try to deal with them all. If I fail to cover a point, I shall ensure that hon. Members receive a written reply. I hope that Members will be patient, and I will not take interventions in order to try to deal with the points that have been made.

NEPAD represents an important step forward for both African Governments and the international community in achieving sustainable development in Africa and managing Africa's reintegration into the global economy. There are several important points about NEPAD. One is that it is African-owned and focuses on sustainable development for Africa. The forum also deals with the need for increased donor coordination and provides a framework for tackling performance issues that are hindering sustainable development both by Africans and the west. Hon. Members have mentioned several of those issues already.

My hon. Friend rightly talked about the poverty in Africa and the need for greater investment. He was also right to say that it is not all doom and gloom. He highlighted the fact that, between 1990 and 2001, growth in some African countries was between 2 and 4 per cent., although I should point out that one of NEPAD's objectives is to achieve growth rates in African countries of 7 per cent. That is what is needed to reach the millennium development goal of halving world poverty. If we examine the growth rate between 1990 and 2001, hon. Members will see the mountain still to climb.

My hon. Friend and other hon. Members were also right to highlight the importance of trade, because to achieve a 7 per cent. growth rate, there will have to be a massive improvement in the trade figures for Africa. As has been repeatedly noted, that will be one issue on the agenda at Evian, and it is also crucial to my Department's work. We recognise that, for example, if we halved the trade and tariff barriers between the west and the developing world, about $150 billion extra would be produced as income for developing countries. If we compare that with aid figures, we see the comparative advantages for African countries in improving trade performance.

Like other hon. Members, my hon. Friend was right to emphasise the fact that more support is needed from the donor community, including substantial improvements to the volume of aid, as well as aid effectiveness. The G8 support for NEPAD has been extremely important, and the G8 Africa action plan is a clear articulation of it. The G8 focus on Africa has been an important signal of the notion of mutual accountability and that that has been taken seriously at the highest level. The Evian summit will report deliverables to measure progress against each of the priorities of the G8 Africa action plan.

We have also published our own plan, to which hon. Members have referred, to detail the areas of the G8 plan on which we have focused, and we will report on progress against those priorities at Evian. Obviously, it would be premature for me to report on those now. We will also look to the G8 to report contra-indicators of progress at the Evian summit, and we should also be clear that although the summit is a key milestone, it is not the end in itself. We will have to have long-term sustainable support for Africa for many years to come.

Reference was made to the objectives set for Evian, and I shall refer to one or two of them. At Evian, we will press especially for commitments for support for the international finance facility and for the $50 billion that it would produce for international aid. Several hon. Members referred to that. I believe that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) who asked if this would be in the form of grants or loans. The intention is that that should be in the form of grants, although there may be a requirement for concessional loans. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he seeks.

There was also a question of who would report and who would not. There are clear indications that France, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom will report, and I believe that Germany will report to its Parliament. Two members have not yet said that they intend to report.

I shall try to cover some of the points raised in the short time that I have left. My hon. Friend the Member for City of York asked about coherence. We are committed to working on coherence, and have done so. For his information, we also support the notion in NEPAD that there should be some sort of peer review of donor performance. We would certainly be happy for our own performance to be judged on that basis.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) made a great number of detailed points. I shall write to him about them if I do not deal with them now. He asked in particular about the peer review mechanism, which we support. However, we have not yet provided direct financial support for it, although we have provided some support for civil society activity that is connected to it. We have provided a total of some £1 million in support for NEPAD, and aim to increase that sum. However, we believe that if a process is Africa-owned and Africa-driven, we must ensure that it is Africa-resourced.

Several hon. Members talked about the Doha agenda. We are leading Europe and the world on a wide range of issues. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) asked what we were doing about Africa and made the point that there had to be action, not just words. This country led the progress made on HIPC and on access to medicines, and has done extensive work and on time. That is a real indication of our high level, cross-Government commitment to tackling the deep-seated problems that have beset Africa.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh also asked who would lead the plan. There must be joint ownership if this is a partnership, and joint responsibility must be taken for it. That is especially important when we in the UK are trying to get other countries to give the same priority to Africa that we do, and to make the same commitment to providing the finance and to tackling difficult issues such as agricultural reform, the reduction of trade barriers and untying of aid.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West raised several issues about debt relief. We are considering some of the issues relating to longer-term sustainability, and are ensuring that countries that have passed a completion point do not find themselves in a poverty trap because they are excluded from certain types of grant and do not fall back into higher levels of debt.

My hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) raised many issues about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and about conflict in Africa. Conflict in Africa relates to about 2 per cent. of economic growth, and we have a detailed strategy for tackling it. I shall ensure that hon. Members who have asked about it receive information about it.

In conclusion, the UK will continue to support NEPAD and Africa and will continue to argue the case for both in the wider donor community in order to ensure that the millennium development goals are achieved and that the people of Africa can enjoy a more prosperous future.