I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of Africa.
We have called this debate to reaffirm our support for Africa at a time when the economic crisis is bringing acute challenges, and to set out our priorities for the next year. I am sorry that, due to the state dinner for the President of Mexico, I will miss the winding-up speeches later tonight, although if the debate goes on for 17 hours, I will, happily, be able to return tomorrow morning for the conclusion.
Africa has been at the top of the Government’s foreign policy agenda for the past 12 years. The personal commitment of successive Prime Ministers has enabled the UK to be part of a mass-mobilisation behind ambitious objectives. The millennium goals were agreed in New York in 2000 to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and improve education, health and the environment. In Gleneagles, during the UK presidency of the G8, further commitments were made: to double aid by 2010; to give at least 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product to development; to write off debts of 43 of the world’s poorest countries, most of which are in Africa; to ensure that children have access to good-quality, free and compulsory education and free basic health care; and to provide an extra 25,000 trained peacekeeping troops, helping the African Union better to respond to security challenges. The UK has backed up those ambitions by increasing the development budget for Africa from £300 million in 1997 to £1.3 billion this year. In that work, the Department for International Development has established a reputation for global leadership in aid effectiveness.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, especially so early on in his speech. May I congratulate the Government on the action that they have taken over a number of years to tackle malaria in Africa, which particularly affects and kills children under five years of age? I ask the Government during this economic crisis not to be tempted in any way to take the focus off tackling malaria through research and prevention.
The Secretary of State spoke about Gleneagles, at which there was a very useful meeting. Will he say a little about the other side of the coin—about good governance, what Africa’s responsibility was, and what has been achieved, as regards its side of the bargain?
My hon. Friend makes a really good point. I do not want to give a preview of my speech, but after dealing with the economic crisis I want to deal with what I think are the four critical themes of development policy: governance, wealth creation, conflict and climate change. That will give us a chance to look in some detail at the issues that she raises.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He rightly pointed out the importance of our commitment to the millennium development goals, but will he reflect on the particular problems to do with the infant and maternal mortality MDGs, and on the fact that there is serious underperformance on those goals in sub-Saharan Africa? Will he reflect, in particular, on the importance of tackling the HIV and AIDS crisis, which particularly affects women and children, especially orphans and vulnerable children?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Of course, the fact that we are off track to achieve the millennium development goals was the reason for the call to action that the Prime Minister issued in 2007, and for the special emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly last September. One of the goals on which the world is off track is that relating to maternal mortality. It is invidious in some ways to pick out one organisation rather than another, but I know that the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood is an organisation that has support right across the political spectrum. In this country, it is sponsored by the Prime Minister’s wife, who plays a very important role in it. It is trying both to raise consciousness about the issues, and to make practical changes on the ground.
Before we plunge into the difficulties that Africa faces, it is important to recognise that between 1999 and 2006 Africa had made significant progress. The number of armed conflicts was down; economic growth was up; the number of children in school was up by about 30 million; immunisation rates were also up; and more than 3 million Africans are now on life-saving antiretrovirals, which were mentioned earlier. Today, it is right to recognise that Africa faces a new set of pressures, in addition to the historical burdens that it brings forward. Less investment, lower commodity prices, lower demand for African exports and, importantly, reduced remittances from Africans living abroad all mean that Africa and its people face a new set of pressures.
The impact will vary, but right hon. and hon. Members will have seen some of the estimates. Cuts in growth rates will be widespread, but some of the numbers are very stark indeed. GDP growth in Angola has already fallen from 15 per cent. to minus 7 per cent. Botswana is feeling the effects of a 90 per cent. cut in demand for exports, as they account for 50 per cent. of Government revenue. Zambia is suffering from copper prices falling by a third. Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, export earnings are projected to be 27 per cent. lower this year than last year, and there is a cash-flow crisis projected for the DRC Government; that crisis is probably felt not only in that country.
The wrong response is clear—to scale back our commitments on development, to abandon the Doha trade round, or to reduce our ambition on climate change. Each will harm Africa more than any other continent. That is why the London summit is dedicated to taking concrete actions to protect the poor and vulnerable: to support free trade, promote investment and reform the international financial institutions. The United Kingdom will support the creation of a vulnerable financing facility managed by the World Bank and a global vulnerability monitor led by the UN to manage the impact of the crisis and increase international accountability to the poorest people in the poorest countries.
It is important to recognise that in addition to the economic and environmental imbalances that lie at the heart of the crisis, there is a political imbalance, which is represented in all the major international institutions whose representation is skewed towards the old powers. That is why I hope there is support right across the House for the Prime Minister’s drive to include the whole world in the debate in London this week. There are 20 countries representing 85 per cent. of global gross domestic product, but, significantly, there was outreach to African leaders in the meeting two weeks ago with representatives from 10 African countries, so that their issues and needs are fully on the agenda.
Last week I was in Tanzania with the International Development Committee. I had the opportunity to speak at some length with the IMF country representative and the IMF director for Africa from Washington DC. The IMF recognises the need for a country such as Tanzania to increase public spending modestly by 2 or 3 per cent. in order to try to generate domestic demand to take up the slack caused by loss of export orders. Although that does not apply to all African countries—all their circumstances are different—it applies to several. Will the IMF have sufficient resources to extend loans to African countries that need them in the downturn, and will that be discussed at the summit this week?
My hon. Friend speaks with much experience as well as expertise on these matters. He is right to point to the need not just for a change in political representation in the IMF, but for increased resources for the IMF, not least because several east European countries are asking for IMF support, so Africa needs to ensure that it has got its place. I am very encouraged by the fact that Japan has committed significant sums—I think I am right in saying $100 billion—to the IMF, and the European Union has done the same. I hope that that will be added to by the time of the final summit communiqué on Thursday. The issue of IMF resources is an important one, and the IMF must ensure that some of the old stigma that was associated with it is reduced and that it is able to meet the needs that undoubtedly exist.
My question follows on from that. The president of the World Bank, Bob Zoellick, will be in London this week. What pressure will be brought to bear so that the World Bank becomes much more representative, not just of the donors but of the recipient countries? I know that the Secretary of State for International Development has called for that, but what prospect does the right hon. Gentleman think we have of achieving such reform?
One always has to be cautious in predicting institutional reform in bodies that embody all sorts of vested interests, but I think the fundamental political imbalance in international institutions—the financial ones such as the World Bank, as well as others, such as the Financial Stability Forum—has come home to people very strongly. So I am certainly more confident than I would have been a year ago about the prospects. It is important to try to achieve a timetable for reform, so that that does not become an endless process.
While the right hon. Gentleman is talking about institutions and taking interventions, may I put it to him my view that the coalition Put People First, which is taking a major role in the public concern about the G20, has an honest but mistaken view of Doha. Among its aims, it is urging the Government not to press for a rapid conclusion to the Doha talks, because it fears that they are all about economic liberalisation and so on. Will the right hon. Gentleman restate that the liberalisation of services acts in the interests of people around the world, that the stricture imposed by well-meaning people is wrong, and that the Government will press for a successful conclusion to Doha as soon as is appropriate?
Yes. The hon. Gentleman follows these issues carefully and knows that the Government have been stout not only in their defence of the Doha process, but in trying to advance that process. It is important that some of the good words issued in Washington about the deficiencies of protectionism should be followed up with proper monitoring mechanisms to make sure that the poorest people in the poorest countries do not suffer the most.
I was interested in what the Foreign Secretary said about the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and their poor reputation in the past. Will he assure us that during this difficult period there will be no return to the conditionality of privatisation and that there will be support for the development of localised industries and local supportive economies in Africa, rather than for the failed policies that the IMF imposed on many poor countries in the past?
There is a longer debate to be had about the successes and failures of IMF “reforms”, including in the 1990s, to which I think my hon. Friend is referring. Anyone who follows these issues will know that a lot of experience has been gained from what happened in the 1990s. My hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) made the point that African countries are different from each other and should not be lumped together, and that applies to all the countries in which the IMF operates. One of the lessons of the 1990s is that a single transferable model is not necessarily appropriate in all circumstances. There needs to be proper flexibility.
No. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find a way to get his point in. I trust that he has sufficient ingenuity to find a way to ask me a question about this issue later.
Our relationship with African countries is much broader than development assistance, but that assistance is important—not least the commitment to the target of 0.7 per cent. as a share of GDP, to which this and many other countries have committed, but which very few have reached. Beyond development assistance, we need to tackle the root causes of poverty and insecurity, some of which were raised earlier: poor governance, conflict, lack of access to trade and climate change. I would like to go through all four, with some specific examples.
The first issue is governance. People in Africa are demanding that their states be more accountable to their citizens. There have been 60 multi-party elections in the past five years. Those in Ghana in December and in Sierra Leone in 2007 demonstrate real commitment to democracy. Parliamentary elections in Angola last year were an important step forward in consolidating peace and strengthening democracy. The UK was the biggest bilateral donor to the ground-breaking election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2006. However, there is more to democratic governance than elections. Functioning democracies rely on an active civil society, a vibrant media, improved social conditions and tackling corruption. That is why throughout Africa we are working to build the institutions that can support democracy—not only in the DRC, but in places such as Malawi.
I am glad that it is not beneath the Foreign Secretary to take an intervention from one of the smaller parties.
There have been four coups in the past six months in Africa, and eight of the worst dictators are in sub-Saharan Africa. Governments are desperately abusing the state apparatus to stay in power. Does the Foreign Secretary think that there is a crisis in multi-party democracy in Africa and what is he doing to try to challenge and address that?
I was about to come to the fact that there has been increasing disregard of constitutional rule, most recently evident in Madagascar, in the coups in Mauritania and Guinea-Conakry and in the murder of the President of Guinea-Bissau. All those issues speak to a disregard for democratic norms that is very worrying. Two things are important. First, it is significant that the African Union should have been so alarmed by those changes; the way in which it has spoken up has been important. Secondly, we need to make our position clear in each such case, and that is what we seek to do—not least in respect of the case that for many in the House is the greatest affront to democratic norms: the situation in Zimbabwe.
Nowhere is the challenge of promoting democracy more evident than in Zimbabwe. The whole House is desperate to see an end to the suffering of Zimbabweans achieved through governance that restores economic and civil rights to its people; more importantly, so are the people of Zimbabwe. For years, the country has been led on a path of economic ruin and human suffering. Turning that around is a formidable challenge. It needs the Movement for Democratic Change to be allowed genuine power within the new Government. We all hope that Morgan Tsvangirai’s appointment as Prime Minister offers the change that Zimbabwe needs. We commit to working with him to support stabilisation and recovery. That is why we have increased our humanitarian assistance and will spend £50 million this year to help to feed Zimbabwe’s people, combat cholera, and improve access to clean water and sanitation. But the international community could do so much more if we knew that our assistance would be well used. We need to see that the new Government will be allowed by ZANU-PF to take the measures necessary to end the suffering of the Zimbabwean people. There are some important signs of progress. For instance, public sector workers have recently been paid; and Deputy Minister Bennett has been released. However, there is an enormous task ahead: to stabilise the economy, to restore the rule of law, and to restate and re-enact commitments to human rights and democratic processes.
Today I spoke to our high commissioner in Harare in advance of this debate. The political situation in Zimbabwe remains very delicate. Yet the meeting of donors in Washington last Friday brought the international community together to focus on humanitarian issues. The next step, after the humanitarian assistance and the improvements in governance that we hope to see, is to develop a thorough-going reconstruction partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe when we are confident that all money will be used for the right purposes—above all, for the benefit of the Zimbabwean people.
We are also concerned about British nationals in Zimbabwe—a concern that I know will be shared across the House. The UK Government recently launched a package offering assistance to elderly and vulnerable British people to resettle in the UK. These are Britons who are no longer able to support themselves in Zimbabwe because of the severe economic, social and health care problems that affect all who live there—something that the new Government have barely begun to address.
The second area that I want to focus on is conflict, which still scars the continent, causing huge human suffering. The long-term challenge is to build Africa’s capacity to address its conflicts through the African Union. That is why the UK has trained 12,000 African peacekeepers since 2004-05, and we continue to support the development of the African peace and security architecture, in particular the African standby force, whose eastern brigade the UK supports through a dedicated British peace support training team in Nairobi. The UK is also helping to build AU diplomatic and early warning capacity through support for a new network of AU political offices.
We are also, of course, actively engaged in trying to make our contribution to the resolution of the worst conflicts. Following my visit to the great lakes with French Foreign Minister Kouchner last November, we urged regional leaders, led by President Kikwete, to launch a process whereby African mediators helped to restore peace and stability. Thankfully, under UN auspices former President Obasanjo has helped to promote significant change—remarkable change in many ways. Co-ordination between the DRC and Rwanda has led to significant improvements in the situation in the Kivus. However, although joint military action against the FDLR—Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda—militias is to be welcomed, the risk of reprisals remains. Hundreds of thousands of people continue to live in fear of disease and violence.
I very much welcome what my right hon. Friend is saying about conflict prevention. Does he agree that we cannot solve the problems of countries such as Angola and the DRC, which are very rich in mineral and diamond resources and so on, unless the wealth is properly shared—as we on the Labour Benches would rightly say—not for the few but for the many?
My right hon. Friend has taken a lifelong interest in these issues and speaks of them not only with huge moral force but with practical and political experience. He makes an absolutely fundamental point. The issues of resources cannot be divorced from the issues of conflict and suffering that exist in places such as the eastern DRC. However, he will be the first to say that it is easier said than done to break the link between resources, criminality and corruption and create a different kind of circle in which those resources are used for the benefit of local people. The foundation of doing that must be the sort of security arrangements that he strongly supports. I am about to say something about the work of MONUC—the UN mission in the DRC. He is absolutely right to point to this matter as being an important part of the solution. The terrible tragedy is that some parts of the world with the greatest wealth buried in them are also home to the greatest numbers of poor people.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the problem faced by very poor countries that may have considerable resources is the lack of the technical capacity within ministerial ranks to draft legislation, and to produce contracts as a result of that legislation, that protects that country’s interests?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is not the part of development work that gets the most media attention, but that back-office support and building of institutional capacity are vital to any sort of sustainable development in those countries. She is right to raise that point.
I was pleased that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned Sierra Leone. It is a rather poor nation, unfortunately not as blessed with resources as others. To what extent should we be concerned about the recent conflict between the All People’s Congress and the Sierra Leone People’s Party supporters in Freetown? In such circumstances, to what extent is the responsibility on us as the former colonial power or, as he suggested earlier, on other African nations to provide support for democracy in that country?
All friends of Sierra Leone, in all parts of this House, should be concerned about the situation there. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), will be travelling to Sierra Leone tomorrow, and I know that this question will be high on his agenda. Throughout government and in civil society, there are profound links between Britain and Sierra Leone and we all want to see progress there. I am sure that my hon. Friend will report back to the House after his visit.
Right hon. and hon. Members took a lot of interest in the situation in Kenya, and I shall address that, given the focus on conflict. We remain concerned for the country’s future. There are signs that the reform process begun 15 months ago might be losing momentum. Insufficient efforts have been made to end the climate of impunity, and the failure of the Kenyan Parliament to agree the formation of a special tribunal was a setback for efforts to secure justice for victims of the post-election violence. Corruption and mismanagement are still significant problems; recent allegations underline why Kenyans are calling for their Government to show that they are accountable and transparent, and to uphold the rule of law. Unless the pace of political reform picks up, the outlook is bleak. We want progress on the national accord in order to prevent a repeat of last year’s violence.
Elsewhere, it is clear that a strong international role is needed. In Sudan, the UK is a strong supporter of the Darfur political process and the African Union-United Nations chief mediator, Djibril Bassolé. We will continue to support efforts to reach a lasting political settlement with security established and civil society engaged. We shall work for a lasting political accommodation between Khartoum and Juba that ensures full implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement.
I want to say a little about the International Criminal Court. Sudan’s response to the ICC’s issue of an arrest warrant for President Bashir is no excuse to derail the objectives of securing long-term peace. I urged the Government of Sudan to engage fully with the court, reiterating the UK’s consistent support for the ICC, and calling on all parties to avoid escalation. That raises the question of humanitarian support in that country, given the announcements by President Bashir.
The UK pledged £330 million for Sudan for 2008 to 2011 at the Sudan consortium of international donors in May 2008. The immediate concern is the human suffering created by the dismissal of international non-governmental organisations. Initial estimates suggest that those non-governmental organisations provided 50 per cent. of the current humanitarian relief effort in Darfur alone. Their expulsion could result in 1 million people losing access to clean water and sanitation, up to 1.5 million losing access to primary health care and disruption to food distribution for up to 1.1 million people. We will continue to urge the Government of Sudan to reverse their decision and are working closely with the UN and NGOs on contingency measures to get aid to the most vulnerable. That will continue throughout April, when key decisions will have to be taken in Khartoum by the Government of Sudan, and any response by the international community, whether in New York or elsewhere, will have to be forthcoming, including issues to be considered by the African Union, based in Addis Ababa, and the Arab League.
I would be delighted to say something about that. I liaised with the Kenyan authorities and asked them if they were willing to allow their legal processes to be used for the trial of some of these alleged pirates, and they were extremely forthcoming. That is what will happen for the first tranche of those involved. That is an important step forward and a good contribution by the Kenyan authorities to tackling that international problem.
The whole House will support what the Foreign Secretary has said and what the Government are doing in relation to Darfur, but does he not find it somewhat disappointing that the international community as a whole—this is no criticism of the UK Government—has not yet managed to find a single helicopter to support the UN peacekeeping mission there? The General Assembly of the UN will soon consider the Secretary-General’s report on the responsibility to protect. If the international community is not willing to provide any lift capacity, the responsibility to protect will become a pretty hollow concept.
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a deep interest in these issues, and he raises a very important point. There are too many signs of buyer’s remorse about the responsibility to protect. Some of those who signed up in 2005 are now beginning to realise what they were letting themselves in for and are much less keen on the consequences. That poses a threat to the impetus that was provided by the responsibility to protect. It is important to emphasise that that was not a licence or mandate for “the west” to go marching around the world imposing its own values. It was first a responsibility on Governments not to abuse their own people and secondly a responsibility on the international community to intervene in the most extreme circumstances when countries failed in their responsibilities to their own people. The responsibility to protect lies in the first instance with a sovereign Government. It is only when that responsibility is broken that our responsibilities come into play.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about helicopters, and he will know that we debate helicopter capacity in debates on subjects from Afghanistan onwards. Too often, helicopters for development come at the bottom of the queue. I think that I am right in saying that the UK and France have been active together in trying to push the issue, but he is right that we have a long way to go before we can show people that we have made real progress.
My right hon. Friend referred earlier to conflict prevention. Does he share my concern that because of the pressures that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s budget is under, it has had to reallocate resources for paying international subscriptions? That includes reducing the resources available for conflict prevention in Africa, as well as in other parts of the world. I understand the problems that he has, but does he agree that the Government as a whole should pick up the consequences of changes in exchange rates and not put the pressure on the FCO’s budget?
If the House will allow me, I am happy to give my hon. Friend’s question the detailed response that it requires. First, it is not actually just our budget; it is a joint budget of the FCO, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development. Secondly, he is right that the budget for stabilisation and conflict prevention is under huge pressure. That is partly because of exchange rates, but more significantly—I think that this will interest the House—because of the big rise in the amount of UN and EU peacekeeping around the world, notably in Africa. Many Members will say that that is a good thing, but the UK ends up having to pay a significant share of the bill. That means that we have less money in the pot for discretionary interventions for conflict prevention.
The rise in our assessed contributions—our compulsory contributions to UN and EU missions—will be greater than the fall in our discretionary contributions to Africa, but my hon. Friend is none the less right that there is significant pressure on that part of the Government budget. He uses the term “international subscriptions”, which makes it sound as though we were subscribing to a set of journals or magazines, but we are paying for troops on the ground. He is nevertheless right that those contributions to international peacekeeping efforts drain money from a limited pot. The rise in our compulsory contributions to Africa, however, will outstrip the unfortunate fall in our discretionary contributions.
Before speaking about trade, I want to say something about Somalia, which has suffered conflict and ineffective government for nearly 20 years. Significant changes have occurred there, even since I attended the UN Security Council in December, where the issue was debated. Since President Sharif’s election, his effort to establish a more inclusive Government offers the best chance for many years to address the country’s problems. In support of the political process, we are underpinning the African Union Mission in Somalia—AMISOM. This year, we have pledged a further £4.9 million directly to the AU and £10 million to the UN trust fund. Political progress is important in Somalia, because although AMISOM, which focuses on three parts of Mogadishu, can do some good, a political process is ultimately needed. President Sharif’s start is therefore significant. Following the departure of Ethiopian troops in January, the country did not descend into chaos. President Sharif has made an impressive start.
I was asked earlier about trade and I am happy to continue to reassert the Government’s commitment to open trade as a basis for sustained progress for some of the poorest countries. Those seeking the dignity of making their own way through selling their produce should get our support. The UK is working to ensure that the economic partnership agreements reflect the development needs of African states and provide new trading opportunities, with Europe and regionally. Through infrastructure and policy development, aid for trade allows countries to build capacity and integrate regionally and globally. The UK is on track to exceed our pledge to increase aid for trade by 50 per cent. to $750 million by 2010. The recent pre-London summit Africa outreach meeting, which the Prime Minister hosted, agreed on the need for improved access to resources and markets for African nations, argued that protectionism should be resisted, and encouraged countries to sign up to the Doha round.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way and I welcome his comments. Given that Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad depend for somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent. of their export earnings on cotton, but that the United States spends somewhere between $3 billion and $4 billion a year on subsidising 25,000 high cost, inefficient but politically influential cotton producers, is not it about time we tried to persuade President Obama to take a more progressive view of the matter than his predecessor, in the interests of west and central African development?
I, in turn, am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. However, to say, “It’s about time” in respect of President Obama on day 70 or 71 of his tenure suggests an impatience that I do not associate with the hon. Gentleman’s approach. He knows as well as I do why the Doha talks broke down. It is important at a time of economic crisis to reassert the fundamental importance of open trade. I know that that will be discussed with President Obama.
Africa’s prosperity, security and development are all threatened by climate change, which will exacerbate existing tensions over scarce resources and create mass migration. The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that climate change could produce a 50 per cent. drop in food production in sub-Saharan Africa. An ambitious deal at Copenhagen this year is therefore critical to Africa’s future. As part of that, we need to improve access to carbon finance to enable African countries to move directly to low-carbon development, and we need to support adaptation to the climate change that is already in train.
In addition to our enhanced bilateral effort in Africa, on which I have concentrated so far, we are also increasingly working through the EU to provide assistance to Africa. The EU now provides significant support for African action on conflict. For example, the Africa Peace Facility, which was created in 2004, remains the only African-owned, predictable source of donor funding for AU peacekeeping. For 2008-2010, €300 million is available to be released at the request of the AU.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), perhaps slightly unfairly, attacked President Obama. Could we put our own house in order by reforming the common agricultural policy, thereby lowering some of the restrictionist barriers that exist?
Of course. The continuing reforms of the CAP are important. The hon. Gentleman knows that, as a result of the CAP health check that has been taking place, some relatively minor moves on, for example, milk quotas, will happen. However, there is far further to go.
The hon. Gentleman will also know that the next reforming round for the EU’s common agricultural policy will be critical, as we look to the period between 2013 and 2020. In my view, the vision for CAP reform that the Government set out in 2005 remains the only way forward. It essentially means that the first pillar of the CAP—the direct support pillar—will be massively reduced by 2020. Where there is to be support for agricultural areas, it should be given with a much broader view, to support land management and other factors, rather than distorting the trade basis for agriculture. I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman supports that.
The EU also provides direct assistance, through civilian and military ESDP—European security and defence policy—missions in Africa. Currently, Operation Atalanta is providing a counter-piracy mission in the gulf of Aden to protect World Food Programme shipping and, on a case-by-case basis, other vulnerable shipping. The EU also has three civilian missions in Africa. When it comes to development assistance and humanitarian aid, the EU is Africa’s biggest donor. In 2005, the EU pledged to channel 50 per cent. of collective aid increased to Africa. If all member states manage to keep their commitments, the EU may provide more than 90 per cent. of the G8’s $25 billion pledge for Africa over the period 2004 to 2010, increasing aid in real terms by more than €18 billion a year. That would, on any measure, be a significant achievement.
Britain has a long history in Africa. Today we are partners, not masters, of Governments, businesses and trade unions, seeking to build a decent future there. We cannot change everything, but we do make a difference, every day, to people who need our help. I look forward to this debate and to listening to the voice of experience and expertise that exists across the House.
Order. Mr. Speaker had imposed a time limit of 12 minutes on Back-Bench contributions. Since that time three hon. Members have withdrawn their requests to make a contribution to the debate, so I am in the rather happy position of being able to say that the time limit on Back-Bench speeches will be 14 minutes.
You have brought joy to many colleagues, Madam Deputy Speaker. I should begin by saying that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) sends his apologies. He is in Paris for meetings with the French Foreign Minister and members of President Sarkozy’s team.
This is a landmark—[Interruption.] I wish that the people in the cheap seats on the Labour Benches could contain themselves just for a little while here in the palace of varieties. This is a landmark debate as well as an overdue one. The House has debated Africa as a whole only once since 1992, in 2005, when the then Secretary of State for International Development led a debate on poverty in Africa. We on the Conservative Benches therefore welcome the fact that the Government initiated today’s debate and hope that it signals their intention to pursue a comprehensive Foreign Office-led approach to the continent, which is simultaneously the source of much conflict and suffering, as well as opportunity and hope in equal measure. We also urge the Government to hold such debates more regularly in future. The interest shown by hon. Members in all parts of the House demonstrates that doing so would be welcome.
The hon. Gentleman appears to be chiding the Government for a lack of consistency in having debates about Africa. Did the Opposition call for a debate on Africa in their own time at any point in the period that he mentioned?
We are indeed the Opposition, and we have had debates in Westminster Hall. I am talking about the fact that the Foreign Secretary has taken great pride in the importance of having a debate on Africa and about the emphasis placed on it by the current Prime Minister and the previous Prime Minister. I am merely pointing out the facts. I am looking forward to the contribution that the hon. Gentleman will presumably be making in this debate—he will be making a contribution, I trust.
Excellent. I am very pleased to hear that.
We also welcome the opportunity to discuss Africa in the run-up to the G20 summit later this week. The whole House will agree that the developing world must be engaged in efforts to reform the financial order and that African countries have a stake in the outcome of the summit. As the Foreign Secretary has emphasised, that is particularly true as the world’s poorest countries are the most vulnerable to what is being called the third wave of the global crisis and as they have the fewest resources available to deal with the consequences of the downturn.
The World Bank and other organisations are warning of reduced tourism earnings in Africa, dwindling remittances from overseas workers, a tapering of foreign investment, falling export earnings and squeezed Government revenues owing to lower commodity prices. Action Aid has calculated that, by the end of this year, Africa will have suffered a real drop in income of some $50 billion since the beginning of the crisis.
Lower economic growth rates in Africa will have a significant impact on efforts to lift people out of poverty, condemning millions to remain living on less than a dollar a day and setting back efforts to reduce infant mortality and to meet the millennium development goals, particularly if donor countries struggle to meet their commitments to international aid programmes. The recent revelation by the Foreign Secretary that the UK has to scale back its peacekeeping commitments due to rising costs—a subject to which I will return—is a worrying development, and we expect the Government to keep the House fully informed on that matter. Across parts of Africa, the financial crisis will therefore become a human crisis, particularly in those countries that are still locked in conflict or teetering on the brink of conflict—in other words, the countries least able to weather the financial storm.
The impact of the economic downturn is already being felt in many African countries. In Tanzania last week, members of the International Development Committee had the opportunity to meet the Minister for Finance, Mustafa Mkulo. He took the view that African countries such as Tanzania needed more fiscal space to generate demand for local products such as coffee, but he also spoke in favour of a fiscal loosening in developed countries such as ours, because he felt that that would encourage greater exports to our countries. Would the hon. Gentleman also support such a policy?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an interesting point. Different views are expressed by different countries in Africa; I have had some interesting conversations with visiting Ministers on the matter. We need to look at whatever measures will help those countries; there might not be one coat that fits all. Indeed, I have been struck by the danger of generalising about “the African economy”, just as one would not wish to generalise about “the European economy”.
There have been no fewer than 90 coups in Africa in the past 50 years, and 125 failed attempts. In the past year, coups have toppled the Governments in Mauritania, Guinea Conakry and Madagascar, and the President of Guinea Bissau was assassinated by renegade soldiers. As the Foreign Secretary pointed out, the situation in Zimbabwe has continued to deteriorate and, although a unity Government are now in place, there are serious doubts about their future. Somalia has had no stable Government for nearly two decades. The fragile peace agreement between north and south Sudan is in danger of unravelling, and the recent expulsion of aid groups from Darfur by President Bashir has exacerbated the ongoing humanitarian tragedy. A few months ago, we witnessed appalling human rights abuses on a major scale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Any one of those conflicts merits an entire debate in its own right, and I will return to them later. I am sure that many colleagues will wish to talk about them as well.
First, however, it would be wrong not to pay tribute to some of Africa’s success stories, although I recognise that, in some cases, we should add a negative caveat. Ghana saw a remarkably peaceful transition of power after presidential elections in January this year, despite the fact that less than a percentage point in the popular vote separated the two candidates. Botswana has undergone a remarkable transformation from one of the poorest countries in the world in the 1960s to a middle-income country with one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Sierra Leone has emerged from a decades-long, bloody civil war, and it held its first free, fair and largely peaceful elections in 2007. Last year, Rwanda became the first country to have more female than male Members of Parliament. In Liberia, the arrest of Charles Taylor for war crimes sent a powerful signal, and the first female African Head of State was elected in 2005.
The World Bank has stated:
“Over the last decade, Africa has registered its highest and most consistent economic growth.”
It went on to describe:
“Average growth rates of 5.3 per cent., now sustained into a second decade for the 15 best performing African countries”.
This forward progress needs to be sustained and built on, alongside efforts to bring about solutions to the persistent conflicts.
Will my hon. Friend add to his list Morocco, which has strong and increasing trade links with this country and defence links with Europe and ourselves? In particular, will he congratulate Trowbridge in my constituency and Oujda on being twinned 10 days ago? We look forward to improved cultural exchanges as a result. Morocco is, I think, something of a beacon of hope, so will my hon. Friend add it to his list?
Before the hon. Gentleman gets carried away with paeans of praise about Morocco, would he care to cast a thought for a moment on the poor benighted people of the western Sahara who have spent the last 30 years in refugee camps in Algeria? Does he not think it time for a referendum to be held among them so that they can decide their own future?
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I am very conscious that caveats may be expressed about all the countries I have mentioned. At this stage I am trying to emphasise the positive aspects, although I recognise that there are negative aspects to many of those countries. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for attempting to help me on that particular point.
Let me deal with UK policy towards Africa. We recognise that taking a joined-up approach towards conflict prevention and management in Africa—across the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence—is the right one. However, there is concern that UK policy towards Africa has in some respects lost its way and that the Foreign Office has perhaps not taken a lead in defining policy.
The London director of Human Rights Watch, Tom Porteous, argues in his book, “Britain in Africa” that a shift occurred under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), as British policy towards Africa began to be led by aid policy and not diplomacy. He argues that
“just at the moment when donors began to recognise the importance and centrality of governance to successful economic development, the UK government was transferring decision-making from a department that had the political and diplomatic skills and tools to improve governance to one that”—
He goes on to say:
“DfID’s ascendancy on African issues came at the cost of a significant decline in the FCO’s diplomatic and analytical capacity in Africa”.
This must a concern when an understanding of the extremely varied history, culture and politics of African countries is surely the prerequisite for sound policy making. Porteous continues by saying that “in the very year”—2005—
“that Tony Blair declared to be the year of Africa… the FCO’s directorate responsible for Africa was forced to slash its budget—closing embassies in Swaziland, Madagascar and Lesotho”.
He also points out that the post of Minister for Africa was reshuffled five times in 10 years from 1997 to 2007.
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that I am slightly worried by his remarks. He said earlier that these matters should be Foreign Office-led, and we then had one brief reference to the Department for International Development. Can he assure me that, in the event of his party being elected, DFID will still remain an independent Department, responsible for international development, with a spokesperson in the Cabinet rather than being consumed by the Foreign Office?
I am genuinely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make that point quite clear. He will, of course, have read with great interest the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the leader of the Conservative party, on 29 June 2006. In that speech to Oxfam, he made it quite clear that
“an incoming Conservative government will keep DfID as an independent department.”
That is a fact, which I am happy re-emphasise.
I used to have cadets like this at Sandhurst. They were in the bottom 10 per cent. of the intake. Watch my lips! What does the Minister not understand about “There will be a separate Department for International Development which will have as its senior Minister a Minister in the forthcoming Conservative Cabinet”? Does he wish to intervene again?
Are not the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) and the Minister pursuing the wrong point? In the view of many of us who are supporters of the Foreign Office, the point is that the Foreign Office’s budget has been squeezed. This is not an attack on the Foreign Office. Ministers, including the Secretary of State, need to understand that many Conservative Members recognise that its resources are being continuously stretched. The Foreign Office consists, literally, of resources, people and buildings, and people are very important. Where the Foreign Office’s budget has been squeezed in recent years is in its resources for Africa, and that is cause for concern.
I am pleased that the Opposition agree with the Foreign Affairs Committee, which expressed concern when the high commissions in Lesotho and Swaziland were closed. We said that there were problems because whereas the DFID budget has increased significantly—in fact, trebled—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had to deal with a budget that is at a standstill or is declining in real terms, and that has consequences.
May I, however, return the hon. Gentleman to the quotation that he read out earlier? I believe that he was quoting from a speech made by the Leader of the Opposition in September 2006. Is it not the case that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was not Leader of the Opposition at that time? [Hon. Members: “He was.”] He was?
I am always prepared to hold a seminar on the history of foreign affairs for the benefit of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Indeed, I am about to produce my Easter reading list, and I will happily copy it to the distinguished Chairman of the Committee.
Does the Minister wish to have another go? It seems that he does not. He is right to quit while he is ahead.
I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that, as part and parcel of some of the reduction in Foreign Office input, there is apparently—so it is claimed—a compensation. As the European Scrutiny Committee has observed recently, European Union representatives are being appointed who are effectively subsuming many decisions, and unfortunately, on a confidentiality basis, are taking instructions directly from Javier Solana. Does my hon. Friend see that as a move in the right direction?
My hon. Friend always makes an interesting European point at this stage in a debate. I shall look into what he has said with a great deal of interest.
I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will join me in paying tribute to the hard work done by officials of both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID in some of the most appallingly difficult circumstances that arise in missions to Africa. Many not only experience difficult working conditions but, at times, face direct threats from local people who wish to endanger their lives.
There are now 22 African countries where Britain does not have resident diplomatic representation. We recognise that in some instances, such as Somalia, the absence of an embassy is a question of security, but, as was pointed out by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), other decisions appear to have been driven by cost. The closure of the embassy in Mali has seen Britain lose its diplomatic foothold in a strategic country that borders Algeria, Niger and Côte D’Ivoire for a saving of about a quarter of a million pounds annually.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee raised a very important point about the Africa conflict prevention pool. As Members will know, in 2006-07 it was allocated more than £64 million, but the Foreign Secretary revealed just last week in a written ministerial statement that that budget will be cut to £43 million. The Foreign Secretary has said that, on one level, the rise in our compulsory subs will more than match the fall in our discretionary subs, but many Members will nevertheless be concerned about that cut. Among other things, it involves shifting resources away from western Africa. According to the UK’s sub-Saharan strategy for conflict prevention, western Africa includes Nigeria as one of the strategy’s four key target countries. When the Minister winds up, will he confirm whether funding for programmes in Nigeria will be cut? Will he also confirm whether the Government believe they have met their specific targets for Nigeria, or have they been abandoned? In his written ministerial statement, the Foreign Secretary gave very little information about the impact this dramatic budget reduction for conflict prevention in Africa will have in the affected countries, or any details of which programmes will be cut. Will the Minister provide more information on this vital subject? Will he also say when the Government plan to publish details of the revised strategy for Africa, as well as of UK conflict prevention funding for other regions?
As the Foreign Secretary has said, those cuts have been made because of the combination of a fall in the value of sterling and a rise in the number and extent of EU and UN missions, but, nevertheless, that combination has drastically reduced the purchasing power of the Foreign Office’s budget. That decline follows the Treasury’s decision to withdraw from the overseas price mechanism, which protected the Foreign Office budget from currency fluctuations. That gives rise to the question why this impact was not foreseen and why that self-inflicted wound was allowed to be sustained. Ultimately, the impact of that means that the Foreign Office’s ability to carry out its vital work in Africa will be constrained.
The Foreign Secretary also knows that we believe that the Government have not paid sufficient attention to the opportunities presented by the Commonwealth, which has 18 member states in Africa. Sadly, the only place where the Commonwealth was mentioned in the FCO’s most recent strategic plan was in the title of the document. It is striking that a country such as Rwanda, which has no historical ties to Britain, is currently seeking membership of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth offers Britain the chance to widen its circle of influence, as it can be used to strengthen relations in Africa, and such partnerships are crucial to promoting good governance based on the values we espouse.
Let me now briefly turn to some specific areas of concern. The importance of the UK pursuing an active and consistent policy is nowhere more apparent than in the horn of Africa. In this Chamber and in Westminster Hall we have had a series of debates on the situation in Somalia, Yemen and the gulf of Aden. Ungoverned regions are providing opportunities for al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks to consolidate, raise money and plan operations. There are reports that the money that pirates extract through hijackings is helping to pay for the war in Somalia. While there is no sign of a strategic alliance between the pirates and Somali Islamists, that future possibility cannot be excluded. In the same way as drug trafficking and production have been funding the Taliban in Afghanistan, the loot from piracy could be used to finance radicals in the region. It is therefore crucial to prevent such a link from being established, and everything must be done to ensure that that unstable region does not turn into a failed one, with the consequences reaching far beyond the horn of Africa. When the Minister replies, I hope he will be able to tell us in more detail about the Government’s strategy for the region and their attitude towards the increase in piracy.
I am sure that many colleagues will be eager to mention the dreadful situation in Darfur, which, tragically, is now in its sixth year. Following the expulsion of the 13 largest aid agencies by President Bashir, it is estimated that water shortages will occur in the next two to four weeks and more than 1 million people will not have food by May. The Foreign Secretary has emphasised the pressure that the Government, along with our partners, are trying to bring to bear on the Government of President Bashir, and we support that. Can the Minister give us any hope that that pressure will lead to any attempts by the Sudanese Government to reverse their decision? Does he not agree that this callous act by President Bashir compounds the situation and makes life even worse for the poor people living there? Surely we can also all say that we support the action taken by the International Criminal Court to place President Bashir in the dock, and that we should resist any proposed delay under article 16 of the Rome statute that would allow him to escape the due processes of justice.
I also wish to raise the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although we welcome the capture of Laurent Nkunda in Rwanda in January and the signature in Goma of peace agreements between the Congolese Government and the CNDP, and the Government and other armed groups in North Kivu and South Kivu, on 23 March, the immediate protection of the civilian population remains uncertain. When does the Minister expect the 3,100 additional forces for the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which were authorised by UN resolution 1843 on 20 November, to be deployed? The resolution calls for “immediate deployment”, but some four months have now passed, so what progress has been made in eliciting commitments from countries to offer peacekeeping troops for the mission?
I come to what we believe British policy towards Africa should be and how it should be underpinned by five important guiding principles—on this, we come very close to the line taken by the Foreign Secretary. The first principle is that we must recognise that we need African-led solutions to the region’s problems if the solutions are to endure and to have legitimacy.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I always chunter. He talks about “African-led solutions”, and we have to do a lot more on those, particularly in helping people in civil society to be active across the board. Perhaps he will join me in congratulating VSO Jitolee—the Kenyan independent Voluntary Services Overseas organisation—which is organising the work of internal volunteers. People from Kenya are volunteering to work not only all around Africa, but in Kenya itself, to go to different communities in order to build up greater knowledge and understanding of different tribes, and of the benefits of working together. That is the way in which Africa will be able to build its resilience against conflict, because such volunteering will make sure that the ordinary people make their difference, while the politicians continue to do nothing in countries such as Kenya.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention; she has taken a long interest in this area and I concur with what she said. “African-led solutions to the region’s problems” can be very trite phrase, but we know that the problems in the two major conflict zones where British troops are involved—Iraq and Afghanistan—can be properly resolved only by building up the local institutions, both at the government and at the voluntary level.
The Minister of State in another place, who has enormous experience in the region, has invested a great deal of time in promoting peaceful resolutions of the crises in Kenya and Zimbabwe, and in persuading Zimbabwe’s neighbours to take a more active role. The condemnation of the Mugabe regime by Botswana sent a powerful signal and was, in many respects, a turning point. South Africa, in particular, has the capacity to take a decisive leadership role in the region, as does the Southern African Development Community as a whole. We also welcome the emergence of a new role for a former UN Secretary-General, as a heavyweight regional leader and statesman who has been prepared to put his experience and skill to use in mediating in crises; we hope that Mr. Annan will continue to make a valuable contribution and that he will be joined by others.
The second principle that should guide British policy towards Africa is that we must promote good governance and the rule of law, while recognising, as perhaps we should, that in many countries in Africa local people demand security more than anything else—that is not necessarily the same as good governance and the rule of law.
It is a very difficult thing for any western Government to square that, but we should recognise that sometimes establishing security first is the most important priority.
Britain has made, and can make, a valuable contribution to reforming civil institutions such as the police and judiciary by sharing our experience and best practice. Strengthening rights for citizens and democratic institutions is the best way to ensure that countries become increasingly capable of resolving their own disputes.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and successive Governments have tried to do that. It is not easy. Other hon. Members have far more experience than I do, but when I have talked to the non-governmental organisations, they say that money should be put in at the bottom end rather than the top end, where a considerable cut can be taken.
Thirdly, we must promote human rights. The current arrest warrant for President Bashir, in relation to crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, is an important milestone in this respect—[Interruption.] If I were still teaching at Sandhurst, I would tell those two cadets on the Labour Benches to pipe down. It is rude and they should pull themselves together—
On the issue of corruption, does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of the problem in incredibly poor countries is that the Government may have insufficient funds to pay realistic salaries to those who head the judiciary? A fallible judiciary leads to many miscarriages of justice in those countries. Does he support the initiative by this Government and many others to support the development of judiciaries, so that they can pave the way to better justice and help to root out corruption?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point, and the same is true for the police. Sometimes a culture develops—and it has happened in Europe, too—in which taking what we would now call bribes is part and parcel of a system in which officers are not paid very much. There is no easy or quick fix for that.
Fourthly, we need to continue to address the peacekeeping deficit in Africa. A worrying pattern has emerged of under-resourced African Union peacekeeping forces, well below their mandated strength. It is crucial for additional AU capacity and expertise to be built, not just in terms of troops on the ground for stabilisation and peacekeeping missions, but in logistics, funding, training and civilian policing operations. The shortage of helicopters has already been mentioned.
Finally, our policy must be underpinned by a clear conception of the UK national interest—not just our narrow national interest, but that which is served by helping the countries of Africa—which will best be served by investment, enhanced trade, cultural exchanges, the sharing of best practice in health, the environment and education, and where appropriate, military-to-military training and assistance. We must also recognise that much of the heavy lifting is being done by a wide variety of NGOs, which succeed often despite the best efforts of donor countries and local Governments.
African countries have gone through turbulent decades over the past 50 years. They will face further desperate challenges ahead, and we have it in our power to help them. At the same time we must have faith in the Governments who can deliver a better future for their people, and at times we must try to encourage them in what we would call best practice. They are not perfect, but the examples of Ghana, Botswana and Liberia remind us of the opportunities that are so often denied to the citizens of the wider continent by their own leaders. We should therefore continue to stand by to help them move away from instability, poverty and coups towards good governance and the rule of law. I welcome the debate and look forward to hearing the contributions of colleagues from all parties.
I shall limit myself to three specific subjects that I believe to be worthy of attention, which were addressed most eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I must add, to be fair, that some of them were also addressed by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson).
If time allows, I hope to look in some detail at the specific problems faced by Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but first I want to discuss the effect that the recent global downturn has had on the continent of Africa. This month, the Overseas Development Institute published a paper entitled “A Development Charter for the G-20”. It looks broadly at the impact of the downturn on the developing world as a whole and sets out a list of key recommendations for ensuring that some of its worst effects are neutralised, with safeguards put in place to ensure that they do not happen in future.
I found it very worrying that the report stated that the share of the people in the world who live in hunger is set once more to go over the 1 billion mark. That means that one in six people living in the world today will be hungry and struggling for survival. Imagine, Madam Deputy Speaker, if one in six people in a developed country lived in hunger. Imagine if it were one in 12, or even one in 50. The chances are that the repercussions would bring down any Government of the day.
In Africa, as ever, the effects of the global downturn are set to hit home even harder. At first, some thought that many African economies that were not so keen as others to enter into the supposedly advanced integrated financial markets were insulated from the initial effects of the credit crunch. However, the resulting fall in demand has hit exports and now, as elsewhere, local banks are unwilling to lend. Some $50 billion is set to be wiped off the value of sub-Saharan Africa’s economy alone.
Another problem is the large number of families in many African countries who rely on remittances from relatives abroad to help provide food and clothing. In some countries, that can statistically make up a surprisingly high percentage of the economy. Consequently, a surge in unemployment overseas can end up hurting a local economy almost as much as a surge in that country. Whereas the developed world can offer substantial stimulus packages and loan guarantee schemes, helping to build infrastructures to drive demand, cushioning the worst effects of the downturn and helping to keep credit flowing, the smaller economies of Africa, impoverished by years of debt, manifestly are not so lucky. In the developed world, such problems lead to protest, a surge in unemployment and general strikes. In some countries in Africa, the same problems can lead to famine, civil war and even complete state failure. The crisis may be worldwide, but the stakes in Africa are so much higher, and the consequences so much graver.
With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like now to move on to some of the problems faced by those who live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the east of the country. I want to look at the issue seriously, not just because of the 1 million internally displaced persons in North Kivu and not just because I feel that the current situation there has repercussions not just for the DRC but for the whole region, but because the problem has a major impact on the international community, as the DRC is home to MONUC—the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission.
The House will know that recently, the Governments of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC worked together to help to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army—the rebel movement located in the east of the country that was largely responsible for the surge in internally displaced people around North Kivu last year. Considering that the DRC has in recent times not just had what might be called frosty relations with its neighbours, but has in fact been engaged in all-out war with them, we can understand the scepticism of international observers and the local population about the sight of soldiers from Uganda and Rwanda entering the DRC. However, by most accounts, the surge against the LRA has been judged by others to be a success. There was evidence of countries co-ordinating their military tactics, and although not destroyed, the LRA’s fighting force and capabilities are much reduced.
When the armies of Uganda and Rwanda were asked to leave, they left. Putting aside for a second the reason why they were asked to leave, and the repercussions, I feel that that in itself shows how Governments in the region are now demonstrating a commitment to long-term stability, realising that peace in the region will lead to increased prosperity for everyone—again, for the many, not the few.
Where, we might ask in the midst of all the fighting, is MONUC? Surely, the world’s largest peacekeeping force has had a role to play. Alas, no. One of the many concerns when foreign troops first set foot on DRC soil was a lack of communication about their plans and their intentions. Of course, it quickly became clear that, although the armies of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC were to some extent co-ordinating their efforts, no one was talking to MONUC. What does that say about the UN and its relevance in the modern world? I ask that question as a supporter of the organisation.
When a collection of Governments are willing to contribute troops for a peacekeeping force, what better organisation to co-ordinate and carry out the mission than the UN? The DRC and the whole region have put their differences aside in that conflict, to focus their aims on a greater goal. In my view, the UN deserves our full support to do its job.
I now wish to turn briefly to Sudan.
I am interested in what my right hon. Friend is saying. Before he leaves the subject of the Congo, does he also think that one of the contributory factors to the appalling violence and attacks, particularly on women, in the east has been the amount of money made illicitly from the mining industry, which leads to illicit exports from the Congo—and, indeed, funds a great deal of the unrest and horror that is going on? Does he not think that transparency in mineral extraction is very important?
I do indeed, and that is one of the reasons why I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at an early stage. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). I was saying that we ought to focus on the role of the UN, and I referred to a situation in which a collection of Governments were willing to contribute troops to a peacekeeping force. I repeated my strong view that the United Nations ought to be pivotal in that.
I wish to turn briefly to the issue of Sudan. I will keep my comments short, but I find recent developments too much of a worry to allow them to pass without scrutiny, and I am extremely pleased that the issue has already been raised on both sides of the Chamber. Recently, the International Criminal Court issued and stated its commitment to an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. On hearing of the warrant, Bashir expelled 13 foreign aid organisations and three local ones, largely from Darfur. There are more than a million people in Sudan who rely on that aid. The consequences for them are absolutely dire. It is a wholly unacceptable situation, and I am glad that the House appears to be united in its approach, and in its anger.
Meanwhile, Bashir flouts the travel rule in his arrest warrant by visiting countries not covered by the ICC, such as Egypt and Libya, and does so with impunity. That is all happening while a million people go without food, and much more. We are still waiting for the full deployment of the promised UN peacekeeping force. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), could in his winding-up speech perhaps give us an update on any proposed timetable for deployment of the full peacekeeping force. May I also ask whether any discussions have taken place within the international community about when those expelled aid organisations can get back to work? I do not wish to sideline the importance of the International Criminal Court, but surely those factors must remain our priority, arrest warrant or no arrest warrant. The international community has made a commitment to the people of Sudan not to sit idly by. It really is time to deliver on that commitment.
The Government’s rising levels of aid funding, their record on rescheduling debt and their many other actions on overseas aid matters have shown that we are willing to put our money where our mouth is in terms of our responsibility to developing countries—but the truth is that without stability and lasting peace, we cannot tackle the problems with aid and trade alone, important though they are, let alone meet our commitments to the millennium development goals.
It is easy to become sentimental about Africa—about its people, its beauty, its wildlife and its natural resources—but the plain and simple fact is that a practical response is required to all the problems that we have been debating. Alan Paton’s “Cry, the Beloved Country”, Robert Ruark’s “Something of Value” and Trevor Huddleston’s “Naught for Your Comfort” still offer inspiration, but time is running short.
May I begin by apologising on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey)? He would have liked to have been here, but unavoidably cannot be present.
The title of the debate is very broad. We welcome the debate, and the opportunity to raise a number of issues. I was pleased to hear what the Secretary of State had to say, and his identification of four key themes—governance, conflict prevention, trade and aid, and the absolutely important issue of climate change and its impact on Africa. Before I give some thoughts and commentary on that, I want to make the point that Africa is such a huge subject that it is impossible for any one speaker, or indeed any one debate, to deal adequately with all aspects of it. It is a continent, not a country. I was impressed to see that if the United States, China, India and all 27 European Union countries were all fitted into Africa, there would still be space left for Argentina and New Zealand. It is a huge continent, not a country.
Indeed, there are 50 countries in Africa, and I am not sure that some of them would want to have been dismissed as being the northern fringes, as they were by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) from the Conservative Front Bench. Africa is a continent of diverse cultures, languages, histories and stages of development. It is important that we do not make the mistake of thinking that there is one common problem facing Africa, and it would be extremely arrogant to suppose that there was one common solution.
I begin by celebrating some of the successes that there have been on the continent. The Secretary of State pointed out that there had been significant economic progress, and progress in tackling the millennium development goals. There has been significant progress on governance as well. The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk name-checked a number of them. He mentioned South Africa, where the transition from a warped past to an exciting future has been dramatic, and surely beyond the imagination of those of us who saw it starting 25 years ago. It is now a significant regional power and a vibrant democracy, with which I hope the United Kingdom Government will continue to develop an active partnership in tackling some of the problems in other countries around the continent.
Turning to the subject of Ghana, I have in my constituency a close relative of former President Kufuor of Ghana. I was speaking to my constituent a week or two ago and expecting him to be suitably downcast at the defeat of his uncle and his political party in the elections in December, but he was quite cheerful. He said to me, “We are the only country in Africa with three presidents alive and well and living as free men in a free country.” He is proud of that transition and of what has happened, and is looking forward very positively to the future of that country’s governance.
But even in the most successful countries, there remain serious challenges—poverty, disease and the lack of access to basic services such as water and sanitation, health and education. In countries that do not have the benefit of good governance, where war and conflict are endemic or where governance is either notional or despotic, those problems can quickly become overwhelming. The attention of the House in this debate is, rightly, focusing on those areas.
Seventy per cent. of the population of Africa live on $1 a day or less—that is, 600 million people or more, 10 times the population of the United Kingdom. Ninety per cent. of the population of Africa, 850 million people, live on $2 a day. That is despite 7 per cent. economic growth in 2007, a growth performance that it is predicted will halve in the current financial year—and who can say that it will not be worse in the year beyond? Making Africa’s population secure and prosperous means tackling the very steep barriers to success.
High among those barriers is the impact of conflicts in states and between states. I shall not rehearse or name-check all that there are, but clearly the disputes in the great lakes region are extremely serious, and have cost millions of lives over the past decade. Darfur and the rest of Sudan is another area of great tension and difficulty, and Somalia, too, has been mentioned. In all those places there has been a failure of governance and a failure to control the outbreak of conflicts.
If conflict is a problem, so too is poor and despotic governance. Zimbabwe is close to the hearts of many Members, but we also have to remember Somalia and other places that get on to our radar less often. Despotic overpowering government is dangerous, and so is weak and ineffective governance.
That issue leads straight on to the health deficit, which has already been mentioned, and is one of the targets of the millennium development goals. HIV/AIDS affects more than 16 per cent. of the population of South Africa between the ages of 15 and 49; in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland the proportion is well over 20 per cent. In some ways, HIV/AIDS is the fashionable disease to talk about, but we also need to recognise that malaria is a major killer in Africa, particularly west and central Africa. Tackling those health deficits is clearly of the utmost priority in both the successful and the less successful nations of Africa.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the importance of bed nets for children in Africa to sleep under at night? The bed net reduces the bites inflicted on a child from an astonishing 4,000 to 40 per night, and it increases the chances of their surviving or avoiding malaria by a factor of about five. Are bed nets not one of the single best remedies for the problem?
My right hon. Friend has a lot of experience in these matters and he is absolutely right. The sad thing is that the remedy of bed nets costs little compared with some of the high-cost drugs needed to tackle other diseases and plagues.
I turn quickly to the impact of climate change and soil exhaustion, which has not yet been mentioned in this debate. In the Sahel region and elsewhere, major problems are caused by climate change, over-cropping and overgrazing. Those problems will undoubtedly result in a reduction of the ability of the land to maintain and produce food for the populations of those areas. There are many other impacts across the whole continent. However, the new factor, which should surely be at the centre of the response from the Government and this country now, is the worldwide recession. The Secretary of State referred to the loss of markets and the decline in international prices for some of the agricultural and mineral products of the African continent.
However, there is also the drop, which has already started, in the support given by rich nations to development in Africa; the cut in aid announced by the Italian Government is perhaps the first and most obvious example. Furthermore, there is the parallel situation that we face in this country, given the declining value of the pound against both the dollar and the euro. Those factors lead to a reduction in African nations’ purchasing power for health and investment—a drop in Government income, and in the profitability of trade and industrial concerns in those countries leads to a drop in taxation income. The Secretary of State also rightly mentioned the loss of remittances.
There can be not only a two-way but a four-way hit for many of the African nations. Such issues present huge challenges to their leadership; continuing to provide security for the people and an environment that can deliver health, education and prosperity for all citizens is an almost impossible task. Those nations need help individually and collectively, and I ask the Government to give assurances about how the United Kingdom will work, both bilaterally—one-to-one with the different nations who need it—and multilaterally.
I also ask the Government to acknowledge the successes. Please let us not develop a series of policies that reward only failure in Africa; this issue is not all about emergency aid and peace initiatives, important though those are. Even in Ghana, there is drastic poverty, together with serious malaria infestations and an absence of sanitation and drainage in large parts of the country. These countries must not be forgotten in the rush to the emergency situations.
I want the Government to give an assurance that they will safeguard the United Kingdom’s aid contribution. I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), will wind up the debate, because he was kind enough to answer a question that I asked in International Development questions, when he said very robustly that the Government intend to maintain their support. Can he explain how he will do that if the purchasing power of Britain’s aid budget is dropping by 30 per cent.? If the United Kingdom’s output dropped by 1.6 per cent. in the last quarter of last year, that means that 0.7 per cent. of GDP will be a smaller sum of money when we achieve that target. It would be somewhat ironic, when a new President in the United States is turning things round in US development policy and budgets, if European Union countries, particularly the United Kingdom, were to find that they were making a shrinking contribution. Have the Government, in bringing forward huge rescue packages to get the UK economy going again, given any consideration to top-slicing some of that—let us say by 0.7 per cent.—to facilitate such recovery in African and other developing nations?
I hope that the Minister can pick up on another point of great importance: capacity building in the African nations. Governance and the development of civic society have already been mentioned. I am sure that he will have heard, at least informally, from the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), who has regaled me with his view that what the countries of Africa need is more accountants. That is not the most obvious deficit that one would envisage, but in order to have good taxation policy and good financial control, good accountants are needed. Capacity building is about sending people not only to dig wells but to train others in the basic infrastructure of good governance.
Will the Government tackle the vulture funds? Many HIPCs—heavily indebted poor countries—find that their debt has been forgiven as a result of Gleneagles and other initiatives but that their inward investment is still blocked because of the action of vulture funds in buying up the debt that they have left behind at a discounted rate and pursuing that through the courts. I believe that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) has a ten-minute Bill on the issue, but it would be good to hear from the Minister that he is looking hard at it and will consider introducing legislation to tackle it.
Then there is the question of how the United Kingdom will exercise its influence through the European Union in relation to the extended World Trade Organisation dialogue and resolving the issues of the Doha round. A key point is empowering the African Governments to be able to punch their weight and exercise their power in that negotiation when it comes and as it goes on. Having raised that with the Department for International Development, I was disappointed to hear about the miserly allocation made towards empowering African Governments. We had one person seconded to Geneva to assist the developing nations in advancing their case at the WTO. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a picture of a more robust and wholehearted response.
It is widely acknowledged that Africa will miss the millennium development goals that have been set. It will therefore be necessary to redouble the support for tackling the health deficit in HIV and AIDS, for instance. In the past two years, the South African Government have finally acknowledged what the risks and solutions could be as regards that scourge in South Africa. With the incoming Government in the United States, we have seen a change of heart there which means that there will be a more robust response. I would welcome a reaffirmation from the Minister that, just at the moment when those two important influences on tackling vigorously the problem of AIDS in Africa are coming round in the right direction, he will not be deflected by voices calling for a retreat from doing so.
On malaria, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) mentioned the value of nets—a very simple and practical solution. The need for sanitation and clean drinking water is clearly vital in many nations given the existence of other widespread diseases, particularly those which are water-borne. I want to hear the Minister say that he will not allow a focus on particular nations in Africa that face extraordinary problems divert him and the Government from continuing to support sanitation and drinking water programmes in some of the other African nations. We must not finish up with an aid programme that rewards the failures.
Several comments have been made about peacekeeping. I very much welcome what the Secretary of State said about the UK’s intentions in that respect.
I thank the hon. Lady; it is helpful to have the opportunity to explain what I mean. It is absolutely right that we should continue to give a high priority to emergency aid and to peacekeeping initiatives and operations, and I hope that I have already said so. However, I also want it to be recognised that in a country such as Ghana, the level of poverty, the shortage of clean drinking water and the shortage of sanitation are as acute as they are in some of the headline nations where aid is focused. Looking across the whole of Africa, it is absolutely right, if we want the millennium development goals to be reached, that we do not just pick up on the headline countries and forget those that are not on the radar of our newspaper front pages.
I want to turn to the peacekeeping initiatives and the matters mentioned by the Secretary of State in that regard. It is absolutely right that we should offer training and support, and that we should be paying our subscriptions and seeing that that money is put to good use in ensuring that peacekeeping forces are effective and fully staffed. He will know that those forces are undermanned and underperforming in the DRC and in Darfur. I am sure that he would want to say that other nations need to understand the importance of supporting such operations, but I would like to believe that the UK will extend the help and support that it is giving to those operations, ensuring that everything is done to make them effective. We can all think of plenty of places where further peacekeeping efforts might be needed and larger forces might be appropriate, but if we cannot even staff and make effective the ones that we have now, we will not have the opportunity to do any of these things in an imaginative way.
I want to hear that the Minister and the Government as a whole take arms control and arms sales seriously. I hope that they were as dismayed as I was to hear about the huge success of the IDEX arms export fair in Abu Dhabi, bearing in mind that that is where many of the arms used in the conflicts that we have discussed are bought. Some 5 million people have been killed in the great lakes region, and 1 million in Darfur—more people have been killed in Africa in the past decade than in the whole of world war two. It is essential that the Government put principle before profit and make sure that we are not putting highly explosive fuel on to any of those fires.
Yes, I fear that the hon. Gentleman is right. I hope that, among other things, the United Kingdom will operate through the international community to bring some international control to the wholesale and retail of such arms.
Over the past decade, the doctrine of the right to protect has been increasingly acknowledged internationally, and I hope that the Government will work harder to get that doctrine codified and accepted, alongside the regional powers in Africa—I mentioned South Africa, but Nigeria is an important player. Perhaps, as was recently implied by the report of the Select Committee on International Development, we need to work with China, although such work will require a good deal of care and a framework for such an approach.
Africa is not a disaster, it is not a failure and it is not a lost cause, but it requires help and investment, good governance, healthy trade and well-targeted aid to provide for its many diverse communities and nations. I hope that the Government will play a strong, positive role in achieving that in the next decade.
I apologise for not being able to be present for the winding-up speeches; I have an engagement which I regret to say I cannot get out of.
I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said, especially about the need to build strong institutions in Africa. On the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) about the tension that might exist between the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I was a Minister in both Departments, and although there was a little bit of tension occasionally during my time, by and large we worked extremely well together and always pulled in the same direction. I doubt that that has changed all that much. When I was the Minister responsible for Africa at the Foreign Office, I enjoyed a good relationship with the then Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn).
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) is right to remind us to bear in mind that Africa is not one country, but 50 countries, that it is an extremely diverse continent and that we should beware of generalisations, although there are certain issues common to many parts of the country, which he touched upon. When talking about Africa, there is a danger of giving the impression that we can sort out all of its problems. We cannot; it is a matter for Africans, by and large. We can help, but it is for Africans to take the lead and for us to help. We can help only those who want to be helped and who demonstrate by their actions that they care about the welfare of their people. We must, of course, avoid hectoring, lecturing and patronising, which only rubs Africans up the wrong way. Nevertheless, we should not appease the unappeasable or make excuses for behaviour by corrupt elites that would not be acceptable in any other part of the world. There is a balance to be struck. We do not always get it right, but we must try.
If I learned one thing during the two happy years in which I was Minister with responsibility for Africa at the Foreign Office, it was that there is no shortage of decent, capable African leaders who care about their continent and the condition of their fellow citizens. Some of the most respected public figures on the planet are Africans, such as Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu. Our task is to encourage the good and discourage the bad, but we cannot do the job for Africans: it is for them to take the lead.
Several speakers have touched on the issues already, and they can be simply set out. In the short term, as the Foreign Secretary and others have said, we need to do what we can to help the poorest countries—many of which are in Africa—to get through the current world economic crisis, which is likely to hit them much harder than many of us. We must ensure that that issue is considered at the forthcoming G20 summit.
Considerable progress has been made on debt relief over the years, on which we have probably gone almost as far as we can for the time being, because we can offer such relief only to countries that demonstrate that they will spend the proceeds on the welfare of their people. There is no point in providing debt relief, as we are sometimes urged to do, to countries where the proceeds are used to fund either civil wars or corruption. Nevertheless, considerable progress has been made in that area, and one of the biggest pieces of progress made in my time at the Foreign Office was the renegotiation of the vast Nigerian debt of $35 billion. There was some element of relief involved in that, but we expected a large amount of it to be paid as well. That was a major step forward, and we played a positive role in encouraging our allies to engage with the Nigerians, and in encouraging the Nigerians to engage with the creditor countries.
We have a role to play in conflict resolution. I am sorry to say that the great disasters people have referred to—in Darfur, with the depredations of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda and now, unfortunately, in the Central African Republic and the Congo—are matters on which I feel we could have done more, but for the fact that we became so heavily bogged down in the Iraq enterprise. Sadly, some of the people of Darfur, and perhaps those of northern Uganda, are collateral damage caused by the huge diversion of resources into the war in Iraq. We could have done a lot more, in my view. Rightly, we encouraged the African Union to take the lead, and provided it with capacity. We recognised at the outset, however, that it did not have the means to cope, and we asked it to do more than it was capable of. It could have done not just with logistical help, but with personnel from our armed forces in some capacity or other. They could have made a big impact on some of those peacekeeping missions.
I understand the significance of the hon. Gentleman’s point, but in referring to what is taking place in Iraq and its diversionary impact, he used the past tense. Does he agree that it is not too late for us to repent and significantly upscale our actions in seeking the sort of alleviation that is still required in Darfur?
It is too early to say that for sure. We have heavy commitments in Afghanistan—a different issue from that of Iraq and I do not seek to suggest that the two are the same—but I hope that eventually we will be able to play directly a more positive role in some of the major peacekeeping forces in Africa, particularly those in the Congo and Darfur. Perhaps too, if they want it, we may give the Ugandans help in dealing with the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the very fact of the UK’s considerable commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan has induced, and required, many countries that had thus far remained outside peacekeeping forces to join those forces? Even though their countries may be committed to supporting Iraq and Afghanistan, they lacked the military capacity or experience to do so.
Yes, that may be true. I do not want to go too far down that road; I made my point in passing.
To return to the generic issues, we all know that there has so far been very little progress on tariff reform. It is vital that industrialised countries sweep away the barriers to the import of goods from Africa and some of the subsidies in Europe and America that make African goods uncompetitive, particularly agricultural products. It is crazy that some of the most fertile countries in Africa are importing from heavily subsidised, first world farmers food that they could easily grow themselves.
HIV/AIDS and malaria, which the hon. Member for Hazel Grove was right to mention, are a vast problem, especially in southern Africa, but they are one of the matters on which considerable progress has been made. As I believe the Foreign Secretary said, 3 million Africans are now on antiretroviral drugs, and I am glad to say that the South African Government have given up their head-in-the-sand approach to AIDS, so progress is being made there. Large resources have been made available, especially by the United States, and there are tentative signs that the tide may be turning, although the Pope’s recent remarks were not very helpful.
Non-governmental organisations and others always call for more development aid, but there are limits to what it can achieve. Properly regulated, the private sector is far more effective as a means of creating prosperity. Besides creating a safety net for the poorest, the primary role of the state is to create the conditions—above all, the rule of law—that make African economies attractive to outside investment. That is why, in recent years, British aid has rightly been concentrated on trying to provide the expertise that enables African countries to govern themselves effectively. I believe that that is called capacity building. For example, it has been mentioned that we are training African peacekeepers. In fact, we have helped to set up a military academy in Ghana. That is exactly what we should be doing.
We can help to establish, as the Crown agents have in Angola and Mozambique, an effective taxation system so that the state has available to it resources that can be invested in education and health. Once Governments have the ability to provide basic services for their own people, instead of just stopping things happening they can make things happen. Gradually they will win the respect of their people, who will begin to have faith in the democratic process.
As others have said, the one issue that dominates all others in Africa is governance. As long as corrupt elites with no concern for the welfare of their countries continue to pillage them, large parts of Africa will continue to go backwards and no amount of outside assistance will make the blindest bit of difference. I had the privilege of attending on behalf of the Government the inauguration of the wonderful woman who was elected President of Liberia. I have not been to Somalia, but Liberia is probably the most devastated country that I have ever visited. She said in her inauguration speech, “Liberia is not a poor country. Liberia is a rich county that has been grievously mismanaged.” That is true of much of the rest of the continent.
The need for accountable government is the single greatest issue facing Africans. There are rays of light here and there, and Members have referred to them—Botswana, Ghana, Tanzania, even Nigeria on a good day—but Presidents who leave office voluntarily and Governments who accept defeat at the ballot box remain the exception rather than the rule. Africa desperately needs institutions that are stronger than the individuals who from time to time preside over them. There are still too many leaders who come to power uttering fine, democratic sentiments and introduce constitutions limiting incumbents to two terms of office, but who end up becoming Presidents for life and ruining their countries.
I was present at the African Union summit in Addis a few years ago when Kofi Annan addressed it. He had in front of him many of the big offenders, including General Eyadéma from Togo, President Bongo, Mr. Mugabe—they were all there. He looked them in the eye and said, “One of the tests of leadership is knowing when it’s time to leave office.” Then President Chissano of Mozambique got up. He was leaving office voluntarily, and he pointed at some of those guys and said, “And we all know who Kofi was talking about, don’t we?” It was an electric moment.
China has been referred to only briefly in the debate, but we have to engage with it. We cannot let it become a neo-colonial power in Africa, seeing it simply as a means of finding raw materials as we did in years gone by. One thing that has undermined our efforts, especially in trying to encourage African countries to be transparent about their dealings with the extractive industries, is that just when we get to the point where the country—for example, Angola—is about to sign an agreement to be transparent, along comes China and offers a large, no-conditions, no-questions-asked loan. If that becomes the norm, it will undermine all the progress that has been achieved.
In Darfur, where I have to say the Chinese have occasionally played a positive role, we cannot allow them to buy all Sudan’s oil and then take no interest in what the Sudanese Government do to their own people. The only way around that is to engage with China. It is going to be a world power, which we welcome, but with that comes responsibility. I think that the Chinese are beginning to recognise that. Their Africa Minister was here a while ago and was saying some of the right things.
Forgive me, I will not; I am running out of time.
Finally, I wish to make one tentative point. The failed state will be one of the great challenges of the 21st century. To be honest, in some states the scale of the failure will be too great for us to be able to do much about it. However, there are countries that no amount of one-off intervention can rescue. We may have to cast aside our liberal instincts and go for something more drastic one day—rule by UN mandate, perhaps for a generation, subject of course to referendums of the local people at regular intervals to check that that is what they want. I stayed with the American ambassador in Liberia—Ambassador Blaney, a very brave man who saved Liberia from the ultimate catastrophe—and that was his view. Liberia was then on its fourth outside intervention. It now has breathing space and a wonderful woman President who must be given all the help that she needs, but if there were a fifth or sixth failure, there would come a point at which we would have to say, “We cannot carry on like this.” If Sierra Leone were to go under again, we would have to cast aside our liberal instincts, which are all in the opposite direction, and recognise that something different had to be tried if we were to make a difference. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it will not solve vast problems such as those in the Congo or even Somalia, but for some of the smaller African states and perhaps one or two elsewhere—I believe that it happened in East Timor for a while—it will have to be contemplated.
Order. Since the time limit was imposed on this debate, the number of people seeking to catch my eye has reduced, for a number of reasons. I therefore plan to raise the limit again to 17 minutes.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who is a distinguished former Africa Minister. His stature in Africa raised him considerably above the foothills, if I may give his book a plug. He, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) and the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) all expressed the concern, which I share, that Governments may resile from or let slip their commitments on aid or debt relief. He and others emphasised the importance of peacekeeping and help on that front. However, I wish to focus exclusively on the importance of trade for Africa.
Trade has been the route taken by the most successful developing countries in moving from poverty to prosperity. Korea and China in Asia and Brazil in Latin America, have shown that it is possible to trade out of poverty. That will ultimately be the route that Africa will have to follow. However, it is harder for the late starters to do that, because they have to compete with those ahead of them, who have already accumulated a critical industrial mass and the economies of agglomeration that go with it, yet still have low incomes and pay rates to compete with. Moreover, the poorest countries, the majority of which are in Africa, are poor because they typically face the greatest natural obstacles—lack of natural ports and navigable rivers, and a shortage of roads, railways and so on to get to market. It is therefore intolerable that we in the rich world add to those problems by retaining tariffs, quotas, subsidies and rules, which make it even more difficult for them to export their goods, enter our markets and trade out of poverty.
That is why, last week, four distinguished Members of Parliament—the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), a former Secretary of State for International Development; the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), a long-standing spokesman and former leader of the Liberal Democrat party; the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), a former trade and Foreign Office Minister; and Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, the recipient of a UNICEF award for his contribution to solutions for Africa’s children, as well as my humble self, a one-time development economist and subsequently trade Minister—launched a campaign to help the poorest countries, mostly in Africa, to trade out of poverty. Trade Out of Poverty is the name of the campaign and the all-party group, which we formed—I urge hon. Members to support it. We may be unlikely bedfellows, but we are united in a common commitment to bring to trade the same passion to mobilise public support as Make Poverty History brought to aid and Drop the Debt brought to debt relief.
We began by writing to the leaders of the G20, asking them to put Trade Out of Poverty on the agenda and to urge their countries, severally or collectively, unconditionally to open their markets to all the poorest countries, simplify their trade rules, end subsidies that hit the exports and trade of the poorest countries, help poor countries replace the high tariffs that they impose on each other with other sources of revenue, and invest in the physical and organisational infrastructure that those countries need if they are to take advantage of the opportunities that opening up our markets will give them.
It might seem quixotic to choose this conjuncture, when the developed world is suffering genuine pain, and the recession and the credit crunch have meant a revival of protectionism. Indeed, the World Trade Organisation has joined the World Bank in pointing out that countries have already begun surreptitiously to introduce protectionist measures. No fewer than 17 of the G20 countries have, since the last meeting of the G20, at which they unanimously endorsed a commitment to withstand the pressures of protectionism, introduced measures designed to undermine trade and protect their domestic markets. However, we know that in the 1930s, protection, far from helping countries recover, prolonged and deepened the slump. The poorest countries, then as always, suffered most from that prolonged recession. It is therefore even more important that we in the rich countries turn the tide against protectionism by opening our markets more liberally to the poorest countries of the world, especially the countries of Africa.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful and legitimate point, which I support. Does he also acknowledge that, in Africa, the internal barriers to trade also cause massive depression and that, in many cases, unlocking them would make those countries better able to trade, especially with the sort of support that his group offers?
That is one of the five points that we advocate and that I shall outline shortly.
We believe that we can take steps at little or no cost to us. The poorest countries have one fifth of the population of the world, but account for only a fiftieth of its trade. By no stretch of the imagination are their industries a threat to ours. On the contrary, they want and need to buy more of our goods. The only thing that restricts the amount of goods that they can buy from us is their ability to pay for them by exporting to us. It is a win-win situation if we open our markets to them.
We have spelled out five steps that the rich countries can and must take to help the poorest countries in Africa trade out of poverty. First, rich countries must unconditionally open their markets to all low-income countries. We do not need to require them to reciprocate. The poor countries are understandably reluctant to open their fragile industries to the full blast of competition from the developed world. They say that most rich countries used infant industry protection when they were developing, and so ask why they should not do likewise. Plenty of economists—I am normally among their number—dispute that case and argue that it is in the interests of poor countries to liberalise their markets. That is as may be, but we should not make the best the enemy of the good by saying that, because it is in their interests to open their markets, we will not open ours to them. If we want to persuade them to be more liberal in their trading policies, we should first set an example by opening our markets to them.
Of course, the European Union, like many developed countries, already offers unconditional free access to some countries. Under the Everything but Arms agreement, we allow tariff-free, quota-free access, but only to a list of the smallest and most vulnerable countries. In Africa, the agreement excludes most of the more populous countries, such as Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya. We should offer them, too, free access to our markets. Even when we have, in theory, opened our markets for specific goods by abolishing tariffs, complex and onerous rules of origin have rendered it largely ineffective.
We collectively make decisions on trade in Europe—that may or may not be a good thing; it is not what I am arguing. If we want to liberalise access to the British market, we must persuade the EU to liberalise access collectively to the European market. I believe that there is a consensus on that, as reflected by the cross-party composition of Trade Out of Poverty, and I hope that Conservative and Labour Front Benchers will support that consensus and a move in the direction that I am outlining.
Secondly, we should simplify and make more generous the rules of origin and other trade rules that we operate. Trade increasingly involves chains of production, with a series of processes and components from a variety of countries. It is vital that African countries are enabled to participate in those chains of production. For example, America, through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, liberalised its rules of origin, which resulted in a marked increase in exports of clothing from Africa to America. Rules of origin matter.
Thirdly, we must end subsidies that damage trade and inhibit exports from the poorest countries to ours. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) mentioned the $3 billion or more subsidies that the Americans offer to maintain only 25,000 cotton manufacturing jobs—that is more than $120,000 a job. It would be easier to give those people—not all of them, only those whose product has to be dumped abroad—a stipend for a while and let them move into other activities. That dumping destroys millions of jobs and undermines millions of people’s income, especially in west Africa.
I heartily endorse the point that my right hon. Friend has just made. I probably was being slightly impatient earlier. I am a keen supporter of President Obama, but it does no harm to underline the urgency of the matter. In making the suggestion for the withdrawal of export subsidies that he has just made, will my right hon. Friend confirm that that, too, should be unconditional?
I am sure that President Obama is as relieved as I am to know that he has my hon. Friend’s support. Those subsidies should of course just go. Their removal is ultimately in the interests of taxpayers in the rich countries and would enable us both to enjoy products better produced abroad and to focus on those things that we are best at producing.
On average, the EU spends almost as much supporting every cow every day as the average income in the poor countries of the low-income group, as defined by the World Bank. That in turn inhibits those countries’ ability to compete with us. It is deplorable that the EU should have reintroduced subsidies for, say, milk powder. Milk powder is an important product that is potentially made and consumed in the developing world, but we are undermining that potential through those subsidies.
The fourth step recognises the point that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) made about the phenomenon whereby the highest tariffs that most African countries face are those that are imposed on them by their equally poor neighbours, and which they likewise impose on those neighbours. One of the reasons why African countries impose those tariffs is that doing so is one of the simplest means of obtaining the revenue to finance their activities. It behoves us in the developed world to help those countries to replace those sources of income with other sources of domestic revenue, so that they can trade more actively with each other. It is significant that 75 per cent. of the exports of European countries go to other European countries, whereas only 10 per cent. of the exports of African countries go to other African countries. The potential for trade growth within Africa is enormous if we can help countries to take that step.
The fifth and final step that we advocate is to focus investment on both physical and administrative infrastructure. In the successful countries of Asia, a high proportion of the population live near the coast, near roads or near navigable rivers. In Africa, the population is highly dispersed and often distant from any means of transport. Without improved transport infrastructure, people will not be able to get their products on to world travel routes and world markets. At present it costs less to get goods from Tokyo to Mombasa than to get them from Mombasa to Kampala. Through our efforts we must help African countries to improve their infrastructure. It is sad that in recent years the proportion of aid that has gone on infrastructure has been declining. We believe that it should be increasing; indeed, something that the Foreign Secretary said in his opening remarks leads me to believe that the Government are also of that view.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the European Union’s Everything but Arms treaty. He will be aware that the European Union has gone to considerable trouble to negotiate economic partnership agreements with various African groups. The quid pro quo from the European Union in opening up those markets will be aid in return for the damage that will be suffered, much of which could go towards the infrastructure that he mentioned. Does he not agree that such agreements must not be pushed too quickly, so that those countries can adapt to the changes that they are being asked to make?
Had the proposals that we have been advocating been introduced, it would not be necessary to move away from the Cotonou agreement, which was unconditional, but which was also ruled to be inappropriate by the World Trade Organisation because it was with a selected bunch of friendly countries, rather than with an objective category of countries. Under WTO rules, it is possible to offer preferences only if they are offered to an objective category of countries. If the EU and others agree to offer preferences to all low-income countries, they will not have to require reciprocity or negotiate economic partnership agreements and they will still be able to do what my hon. Friend suggests with any aid received.
The reason why what we advocate is now possible is that previously the category of low-income countries included India. In real politics, there was no way that we were ever going to persuade Europe, America or Japan unilaterally to open their markets to a category of countries that included India, which, although poor, was seen as a major industrial power and a threat. India has happily moved into the ranks of middle-income countries. It is now conceivable—and I believe realistic—for us to open our markets unconditionally to the remaining poor countries of the world. That is what we advocate and why we advocate it now.
What is more, what we are proposing can be done immediately. It would not require us to wait for the Doha agreement, desirable though that would be. The Doha agreement is fundamentally an agreement between the middle-income countries and the rich countries and has little or nothing to offer the poorest countries. What we are advocating can be introduced immediately by the EU, the USA or others acting alone, without waiting for the slowest ship in the convoy. That is what we should do; it is also what I hope we will do.
If we do that, the potential for Africa will be significant. We should not be too pessimistic about Africa. Different continents may have different colours of skin, but we all have the same number of grey cells and the same desire to improve the lot of our families and ourselves. We all have the same capacity for enterprise. I have no doubt that, given the opportunity and access to markets, the African countries, where I have worked and travelled in my previous careers, will in due course march on the road out of poverty via trade as we advocate.
Although it would be good to talk about Africa as a whole, I will limit my remarks to a country that I know well, which is Sierra Leone. I have probably been to Sierra Leone at least 12 times in the past four years and I think that I know it reasonably well. I want to talk about the Government’s performance in relation to Sierra Leone, to share some of my concerns about how development funding is being delivered and to offer some suggestions about how it might be improved.
I would like first to bring the House up to speed on where Sierra Leone is with respect to public service agreement 29, which relates to the eight millennium development goals. There are insufficient data in Sierra Leone for us to make any judgments about where we stand on the first goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. We have achieved the agreed target on the second millennium development goal, which is to achieve universal primary education, both in terms of primary education and net enrolment in primary education. I will talk about that a little later, because in that case the statistics are extremely deceptive.
The third millennium development goal is to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. We are seriously off track in that respect, although we look as though we are on track in terms of the ratio of girls to boys in primary education. The fourth millennium development goal is the reduction of child mortality and the under-five mortality rate. We are seriously off track on that and have made no progress. The fifth millennium development goal is to improve maternal health and the maternal mortality ratio. Once again, we are seriously off track. Indeed, Sierra Leone is still at the bottom of the world index of child and maternal mortality.
We have made progress in combating HIV/AIDS, and we have made progress on combating the prevalence of HIV among 15 to 49-year-olds—half the population of Sierra Leone is in that age range—but we will still not achieve that sixth millennium development goal. Finally, we have not delivered the seventh goal of ensuring environmental stability, and we will not do so. We have also failed to increase the proportion of the population with sustainable access to an improved source of water.
I shall provide further illustration of my narrative by giving the House some statistics. The amount of expenditure that has been given to Sierra Leone has now risen to £50 million. To put that into context, we are the biggest aid donors in Sierra Leone. It has a population of 6 million people, and we give it £50 million. Its gross domestic product is $347 million, which probably equates to about £280 million. Of the £50 million, the amount that we have given to the Sierra Leone Government in hard cash is about £13.2 million. The remaining £37 million is made up of technical assistance, humanitarian assistance, debt relief and other DFID bilateral aid from other official UK sources.
This brings me to the imputed share of the UK’s donation. I have come to know the term “imputed share” very well. It is important to me, and I have asked a series of parliamentary questions to find out what our money has been spent on. I am sure that we would all like to know that. Some of the hon. fellows who have sat on the Front Bench this afternoon—although not the hon. fellow who is there now—have been the recipients of my many written parliamentary questions on this subject. Indeed, I tend to ask rather long, detailed parliamentary questions—
It is excellent, as the hon. Gentleman says. Unfortunately, the answers to my questions are somewhat more brief than the questions, which is not the desired result. However, there was one deviation from the norm, but it simply allowed me to discover that there were not many answers to be had. It was actually an exercise in obfuscation. I wanted to know how much money was involved, who got it, how and where they spent it, and how we knew that it had been spent well. Those are the questions that interest me. The answer was, “We would like to tell you, but we give the money to a number of agencies, and they do not collect that data on our behalf.” That is where the marvellous term “imputed share” comes in.
I had some excellent answers that told me that, of the £493 million that the UK Government gave to the International Development Association—that is, the World Bank—the imputed share for education was £27 million. Great! Very good! The African Development Fund got £147 million, of which £12.9 million ended up in education. Some hon. Members will be pleased to hear that we gave the European Commission £1.123 billion, of which the imputed share for education was £9.4 million. Finally, the UK gave the United Nations Children’s Fund £19 million, of which the imputed share that went on education was £0.6 million. So, vast amounts of money are being given, but there is not an awful lot of it that we can track.
That presents me with problems. Among the 6 million people in Sierra Leone—a country pretty indicative of the five poorest countries in the world—illiteracy is a massive problem. I might appear to be going off at a tangent from the main thrust of my presentation today, but I believe that illiteracy and endemic unemployment lie at the heart of our not being able to deliver the millennium development goals.
I want to take a closer look at the primary target on which we have been able to achieve some sort of progress—namely, education. I believe that that millennium development goal was seriously flawed, and that the slavish way in which we have followed it has led to a diminution of possibilities for people in Africa. I shall explain why. We have said that we want to see more children going to primary school, but the statistics that I have just given the House show that we are not putting a huge amount into education. Nevertheless, the terribly poor countries in Africa feel that it is necessary to respond to that millennium development goal. So how are they achieving it?
Let us have a look at Sierra Leone where there is not sufficient money to build new schools. In some African countries, we have provided money specifically for that purpose, and we have seen the schools being built, but in Sierra Leone there is no money for that. There is no public sector Government budget at all; the Government cannot afford to finance any capital build. The way in which these very poor countries have sought to appease the west’s agenda on education is to put more and more children into already stuffed classrooms. When I visited Sierra Leone two years ago, I typically saw 80 children in a class, and, even though education is notionally free in some countries, the students actually have to pay between £11 and £16 a year for the privilege of going to school. However, only the children with a uniform, shoes, books, bags and pencils can go to school, which creates a barrier that precludes others from going.
More children are going to school now, but the number of children in each class has risen from 80 to 100. Let us consider the quality of education that they are getting. The millennium development goal is about getting more children into school, but 70 per cent. of the teachers in Sierra Leone are unqualified. They can read, but they take their teaching test using a standard book. Only 30 per cent. of the teachers are qualified, and, at the same time, we have seen an expansion of the number of children per class. Are those classes producing better qualified pupils? I suggest not, and the statistics say not. Only 7 per cent. of children in Sierra Leone passed their GCSE in English last year, but they need to be able to read if they are to go on into further education. That is what the country needs, but it lost that capability during the war. During that terrible strife, the nation lost the technical capacity to deliver, but if its children cannot read, it will not be able to regain that capacity. The 70 per cent. of teachers who are untrained are now being trained, but they are expected to deliver more education to bigger classes.
As a consequence, a big private sector in education is emerging. In Sierra Leone, where many people earn less than a dollar a day, the people who earn a dollar are much richer than those earning half a dollar. They see their children going off to school and they wonder what kind of education they are receiving. They say to themselves, “For a few extra leones a week, I could get access to a private school.” In countries where we are not investing a substantial amount of money in teacher education—alongside the development of physical capacity in the shape of buildings and more qualified teachers—the education millennium development goal is generating a second, private sector market. What does that mean for the children left in the other schools? They will get a poorer education.
We in this place might feel great because more children are going to school, but that is not an end in itself. More correctly, we should be looking for quality education. If that meant that only 60 per cent. of the children in Sierra Leone went to school, but that they got a better education, I would be up for that. We have to consider what happens to those children afterwards.
I have talked today about a lot of money being invested in Sierra Leone, but what do we get for our buck? What do the people of Sierra Leone get for that money? We get an awful lot of consultants and aid agencies that make a lot of money, but we do not require any of the agencies acting on our behalf to train any organisations. Let us think about some of the major infrastructure projects in Sierra Leone. The EU has provided a significant amount of funding to build a new road, but there is no competent highway engineering group there because there is no public money to build highways.
The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) talked about the need for trade, but sustainable transport is necessary for that to happen. It is all very well talking about that, but there needs to be an indigenous engineering capacity to provide such transport. I looked at the EU contract and saw that it was left to a European company to deliver the project, which is rather like what happens with some Chinese investments. At no point was there a requirement for that organisation to train anybody in Sierra Leone. It came to the country, learned from doing the job, got the money paid by the EU, but what was the benefit of that contract to the nation?
If public sector money is being invested, I expect my money to pay for training in the relevant country. My colleagues know that I am an engineer and when I went to the universities in Sierra Leone, I talked to the engineers and asked them what work-based experience they had gained as a result of the investment in the country. The answer was none. We, this Government, have built police stations and new courts in Sierra Leone, but only two companies in Sierra Leone—I know this, as I have technically audited all of them—are fit to build anything to the standard of international regulations. If those building structures were done well, it would reassure investors that the country has the capacity to build well, because what investor will invest in the country if they cannot see good build?
My questions to the construction companies are these: what training have they provided for local people and what hook-ups do they have with colleges of further education or higher education? Often, there are no such links. We are waking up, are we not, to the fact that the public sector in this country receives a huge amount of money, and we are now requiring it to look towards supporting apprenticeships—which is absolutely right and proper—and other forms of training. One sort of investment is therefore used to deliver another investment.
Too many apprenticeships in this country are not completed, simply because there is no work-based experience. In countries like Sierra Leone, it is absolutely imperative to drive job creation and technical capacity so that we do not go on creating activities artificially. We should say, “We are doing a job; you require that job, but we will offer training and link up with your FE and HE”. When we pull out of such countries—and we want to pull out—we should not leave them with a given road, but no local highway engineers to maintain the facility. For me, those days have gone. We have got to achieve much more with our money.
If we are going to build new schools and a new contract is drawn up to do so, it should say how many young people are going to be taken on from FE colleges. When we go to the Government departments in countries such as Sierra Leone, as I have, we find very clever Ministers leading—they are first-class people—but when we ask who will deliver the plans, we see where the problem lies, because there is insufficient technical capacity in the country. That is lacking because those countries have not had the opportunity to put into practice what their people have been taught.
Why would anybody go into engineering or health care in those countries? Why should they go to university to study those subjects when they know that there will be no jobs for them? I must tell the Minister that I really want to know how to get much closer to our investments in those countries. I want to know how we can make more from the money spent, make better use of our investment, and how we can deliver better results for the people of those countries. People do not want to have things done to them; they want a stake in their own futures and in the development of their own facilities. I just do not see that happening now, so I would like the Government to think more creatively about how we could achieve that.
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), who has delivered a very powerful message from her professional experience. Interestingly, what she said linked in well with the thoughtful speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). Although I have been to both South Africa and Namibia in recent months, my comments are going to be focused exclusively on Zimbabwe.
Like very many people in this country, I feel a very strong bond of affection for the country of Zimbabwe and its people, and I have spoken of them in this place for nearly 38 years—from the time I first entered the House. I also speak with some degree of hope that a corner may have been turned. Zimbabwe has been through some very dark days and there is still huge suffering as a result of hunger, cholera and other widespread health emergencies. However, there are encouraging reports that the courageous Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his highly able finance Minister Tendai Biti are bringing some order and some sense where, for too many years, the country has been at the mercy of a regime bent on plunder and pursuing wantonly destructive policies in the selfish pursuit of power and privilege.
Even Matthew Parris wrote in The Times quite recently that he had
“never quite been able—even at the lowest points of Robert Mugabe’s despotism—to dispel a good feeling about the future. Hopes and anxieties for South Africa, a country whose memories and internal fractures run deep, dark and bitter, may flicker; but Zimbabwe is different.”
Having said that, I do not think that we should overestimate the progress made, although it is perhaps worth highlighting one or two of the interesting experiences of people in Harare.
I am advised that a refuse disposal vehicle was spotted in Harare, with
“Men in orange Harare city council overalls, shovelling into it heaps of fly-blown, stinking, rat-infested refuse that had been accumulating for about five years.”
Not far away were a
“dozen men and women in reflective yellow vests with machetes, hacking down the 3m elephant grass on the road verge. And lo, nearby, were four shiny new tractors with mowers, turning a suburban eyesore of rank, mosquito-laden weed into parkland.”
Although there had been
“only rare glimpses of the Harare council maintenance department since 2000…Zimbabwe’s power-sharing marriage”—
which is now, I think, just about six weeks old—
“to everyone’s surprise…has made an electrifying difference. Suddenly, up there and running the Government, alongside the malevolent and apparently indestructible”
Robert Mugabe, is that great man, Papa Morgan—Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister, and somebody whom I describe as the champion of the people. What was one of his first moves? It was
“simply to dump Robert Mugabe’s joke currency and allow US dollars and other convertible currencies to circulate freely. Immediately it unjammed a multitude of cogs in the nation’s stricken engine. The infusion of just a little real money has enabled the Harare city council to make a modest start on the worst of the decay left by the shameless Mugabe, his ministers and officials.”
As I have said, we do not want to be over-optimistic at this stage, because Mr. Tsvangirai is dealing with a most unpleasant individual in Robert Mugabe, who seems oblivious to the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe who have AIDS and cholera, and are suffering from starvation. It is, in fact, a tapestry of unbelievable suffering. Is it possible that this whole decline is a deliberate programme of extermination? Do we recall the words of Didymus Mutasa when he was ZANU-PF’s administrative secretary and the party’s senior bureaucrat way back in 2002? He said that he
“would not mind if Zimbabwe lost half of its 12 million people because of the collapse of agricultural production”,
going on to say:
“We would be better off with only 6 million people”.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), the British International Development Minister at that time, was right to say:
“To welcome the death of nearly half the people in a country is… unforgivable—no one should forgive him.” —[Official Report, 11 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 244.]
Amanda Hammar, a leading Danish academic, commented:
“Mutasa’s infamously stated desire to discard surplus populations has resonance with historic precedents such as National Socialism in Germany and its translation into routinised governmental annihilation.”
Many well-informed observers of the region believe that the architecture of the inclusive Government was, in fact, never designed to deliver real reform. Sydney Masamvu of the International Crisis Group, who has already been quoted in the debate, has said that:
“the grand plan of Mbeki was to legitimise Mugabe and sanitise him in the eyes of the international community.”
That may explain why SADC—the Southern African Development Community—and the African Union have been so forthright in calling for the lifting of the European Union travel restrictions on certain named individuals, yet so reluctant to censure Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF hardliners for blatantly undermining both the spirit and the letter of the global political agreement.
The efforts to undermine the stability and progress of the new Government are very evident. They operate through a parallel power structure controlled by the joint operations command. That junta, comprising the chiefs of the army, air force, police, prisons and intelligence, still refuses to accept the new political order, and is manoeuvring to maintain its grip on power. Ever since the swearing in of the new Government, elements loyal to the JOC have continued to use abduction, beatings, arrest and detention as a means of intimidation and control, along with, of course, the continuing invasion of white farms. There are too many in southern Africa—not only the unreformed ZANU-PF hardliners, but the fervent ideologues of the region—who seem incapable of moving on from the anti-colonial rhetoric of their glory days to a politics that deals with the needs and aspirations of the people today in their country.
With the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), I recently had the privilege of meeting Thabitha Khumalo, MDC Member of Parliament for Bulawayo East. Morgan Tsvangirai has appointed her to a vital role as a member of the joint monitoring and implementation committee, the body set up under the global political agreement to oversee the monitoring and implementation of that agreement, which is the foundation on which the new and fragile political framework in Zimbabwe was built.
To those who listened to Thabitha Khumalo’s accounts of life in Zimbabwe—of the continuing petty interferences, and the far more worrying abductions and detentions of those engaged in the political life of the country—it was apparent that JOMIC had a critical role to play. Its role is defined as being—I quote precisely—
“to ensure the implementation, in letter and spirit, of the Global Political Agreement, to act as a conduit for complaints and to promote an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding between the parties”.
JOMIC is supposed to be guaranteed by both SADC and the AU. However, as Thabitha told us at the meeting at which we saw her, it is barely able to function because of its lack of funds. It is difficult for members to attend meetings, because not even their travel expenses can be covered. It should be an absolute priority for South Africa and other SADC nations to ensure that that vital committee is properly resourced.
The memorandum of understanding between political parties in Zimbabwe says that implementation of the global political agreement—again, I quote precisely, in order not to mislead the House—
“shall be underwritten and guaranteed by the SADC Facilitator, SADC and the AU”.
I personally interpret “underwritten” as implying a certain financial responsibility. It certainly ill behoves the SADC nations to call so stridently and vehemently for the United Kingdom and other donor nations to provide financial backing for Zimbabwe when their response to the continuing breaches by ZANU-PF Ministers and Mugabe loyalists is either non-existent or so muted that it is as good as silent. Given the responsibilities that SADC took upon itself and into which it freely entered, I fear that silence in such circumstances amounts to complicity.
We must remain firm and resolute that financial support, other than the essential humanitarian support that we have always provided, will not be released until there is clear evidence of respect for the rule of law in Zimbabwe. For as long as the old guard, as I describe them, continue to have their fingers on the levers of power—and their fingers in the till—we would be foolhardy in the extreme to advance financial assistance through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Furthermore, it would do little if anything to advance the prosperity or security of the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, about whom we in the House are most concerned.
A clear and immediate threat, which I have already mentioned, is the renewed wave of farm invasions. It has shown utter disregard for the rule of law and contempt for both investment and production, both of which—as many Members have pointed out today—are central to development and security. If donors and commercial investors are to be attracted back to Zimbabwe to rebuild the shattered economy, to provide more jobs and income, to produce goods and to grow food, the upsurge in violence against commercial farmers must be halted.
Zimbabwe continues to be a test case for the institutions of Africa, for the Southern African Development Community and for the African Union. The accepted wisdom over recent years has been that Zimbabwe is an African crisis needing an African solution. The basis, agreed at Gleneagles, on which African leaders have been invited to attend recent G8 meetings is that in return for increased aid, Africa as a whole—but particularly the countries neighbouring Zimbabwe—will take responsibility for human rights and good governance. I do not know what we are to make of the recent comment by South Africa’s interim President Motlanthe, who said, speaking in Zimbabwe:
“I think the notion that Africa has a collective responsibility for what happens in African countries is a misguided one.”
I find that very difficult to understand.
I hope that African leaders as a whole will be challenged by the United Kingdom Government, not least at the G20, which will take place a few yards from here later this week, because they need to be challenged over their apparent attitude. The welfare and development of millions of people are at stake. The attitudes of Africa’s leaders to their international obligations are important considerations in our debate on Africa as a whole. That surely goes to the heart of respect for the rule of law and respect for the treaty obligations which commit African nations—just as much as they commit nations elsewhere in the world—to upholding the freedoms, rights and dignity of individuals. We must make it clear to Africa that we are watching.
Let me express, from this House, my sympathy to Morgan Tsvangirai for the loss of his wife Susan. She was a wonderful person, and gave him great support. He has borne that tragic loss with huge courage and dignity. I hate to say it, but perhaps he has benefited from that great loss. The people of Zimbabwe—I referred to this earlier in my speech—describe him as “Papa Morgan”. I say to the House that Morgan Tsvangirai, the champion of the people and the current Prime Minister of the Government of Zimbabwe, deserves all the support that we can give him, and I hope that the world will rally around a man who can restore the peace, stability and security of Zimbabwe.
Few Members can match the eloquence displayed by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) in his speech. We are aware of the issues to do with Zimbabwe, and the hon. Gentleman has spoken about them with great courage. Depressingly however, while he was making his speech I was looking at the Economist Intelligence Unit league table of democratic countries in the world—which uses a sophisticated methodology—and I have counted that 10 countries in Africa are even less democratic than Zimbabwe. If we have only one debate every 15 years, the hon. Gentleman will be 100 before he has addressed all the other countries. I hope that there will be considerable progress before that happens, however.
I have been listening closely to the debate while outside the House. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that there is a concern in concentrating so much on those states in Africa that are underperforming? Should we not think also about praising those that are doing a great job and making great changes of which we should be proud? Should we in this House not articulate the view that where there is progress and real democracy, that should be applauded?
I was going to make that point. However, although there is a superficial attraction, including in financial terms, to my hon. Friend’s argument, if we were to do what he wishes, we would wash our hands of Zimbabwe, which I would not want.
I welcome this debate, and my contribution will focus on democratisation, human rights, good governance, elections and election observation. Some might think that that will make for a remarkably short speech, but there are times when I am encouraged, such as every time I think of Ghana. I also used to be encouraged every time I thought of Kenya, but I am less so now. It is important to point out that the results of democratisation in Africa have so far been, at best, mixed, but we should also acknowledge that research has shown that about half the countries in the world have some sort of democratic system, so perhaps we should seek to build on that.
I do not seek to be deferential towards Her Majesty’s Government, but what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Government as a whole have done has been significant and largely very beneficial. I would also like to be able to say with greater conviction that this House has played a significant role in the process of democratisation on the African continent. The speeches we have heard today have displayed a great deal of experience, and much of that has emanated from an initial visit to a country that a Member might be supporting, organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The impact on Africa over so many years of Members of Parliament having their continuing interest in the continent stimulated is important, because when Members visit a country they often come back and join or found an all-party group, and therefore there is a strong body of opinion in support of assisting Africa.
Africa is very important to us. That is not because many of us have a feeling of guilt, even though we were not responsible for the history of colonisation. That was in many cases pretty rotten, and although we were not the worst colonisers by any stretch of the imagination, there is much that we need to feel rather guilty about. Africa is important because it is right that we assist the continent, in conjunction with other countries that have gone through the process of democratisation. We want to give African countries the support that will help them make the journey from authoritarianism up the scale—just as the football structures of this country go higher and higher, up to the highest level. Much has been done, but much remains to be done.
Although we should talk about evil leaders in Africa, as we have done—we have just heard about one of the worst, although apparently there are 10 who are even worse than Mugabe, hard though that is to believe—we must also speak with a degree of humility. It is only within living memory—more within the living memory of those in the other place than Members of the House of Commons, although with some exceptions—that the European continent produced dictators to make some of the dictators in Africa seem almost benign: Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar, the Greek colonels and most of the Governments of east and central Europe before and after the war. A degree of humility is therefore in order, as is a recognition that many countries and parts of the world go through an appalling process, after which it is to be hoped that they emerge at the other end as a more transparent, decent and humane society.
I was recently rereading a book that I read as a student—which was rather a long time ago—by a famous British diplomat, Margery Perham. She wrote in the “Colonial Reckoning” of 1961:
“New Africans at once appropriated to themselves the civil liberties which Englishmen had slowly wrestled from the monarchy, and turned them against the re embodiment of royal autocracy represented by their governor. They enriched their great natural powers of oratory by demanding in sonorous English the rights of herbeas-coupus, the liberty of the press and any other ‘palladium of British liberty’ appropriate to the moment. They quoted the Bible, Blackstone, Burke and Shakespeare. They were turning against Britain her own political and judicial weapons.”
That is very apt. Unfortunately, however, after some countries turfed the British out and lowered the Union flag, what went up was less the embodiment of the best of British, than the worst of the Soviet Union. A number of countries, including Ghana, went through that phase.
With the third wave of democratisation, which began not in eastern Europe but 15 years earlier on other continents, including Africa, where the process was accelerated, we saw the flowering of a number of democracies, which we must welcome.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) suggested that there might be a limited number of times when failed states could fail, after which we might have to consider European Union or United Nations control of that country, in order for it to move into steadier waters. Does my right hon. Friend have a view on that?
Yes, and my hon. Friend has delayed my expressing it by 35 seconds. As a former colonial power, we have both an advantage and a disadvantage. That has allowed people such as Mugabe to blame all their deficiencies on British colonisation. Now that Africa has seen off European colonisation, one thing that I would not like to see is its sort of recolonisation by other entities. We have heard about China. We have problems with our expeditions into other countries; using armed forces in other people’s countries is very dangerous. I would love it if that could happen in Zimbabwe, but I am afraid it is not going to happen. I can see the advantage of the proposal, but I feel that it would exacerbate matters.
While there must be a lot of endeavour from the international community—I will mention that in a moment—one would hope that the pressure for democratisation would come from below. I say that because in the past 15 or 20 years the role played by the trade union movement in Africa has been very significant in the process of helping to overturn not only colonisation but in some cases the appalling regimes that followed the lowering of the flags of colonial countries. Some of those involved have become Prime Ministers, so civil society is very important.
I hope that the process of democratisation may be spurred by assistance. I do not mean assistance to create a revolution, albeit a peaceful one. I am talking about assistance from so many organisations in the world, such as the United Nations, the European Union, national Governments, non-governmental organisations that are greatly funded by their national Governments, and institutions such as the Commonwealth and La Francophonie. I hope that that will help to create knowledge, awareness and expertise among good people in NGOs operating in civil society, and in banned parties, that will bring about the flowering of democracy—not in the Swedish style immediately—rather than its being imposed from outside.
One of the ironies in examining what the British Government have done can be found when considering a very good effort being made by the Department for International Development. I have said the following before, but it still causes me amusement. If one looks in the annual report, which is a very thick document, one finds that the only reference to democratisation in its index relates to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is as though DFID is too timid to mention that it is in the business of helping to promote democracy, so it hides that behind good governance, human rights and so on.
I was going to mention the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Electoral Reform International Services—stalwart efforts are made by United Kingdom NGOs, although the WFD is largely funded by Her Majesty’s Government.
A lot of help can come from international organisations and there has been great success, but the task is an uphill one. I am very impressed by some of the things being done by the UN, including what is being done by a department within the Secretary-General’s office and the United Nations Development Programme, which does not do much now by way of election observation, having subcontracted that, but does much more on assistance in the process of democratisation.
The progress chart is limited, but there have been some spectacular successes. Almost everyone has spoken of Ghana and Botswana, which are both countries that I know well. The only other country that is really deemed to be democratic according to the Economist Intelligence Unit is Mauritius, which is not strictly on the African continent, whereas the list of those countries that are truly appalling is long. The 2008 election in Ghana was another that met international standards. It is a poor country, but it is now developing energy, which is often a guarantee that a country will fail to be democratic. That is because energy generates too much money for it to be shared with ordinary people or other members of the political elite, and I desperately hope that Ghana will buck that trend.
Ghana has such a good record now in good governance, the protection of human rights and organising honest elections. Its central election commission—few other African countries have this—is outside and immune from political influence, which is so damning and dangerous to countries seeking to democratise. As has been said, defeated Governments rarely like going into opposition, and I welcome the fact that there is a small society of African ex-Presidents who go around Africa promoting democracy and do so as examples of politicians who lost elections—I hope that the number of individuals involved will grow.
Becoming the Prime Minister or the President of an African country often required their spending a spell in the slammer, as a guest of His Majesty’s Government, followed by political office. That seemed to be as vital on an African politician’s CV as Eton, Cambridge and the Guards would be on that of a budding Tory MP. Nkrumah followed that remarkable path, being escorted out of prison and taken to the Parliament building to become, in essence, the Prime Minister on the same day. I would love to see the reverse taking place in some countries—whereby people would go from being President to going to jail.
Ghana has become a beacon of those countries that seek to become more democratic. A number of things have to be done within Africa to create and sustain democracy. There needs to be a political culture that is receptive to democracy; a strong civil society, including a strong trade union movement; free and fair elections; a strong Parliament—a wonderful report was published on DFID’s behalf that said, “We have spent too little time supporting Parliaments and we have to spend more time doing so because it is one way of securing accountability”—support for NGOs; and an independent electoral commission.
A lot of great work is being done in Africa on observing elections. If someone were to ask me which NGOs are the best in the world at dealing with elections, I would answer that at least two of them are in Africa—in Ghana and Kenya. I hope that we can build on that, so that organisations such as the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of West African States and other NGOs bring about democracy progressively.
I mentioned the Economist Intelligence Unit, which uses a sophisticated methodology to rank countries. Those in first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth place are the insufferably honest Scandinavian countries. The UK just about makes it to 21st place—thankfully France is in 24th place. The only African democracy in the list of the top 30 is Mauritius. The EIU has a second category of “flawed democracies”, which includes most of the eastern European countries, as well as South Africa, Cape Verde, Botswana and Namibia; I believe that six of the 30-odd countries in that category are in Africa. The next category is that of “hybrid regimes”, where one finds a clutch of African countries. Unfortunately, in the final category, that of “authoritarian regimes”, one finds Mauritania, Egypt, Morocco, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Comoros, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Angola, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire—I shall give this list to Hansard—Swaziland, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan, Zimbabwe and a bunch of 10 others thereafter, as I said.
Surely there is an enormous problem to be dealt with by Africans themselves and by those who have the interests of African people very much in their minds. About half the worst tyrants in the world come from Africa, and there is a great deal to show that. I argue strongly that the UK is doing a great deal to help. I promised the Minister that I would mention elections; I wish that the FCO would seriously fund elections in the OSC area, because it is going to do much less than it had previously. It is important, too, that election observations by NGOs, the Carter Center and the European Union are all to speed, because election observation is crucial to ensuring the quality of democracy, about which all of us here are concerned.
As all the hon. Members who have spoken have said, Africa is a big subject. I do not intend to try to give a tour d’horizon. My Committee has just returned from Kenya and Tanzania, so I might most usefully give the House an update on those two countries. There are several reports that look back over the last 20 or 25 years and show that many countries in Africa have received increased aid and enjoyed rising economic growth and the further development of their economies, especially through minerals, but poverty has continued and in many cases increased. That is a huge dilemma and anxiety for all of us, and we need to try to find some explanations and remedies.
Governance and corruption have been a part of that pattern, but as we have discovered over the past couple of years, and indeed in the last few weeks, the exploitation of the mineral resources of Africa has been done in a way that few countries in other areas would tolerate. Many of the mining companies appear to say to African countries, “You have huge resources here, how much will you pay us to take them away?” As a result, countries such as Zambia are getting a minute return, compared with the profits that are being made by the mining companies. The local communities in the area being exploited get virtually no benefit at all, and that clearly needs to change.
Exceptions to the rule have been quoted. Botswana, which the Committee has visited, has managed to secure a deal with De Beers that has ensured that the gains from its diamond resources are shared 50:50. De Beers was not very keen on the idea at the time, but now travels the world calling it a model partnership. To listen to De Beers, people would think that it had pioneered that model, instead of having had to negotiate it.
The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) mentioned Ghana and the discovery of oil. Most of us are hopeful that the democratic strength of Ghana will be able to handle that, but the Ghanaians have had the wisdom to invite Norway to advise them on how best to develop their oil and gas reserves. I hope that will be done in ways that will generate revenue for the Government and real wealth for the people, which has to be the ultimate objective.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there are other countries in which those who extract minerals have reached reasonably fair and helpful arrangements with the Governments in question? I refer particularly to Namibia, where in respect of both uranium and diamonds—it is a big producer of the latter—the companies involved have made positive and helpful arrangements with the Government.
I am happy to acknowledge that, but Botswana pioneered the arrangements and Namibia has wisely followed suit.
The purpose of our visit to Kenya and Tanzania was to consider the impact of climate change and the ability to secure sustainable development in the changing circumstances of climate change and the difficult financial situation. In visiting Kenya, we were also mindful of the political tension that has compromised its development. Indeed, we visited an internally displaced persons’ camp between Nairobi and Lake Naivasha, where we asked people what had happened. The initial, rather bland response was that it was a failure of political leadership and the politicians were responsible. But we pressed them and asked, “Who actually drove you out of your homes and burnt your businesses and killed members of your family?” Then they said that it was the brothers and sisters with whom they were living, and that was shocking. The people had resettled in the IDP camp, bought the land and were turning it into a township. We asked them what they wanted, and they said, “We are all Kikuyu in this camp, but that is not what we want. We want to be back living with our brothers and sisters if we can find the reconciliation.” Even at that basic level there is hope and an aspiration to find solutions, although the worry is that the political leadership to deliver results is lacking in that country.
In the region we visited, we saw some very positive things that demonstrate that, even in countries with difficulties, there is real potential for development. For example, because we were looking at sustainable development, we visited Lake Naivasha to see the flower farms there. We spent a day at Oserian, where we saw what is a world-class operation by any standards. Indeed, the questions that we had to ask about sustainability and viability were answered in the presentation before we had the chance to ask them. Although the company has 7,000 hectares of land, it uses only 250 to grow flowers. It uses hydroponic systems to minimise water and fertiliser use. It uses real pest management, thus reducing the use of pesticides by 50 per cent. over the last three years. It also uses geothermal energy to dry the greenhouses to prevent fungal infection.
As a result, the company can make the competitive point that the carbon footprint of its flowers, which anyone can buy in a supermarket here, is one sixth of that of similar flowers produced in the Netherlands. For those who suggest that we should not buy flowers or indeed vegetables from Kenya, the simple message is that the opposite is the case. The Kenyan flowers are low-carbon by comparison with European production. The company, one of a number strewn around the lake, is also profitable and employs 5,600 people, paying even the newest employee double the minimum wage and offering bonuses and overtime and providing education, health and housing for its work force. It is a model employer by any standards. If there were enough of a variety of such operations, we would see the beginnings of real development and how a country could move towards the middle-income status that everyone wants it to aspire to. It would certainly lift more people out of poverty.
The problem is that much of Kenya is arid, or very arid, and poses challenges of simple basic survival. It is in receipt of more than $500 million of food aid, and 2.5 million people require emergency food relief. We were told by one Minister that he was sure that enough rain was falling on Kenya to meet all the country’s water requirements, but the infrastructure investment necessary to capture that water and distribute it to the entire country was beyond the Government’s resources. Indeed, the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) would say that if the Kenyans were given the money and the engineers to do it themselves, it would constitute development, as well as reduce pressure on scarce resources.
We visited a desert area in the north of Kenya. Indeed, we drove for an hour across pure desert with not a blade of vegetation of any kind. We found a very small arable farming project in a location with underground springs. The very simplest support was giving local farmers, who had found the land for themselves, the basics needed to fence it against predators and cultivate it by hand, as well as simple advice on the most appropriate crops for that environment. From being a bit of abandoned desert, it had become a village of several hundred people, preparing the ground for harvesting and looking forward to being able to feed themselves and to provide the town on the other side of the desert with food. Very little money was needed to provide that basic assistance. Indeed, the question was why the Government there could not pick up such projects and apply them.
An agency called Solidarité, a French NGO funded by DFID, was delivering that work and, in other parts of the area, was providing sand dams to capture water, as well as high quality latrines, which had DFID stamped all over them. That is not usually the sort of branding that DFID enjoys, but Ministers will be pleased to learn that DFID latrines are the pride of northern Kenya.
The other issue was how it was possible to improve livestock management for pastoral people living in very challenging areas. Indeed, quite a lot of advice was being given by international institutions. I remember attending the Prime Minister’s food summit at Downing street, where many of our researchers complained that our capacity had been effectively demolished in the past 10 or 15 years. I lamented the fact that institutions in my area, such as the Rowett research institute, the Macaulay institute and the Scottish Agricultural College, were disappearing. An international agency based in Nairobi made the point, “We know that. We have recruited many of the researchers ourselves. If you don’t want them, the rest of the world can use them.” It seems sad that we have had to lose them in that way.
Given that the right hon. Gentleman was one of the principal supporters, I am glad to say, of the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, will he share with the House his views on whether the report, and the response from his Committee, have been debated in the way that he would have wished?
The honest answer is no. One can never get enough information or enough clarity, but I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the existence of the provision, as the fact that we have an annual debate and an annual report is appreciated. I hope that he will take my answer not as a suggestion that the Act is ineffective, but as a statement that we need even more information to have a clearer understanding, as other hon. Members have said. Of course, that information is not always easy to find and it is easy simply to say, “Why can’t we get an answer to the question?” Nevertheless, the more we ask the questions, the more confidence our taxpayers and the recipient countries’ populations can have that the aid is going where it needs to go. The Act was entirely right but we could do with more detailed reporting.
The Committee moved on from Kenya to Tanzania, and it is worth pointing out that real parliamentary reform is taking place in Tanzania, which is effectively still a one-party state with a very limited Opposition. Nevertheless, following the British example—the Westminster model—the chairman of the public accounts committee there is in opposition; he is a party of one, but he is not from the governing party. In partnership with two other committee chairs, he has dramatically reformed Parliament so that there are regular Prime Minister’s questions and regular committee accounts and reports. They have opened up a much more transparent, dynamic Parliament and have reported all that in a book, a copy of which I was given by the chairman of the public accounts committee—it was autographed by him—called “A Parliament with Teeth”, which really has started to make a difference in Tanzania—
Indeed, that is exactly right in terms of the publication. I acknowledge that entirely as the hon. Gentleman is a member of the CPA executive.
Interestingly, in Tanzania we were looking at different aspects of development. They do not normally fall within the area of things that we would expect our Department for International Development directly to support, but because it is the Department for International Development, it is important to know where the dynamic growth in an economy comes from. There are still roles for education and training to enable the private sector to flourish.
We were looking at the tourism industry in Tanzania and at the Tanzania National Parks association—TANAPA. The immediate information that we received was that tourism was down one third over the past six months. Many of the tourism companies we met were laying people off or making them redundant and that the revenue to the national parks had diminished, which meant that the animal conservation mechanisms were under threat. Of course the benefits, some of which accrue to the local people, were diminished too. It is estimated that about 20 per cent. of the tourist spend goes to the local community, which is not as bad as it sounds given that half the money is spent before people even arrive in the country. Obviously, however, more pro-poor tourism would be desirable.
Again, that raises a longer-term point. Tourism is down right now because people are reining back their expenditure. Some people, including Members of this House, have said that people should not go on long-haul holidays. We need to think very carefully when we make such decisions. Many developing countries rely on tourism for significant potential employment and development. If we stop going to them, we make it virtually impossible for them to lift their economies in that significant sector. It is important that we are aware of the consequences of what we are doing, because tourism generates revenue for Government, jobs for local people and the opportunity to invest and develop.
We also looked at the fact that a high proportion of the timber extracted from the coastal forests, in particular, and from forests across Tanzania, is illegally extracted and that most of it is being shipped to China. That reinforces the point that I made at the beginning of my speech. That activity is unsustainable and most of it gives no revenue to the Government and virtually no benefit to the local communities. The WWF was working with some local communities to try to tackle those programmes, as well as to tackle illegal fishing that uses dynamite, and to try to ensure that a system was in place to prevent the illegal exploitation of resources, to give the Government access to revenue and to give people a share of the resources in their communities. At the end of the day, the problem is that in a huge area of territory where there is no inspection, no follow-up and no enforcement, people find ways to exploit the area in a way that gives no benefit to 99.9 per cent. of the people in the country. It seems to me that we could help to prevent that by training people and providing resources to deliver that training.
In Tanzania, we give a considerable amount of our contribution in direct budget support, which is a controversial matter. It is very difficult to audit every penny but it would be fair to say that the method bears fruit inasmuch as the proportion of the Tanzanian budget that comes from overseas development aid has diminished year on year over the last several years as Tanzanian revenues have risen. That seems to show that the mechanism is working. Indeed, the Government say that their objective is to take the amount of aid that supports their budget down to below 25 per cent. over the next two to three years. That is a remarkable achievement. At the same time—the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) is not here—the International Monetary Fund suggested that it was prepared to allow the Tanzanian Government, who have low debt and reasonably good management, to stimulate the economy by 2 to 3 per cent. I hope that I have made the point that that is all very well, but if we do not buy their products or send our tourists there, they will need more than that simply to offset what they have lost from the financial downturn.
That brings me to my final rounding-off point. We are considering the impact of climate change and of poverty in developing countries, and there is a conference of the parties summit in Copenhagen in December. It seems to me that we have to ensure a recognition that the effects of climate change have been caused by the development of the G20—by us—while the impact is greatest on the poorest of the G77. In those circumstances, they cannot be expected to respond to that impact without help.
We also have to be careful that the aid and development budget is not subsumed by the climate change budget, which does not reduce poverty. That is the real tension. The president of the World Bank has suggested that all stimulus packages should have a top-slice that goes towards climate change. I was worried to hear Javier Solana’s response, at a Conference of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairs—COFACC—meeting at which I had the opportunity to question him, to my question about why the European Union’s proposal was that its contribution to developing countries for adaptation to climate changes should be a third. Not surprisingly, the developing countries think that contribution should be 100 per cent. They say, “We did not cause it, we are suffering from it, you should pay.” That is a reasonable proposition to my mind. Mr. Solana’s answer was, “Well, that is just a negotiating position—an opening position for a bargain.” The bargain implies that poor countries will have to pay for the climate change damage that we have done to them. The question for the Minister to answer is whether we as a country or as a Government would accept that that is reasonable. There is no justification for compromising poverty reduction measures with climate change measures. Those aims need to be separated and delivered. When one can deliver the other, that is fine, but one should not be delivered at the expense of the other.
My final concern is about the effect of the exchange rate on the cost of the budget. I have very little time left, but perhaps the Minister could let me know in writing rather than with a direct answer. The House needs to know what the real effect of the exchange rate will be on the purchasing power of aid and development. Specifically, we make our contribution to the European Union in euros but the statement in the report is in sterling. That implies that some £300 million to £400 million will not be available for development at the end of the year. It is important that we know. The Government are not in any way compromising their commitment on development, but they have some challenges to meet, and the House needs to know how best to meet them and what the priority decisions involved would necessitate. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer, if not now, in writing.
I welcome this debate on Africa and the wide-ranging opinions and views that have been expressed across the House. In particular, the Foreign Secretary’s speech and those of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat shadow Ministers showed how much agreement there is on many issues to do with Africa. I will follow on from my vice-chairman of the all-party Zimbabwe group—the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who made an excellent speech, and I just want to add a few things to it.
In speaking about that part of Africa, in which I have taken a close personal interest, I want to pay tribute to the magnificent work that has been done by our British ambassador in Zimbabwe, whose extended posting there will soon come to an end. Diplomats and embassy staff in Zimbabwe have had a very difficult time operating in a country where the regime has been far from welcoming or co-operative. Indeed, it has been quite threatening many times. Last Wednesday, we in the all-party group had the pleasure of having the ambassador, Andrew Pocock, here to speak to us. Although we all remain wary of what is happening in Zimbabwe, we feel very encouraged by the positive news that he brought back from Harare and by the other news that we have had and some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Macclesfield.
Some economic progress has been made already by Morgan Tsvangirai’s Government in stabilising prices, overcoming the shortages of essential goods and getting Zimbabweans back to work. The short-term emergency recovery programme—STERP for short, which is subtitled “Getting Zimbabwe Moving Again”—sets out very clearly the programme of reform that is needed. The good news is that that is already starting to get under way. Tendai Biti, the new Minister of Finance, is making rapid and robust progress. A vital move was made to cut off the funding of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to curtail its activities and neutralise its influence. That is important because the bank, under Gideon Gono, operated as a never-ending cash dispenser for the ZANU-PF elite and mostly those who are now the hard-liners in ZANU-PF who are horrified at the rate that they are losing power and influence and who want the inclusive Government to collapse, so that they can sweep away Morgan Tsvangirai and his Ministers.
The other positive news is that the cholera epidemic is receding. Of course, we must remember that it was very much a man-made disaster. In many parts of Zimbabwe, the control of water supplies and sewerage in local authorities that had been run by the Movement for Democratic Change was taken away by Mugabe, which meant that no one was looking after those services. That is why the cholera outbreak was dreadful in some parts of Zimbabwe. That did not happen in Bulawayo, where the MDC remained in power and where the outbreaks have been many fewer.
In relation to how Gideon Gono has operated and the way in which a small number of people are trying to work together, I was very pleased to read the very stern warning that was given by the German ambassador last Friday to the hard-liners in ZANU-PF. He addressed a seminar in Harare as a representative both of the EU presidency and of the group of 17 donor nations, called the Fishmonger group, which is particularly committed to assisting the people of Zimbabwe. He set out the five most important goals specifically identified in the global political agreement: the restoration of the rule of law; economic stabilisation and growth; commitment to the democratic process; respect for human rights; and full access to humanitarian assistance. He went on to set out very clearly the priorities that require immediate attention by the inclusive Government. I am sure that we would all share those priorities: the immediate release of all political prisoners; the end of farm disruptions, to which the hon. Gentleman referred and which were condemned outright by Morgan Tsvangirai at the weekend; the cessation of politically motivated violence; the establishment of a credible and transparent reserve bank team; an end to the harassment and intimidation of the media; and a commitment of all the people of Zimbabwe to holding credible elections in a timely manner. The ambassador said—I think that this is also the British Government’s position—that only when they see positive developments in those areas will the donor nations that make up the group be ready to release development assistance to support Zimbabwe’s reconstruction.
The donors have made it very clear that, if we are to move forward in partnership with Zimbabweans in rebuilding their country, those who have been the cause of its destruction and who continue to thwart reform will have to go. So Gideon Gono must go, because he continues to use his position to provide power of patronage to the leaders of the cabal fighting that rearguard action. Attorney-General Tomana must go. He continues to use his position to pursue campaigns of harassment against the independent media, and he has used the legal process to pursue campaigns of persecution against political and civil society opponents of the regime.
The continuing abductions and detentions are evidence of the way in which the campaign of terror is being pursued under the control and protection of the parallel structure of the operational command, so ably pointed out by the hon. Gentleman. The two parallel structures are both trying to be responsible for what is happening. We are now seeing, for the first time, condemnation from within the Southern African Development Community, which is beginning to see the lawlessness of the regime that it has implicitly supported over the past few years. However, a SADC tribunal, which was set up under a treaty ratified by Zimbabwe as long ago as 1992, recently delivered a very strong and decisive ruling against the way the ZANU-PF Government implemented their disastrous land reform programme. Mugabe’s Government had tried to defend their policy by claiming at the hearing that the impact of the farm seizures
“cannot be attributed to racism but circumstances brought about by colonial history”.
The SADC tribunal dismissed that excuse and ruled that the seizure of land had been based
“primarily on considerations of race”.
It was really saying that it was a racist policy, which is, of course, what people in the MDC have been saying for many years.
A couple of weeks ago at the appalling celebration of Mugabe’s 85th birthday, on which he spent thousands of pounds, he dismissed the tribunal ruling as “nonsense” and said that it was of “no consequence”. In his speech, he claimed:
“We have courts here in this country that can determine the rights of people. Our land issues are not subject to the SADC tribunal.”
It will be very instructive for those of us in countries such as the UK and the USA to see how robust SADC’s leaders will be in defying Mugabe’s bluster and insisting on the implementation of that ruling.
The problem is that the institutions in many of the countries in Africa still find it very easy to be very forthright and demanding in telling us what we should start to do to help Zimbabwe. Of course, most of that seems to involve signing rather large cheques, with no questions asked. They have to be more forthright in demanding what Mugabe’s wreckers should stop doing. If they were to do that, they might really help both Zimbabwe and the entire region to move forward.
What Zimbabwe needs and what Africa needs, as has been said over and over, is a productive agricultural sector that provides food, jobs and export earnings by utilising the abundant resources of its land and its people—a consideration that I hope our Ministers will draw to the attention of the G20 summit this week. That is why the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) was true. Everything that we try to do to help in Africa must be bottom up. It must be about giving people there the skills and tools to be able to do things for themselves; projects must not just bring in more and more workers to those countries as well as all those different people who come in and spend time trying to do what they can. It must be about getting the people of Africa to help. That is particularly true of Zimbabwe.
It is absolutely criminal that an agriculturally rich country such as Zimbabwe, with hundreds of thousand of highly skilled agricultural workers, should have virtually shut down production and driven its people to the brink of starvation, now to be rescued by the aid of British and American taxpayers and other countries. That shows that there is hope, in a way. People talk about whether the glass is half-empty or half-full; I feel that in the case of Africa, it should be thought of as half-full, because there is such opportunity there, particularly in countries that have already been developed to a certain extent, but have been brought down again by corruption and dictators.
The United Kingdom stood by the people of Zimbabwe throughout the recent years of terror. We in this country have provided a refuge to many thousands, and we have provided food for millions. I hope that soon, many of the Zimbabweans in this country—those intelligent, educated Zimbabweans who came here in fear of their lives, or to try to get support and help for their families—will feel that they can go back to Zimbabwe. Very soon, the day will come when Morgan Tsvangirai calls for the diaspora to come back, as happened when South Africa defeated apartheid. I hope that those people will come back, because many of them have the skills that are needed.
Over and above the massive work of rebuilding Zimbabwe’s economy and renewing its infrastructure, there are other things that have to be done in the next year. There is the new constitution to be written and agreed by the people. New, accurate electoral rolls need to be compiled, so that genuinely free and fair elections can be held. All that needs to be done quickly, because the present arrangement can only be transitional. We all hope that the transition to peace, security and prosperity will take place, and that it will send a clear message to the whole of Africa that the age of corruption and tyranny, which has blighted the continent for too long, and was personified by Mugabe, is drawing to a close.
I should like to end by adding my commiserations and sympathy to Morgan Tsvangirai on the tragic death of his wife, Susan. I had the privilege of having supper with them when I was last in Zimbabwe. No one can overestimate Susan’s importance, not just to Morgan but to everyone in the Movement for Democratic Change and in the country. I, too, think that he has been amazingly brave in how he has managed to continue, despite suffering a terrible personal blow. I hope that he is comforted by knowing that all over the world, we are all praying that the little glimmer of hope now there for Zimbabwe will make a difference and take Zimbabwe back to being the great and wonderful country that it once was.
I think that we would all agree with what the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said about Zimbabwe. To echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), it has been a grim time in Zimbabwe. One has to hope that the small glimmer of hope will start to get brighter as the days go on.
Like everyone who has taken part in the debate, I am really pleased that we are having a whole day’s debate on Africa, with Foreign Office and Department for International Development Ministers present. That is important, not least because there has been a tendency in the recent past, through no one’s fault, for DFID to take a lead on some issues of policy, and for the Foreign Office to do so on others. The problem is slightly heightened by the fact that the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN is not in this House but another place. It is healthy to have a whole day’s debate that involves both Departments, those who take an interest in Africa from every part of the House, the Chairman of the International Development Committee and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee; the latter will, I am sure, contribute in due course.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), I hope that we will have such debates more regularly, and do not have to wait several years before we have another. It is slightly curious that the Ministry of Defence has about four days’ debate devoted to defence matters each year, whereas all too often, we have to scrabble around for debates in Westminster Hall if important issues of foreign and international development policy are to be properly debated in this House.
International development policy on Africa has a curious history. We had great hope in 2000, after the publication of the millennium development goals. For a while, it looked like the whole of the international community was focused on Africa. To his great credit, Tony Blair, when Prime Minister, really wanted to take forward a focus on policy on Africa. In the lead-up to the Gleneagles summit, the Commission for Africa provided a very good, comprehensive study of what was needed and required. Tragically, various bombings then took place, and instead of us focusing on the war on poverty, the language was suddenly all about the war on terror. The focus moved from what we could do on development in Africa; the focus was increasingly elsewhere.
I suspect that I am not alone in being somewhat confused about what the international community is doing, in terms of its commitment to funding development in Africa. The UK Government commendably say that they are committed to reaching the 0.7 per cent. target in due course, and that is absolutely fine, but it is now rather unclear by what mechanism the European Union and the other major donors are committed to giving development assistance to Africa. There tends to be a number of important but ad hoc commitments to, for example, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and money is spent elsewhere on education. There does not seem to be an overall process and commitment to ensuring that the millennium development goals are not only achieved, but funded.
All of us in this Chamber know that, whether we like it or not, in politics, process is very important. When we have International Development questions once a month, it is always possible for Ministers at the Dispatch Box to tell the House what they are doing on particular initiatives and in particular countries, but we have lost the sense that there is an overall narrative, in terms of a commitment to funding development in Africa. Of course, that is all the more important now, given the global downturn, which will obviously hit Africa harder than most. I was pleased to hear what the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon, in a key part of his speech, which I think will bear re-reading in Hansard. I think that I understood him to say that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and organisations such as the Overseas Development Institute, will closely monitor what is happening in various countries in Africa, so that we can get a much better impression of how the present economic situation is affecting different countries.
In the House there is great expertise on Zimbabwe, as we have just heard, and we heard the great expertise that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) has on Sierra Leone, but sometimes, what we hear is slightly too anecdotal, and it would be very good if the Foreign Office were able to share with us a much more informed, detailed appraisal of what is happening in individual African countries as a consequence of the downturn. What is quite clear is that the downturn will not be good news for Africa, so we need a much more focused commitment towards funding in Africa.
Another thing that we have lost over the past few years is the deal. It seems a long time ago, but way back at the start of the millennium, in initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the commitment was that we—the west, the developed world, the north—would continue to give more and more development assistance to Africa, but the quid pro quo was to be an enhanced improvement in governance by African countries. We have today heard of a litany of coups, from Mauritania to Guinea to Guinea-Bissau; one had to get the map out. We all looked desperately hard, but between us, we could find only two or three countries, including Ghana and Botswana, that had improved their governance. Improvement in governance in Africa has been lamentably poor over the past few years.
Of course, all of us, being good liberal democrat Panglossians, want Africa to succeed, so we always tend to look for whatever glimmer of hope we can find, but the truth of the matter is that governance in Africa has been lamentably slow in improving. We should make it much clearer that there is a deal: we will meet our commitments under the millennium development goals, but there is a quid pro quo, which is that there must be enhanced governance not just in Zimbabwe, but throughout the whole of Africa, and the African Union must ensure that that happens.
Under NEPAD, there was meant to be peer review of how countries were performing, but there has been little peer review in Africa. We saw very little pressure on Zimbabwe until it became blatantly obvious that South Africa had to do something. It was pathetically slow at bringing pressure to bear on Zimbabwe.
Yes, that has been a substantial weakness. A further weakness is that African leaders are very wary of criticising each other. There just is not the collective discipline to enhance governance and, until that happens, there is a danger that such money as is invested is being squandered. We have to ensure some coherence about how money is invested in Africa, and we have to do something about the deal to improve governance in Africa.
The third thing that concerns me is intervention for humanitarian purposes. Surprisingly, we have heard little about Darfur in today’s debate. I am sure that if he catches Madam Deputy Speaker’s eye, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) will rectify that and rebalance the debate. The House and everybody else keeps saying, “Rwanda—never again.” I am not sure where our abhorrence at the nightmare of Rwanda finishes, and what is not sufficiently abhorrent about Darfur for it not to be Rwanda again.
I sometimes facetiously say to my children, when we get round to discussing which part of the garden I will be buried in, that I have no fear of death. I have been to hell. Hell has been Gaza, because I cannot imagine anywhere after death that is worse than Gaza, or Darfur. On the occasions that I have visited Darfur with hon. Friends, it is incredibly difficult to imagine how life can get any worse than we see in Darfur.
I am sure it was right of the International Criminal Court to have imposed an arrest warrant on Bashir, but with 13 aid agencies being expelled as a consequence, huge numbers of people in Darfur will get no access to water or basic food. What is going to happen? They will be forced to leave the settlement camps for internally displaced people in which they have been living for a very long time, and they will have to go to neighbouring towns and villages, where they will get picked off.
Very large numbers of people in Darfur are at risk of losing their lives over the next couple of years. It is difficult to see what the UN can do to prevent that. Much UN assistance had for a long time been delivered through well-established professional NGOs, which have been expelled. Apparently, Bashir has said that if the warrant is not removed by the end of this year, the rest of the development agencies will also be expelled from Darfur.
We heard in 2005 that the General Assembly of the United Nations had passed a resolution on the responsibility to protect. On 12 January this year the Secretary-General published a report to the General Assembly entitled, “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect”. The General Assembly will shortly debate that, but the international community as a whole has not yet managed to find one single helicopter of the 22 helicopters that the UN peacekeepers in Darfur have asked for to support the UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur. If the entire international community jointly cannot find a single helicopter to help in peacekeeping in Darfur, what hope have we of seeing any effective implementation of the responsibility to protect?
The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) last week helped convene here at Westminster a meeting of parliamentarians from around the world interested in enhancing conflict prevention. Such initiatives are worth while, but they will be as naught if the international community is not prepared to put some commitment behind the warm words of UN resolutions such as that on the responsibility to protect. I suggest that the test of that will be Darfur. I fully understand that the UK Government and UK armed forces personnel are totally committed in Afghanistan, but we are not the only nation in the world. The UK is not the international community. I am not suggesting to the Minister that we single-handedly have to sort out Darfur.
However, it is no good the Secretary of State’s report containing paragraph after paragraph saying that we should never allow another Rwanda to happen, when we can look at what is happening in Darfur and ask, “What’s the difference?” My third concern is that for Africa, whether it be Darfur, or indeed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which sometimes does not follow far behind what is happening in Darfur, the international community must put some real commitment into conflict prevention and into intervention to prevent humanitarian disasters. I fear we are not that far away from a humanitarian disaster in Darfur.
For those of us who have been able to listen to the entire debate today, optimistic though we all are, it is sobering to think that if there were a balance sheet of achievements in Africa over the past few years, sadly and frustratingly, the minuses would outnumber the pluses. There are far too many things about which we are increasingly concerned, and far too few things about which we can say there has been real progress in Africa. We have not even spoken today about the increase in HIV/AIDS or other important topics, such as maternal health and infant mortality.
It would be helpful for all of us to have greater understanding and clarity about how the international community intends to finance development in Africa. We need to be much more strident and clear in saying to colleagues and friends in Africa that that goes with a responsibility on their part to help enhance governance in Africa. I hope the Foreign Office will continue the good work which I know officials and others are doing, together with the rest of the international community, to ensure that the responsibility to protect means something, and is not just warm words. The test of that will be what happens in Darfur.
It is impossible, even in 17 minutes, to cover a whole continent and the issues of great importance to it. A number of issues have been mentioned in this debate, and I shall try to touch on some different ones.
Africa is a continent of 50 countries, with hundreds of languages and dialects. The borders within it, drawn on the maps by colonial administrators, do not bear any relationship to the ethnicities or histories of many of the peoples trapped on either side of them. Africa has nomadic people, who, because of climate change and desertification, sometimes have to move hundreds of miles to find water supplies or fresh grazing land. There have been civil wars and wars of intervention from outside. Furthermore, over hundreds of years, and systematically, people from different parts of the world—Europeans, Arabs or people from elsewhere, even including some from Asia—came to Africa, mainly by ship, to get the raw materials and resources and take them back.
At the same time, there have been significant economic developments such as the building of railways and the opening up of communications. However, many of Africa’s trade patterns are geared towards former colonial powers. The ports and communications are often on the coasts. Inter-African trade, between neighbouring countries, is limited. In some countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo being the most extreme example, it is extremely hard for people in the capital city to communicate with other parts of their country; the DRC is as large as western Europe, and there is no easy way to get from one side to the other, except by flying.
For many ordinary people in Africa, globalisation has not brought the benefits that it has brought to many other parts of the world. However, as we have seen from television programmes and articles in recent months and years, in the past few years the mobile phone has brought an incredible change and an ability to bypass the old technologies and move towards the new ones. I believe that Africa can and should have—I think it will have—an optimistic future based on modern technologies and investment. There is now talk about building massive solar panels across the Sahara to supply electricity for Europe. With an interconnector grid, that same electricity could supply incredible resources to parts of Africa.
Five years ago, I went to Angola with BP representatives on a trip organised by the Industry and Parliament Trust. They took me to a village called Paranhos, where ex-MPLA fighters and ex-UNITA fighters were living together. The village had solar panels that provided the electricity for a clinic, a newly built school and the housing. When they set up the project, BP representatives consulted the people who were going to be living there about the distribution and organisation of the electricity. A communal system was suggested, so that the electricity would go off at the same time every night for everybody. I remembered something similar, because in the 1970s I taught in a mission school in Swaziland, and the generator went off at 8 o’clock. E. P. Thompson wrote “Writing by Candlelight”, but I was marking by candlelight in those days.
In that village in Angola, the people decided that they wanted individual switches and sockets. As a result, suddenly there were power cuts because televisions were being plugged into the light sockets, and that had not been factored in. My point is that even in a rural area people aspired to get the same technology as everybody else had, and wanted to be part of the technological process. Today, there are real opportunities for Africa if only we in the rest of the world recognise that the continent cannot be for the pillaging of resources and that Africa provides potentially large markets and a large number of young people who will be important for the development of the future.
I have mentioned Angola, which has often featured today as one of the countries with phenomenal resources. Some 80 per cent. of Angola’s budget comes from oil, and it has had 21 per cent. economic growth in one year. But does the oil benefit the people of Angola? No; it does not often even get to Angola. It comes from under the sea and is put into the tankers that float around the world to see where they will get the best price. The money is transferred into Swiss or other bank accounts and ultimately ends up being spent by a small elite on luxury goods in the most expensive shops in western Europe or north America.
“Undue Diligence”, an interesting report by Global Witness, has just been published. Its subtitle is “How banks do business with corrupt regimes”, and it has a chapter on how Angola operates. It makes the points that I have just made, and also states that:
“for the last ten years, the amounts lent by commercial banks—mostly European but increasingly also Chinese—in oil-backed deals to Sonangol”—
the state oil company of Angola—
“have steadily increased and now involve regular new loans of billions of dollars each. The trade press is full of praise for Sonangol as a reliable borrower—a borrower which has in recent years been rewarded for its reliable repayments with increasingly large loans”.
Those loans, of course, have to be paid back at some point. They will be paid back from future oil revenue, which until now has not been invested for the benefit of the mass of the people of the country. We need to be aware that if a country has such raw materials and resources, that allows it to operate outside the extractive industry’s transparency regimes and outside the International Monetary Fund. We know from Angola’s tragic past that its civil war was financed by arms dealers, Russian oligarchs and others on the basis that they would get income in future from the sale of the country’s assets. The people of Angola have suffered grievously from that.
Although the Foreign Affairs Committee has not produced a specific regionally focused inquiry on Africa, we have, over recent years, dealt with several of the countries that have been mentioned—for example, Somalia, where we drew attention to the allegations of human rights abuses and the very serious internal situation before and during the Ethiopian intervention. In our 2007 report, we were critical of the damaging and dangerous impact of air strikes, which, although ostensibly against terrorist targets, had led to large-scale civilian deaths. In our 2008 report, we were very critical of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for failing to pay sufficient attention to that in its human rights discussions, and for making no mention of the human rights abuses that had allegedly been carried out by the Ethiopian armed forces in Somalia. We recommended that the FCO should make Somalia’s human rights situation a central focus of its annual human rights report. That report came out last Thursday, and I am pleased to say that it refers to Somalia as one of the major countries of concern. I am pleased that the FCO has listened to what we said. Other African countries, including the DRC, Sudan and Zimbabwe, are on its list of about 20 major countries of concern.
Although reference has been made to setbacks to democracy in Africa, there have also been significant moves forward. Overall, despite difficulties, southern Africa is doing much better than other parts of the continent. We have a vibrant democratic Government in Botswana and a functioning democracy in Namibia—although not as pluralistic as in Botswana. We also have the situation in Mozambique, with the voluntary retirement of the President, a democratic election and an effective, functioning two-party system. That was helped greatly by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, with the Labour party helping the FRELIMO party and the Conservatives helping the RENAMO party. I am pleased that over the years we have been able to assist effectively in that transition, with Mozambique, a Portuguese-speaking country, wishing to come into the Commonwealth because of its desire to be associated with its neighbours.
South Africa, which is of course a very big neighbour, faces some internal difficulties during the transition from Mbeki to his successor, Mr. Zuma, in the African National Congress, and it remains to be seen what will happen in the forthcoming election. However, despite the flaws and difficulties, South Africa has shown the way forward, in terms not only of reconciliation but of pluralistic elections at state and local level, as well as at national level. There are free trade unions, there is a vibrant free press and there is an independent judiciary: those are important aspects of democracy.
Sadly, one small country in the region—Swaziland, between Mozambique and South Africa—is a blot on democracy. The Commonwealth has spent several years trying to help with the democratic processes in Swaziland. When the Swazis were trying to draw up a new constitution, there were intensive efforts to assist in that process. Unfortunately, however, the outcome has not been very good. The Commonwealth expert team’s report on the Swaziland national elections, dated 19 September last year, referred to
“an inherent ‘dualism’ in the Constitution of Swaziland”
“Whereas in a constitutional democracy, a Head of State acts on the advice of the Cabinet and/or Parliament, under the Swazi Constitution the King may also act on his own discretion or on the advice and recommendation of other persons or authorities.”
“a mechanism should be found to insulate the Monarchy from the turbulence of politics.”
That is good advice, which should have been followed by Charles I, and I hope that it will be followed by Charles III. It is certainly something that we should put to all countries where there is a monarchy. The monarchical system in Swaziland is based on a traditional authority, alongside a Parliament where political parties are not formally allowed—they operate, but they are not allowed to contest elections as parties—and where there has been significant suppression and repression of opposition voices.
In that country, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, United Nations Development Programme and official Government of Swaziland statistics, two thirds of the population live in chronic poverty, a majority depend on food aid, there is the highest prevalence of HIV in the world, and 10 per cent. of the population are orphans. When I went back to St. Philip’s mission, the school where I worked for Voluntary Service Overseas in 1972, I saw a hostel for 180 orphans built next to the church and the school where I used to teach. Life expectancy for a new-born child in Swaziland is now 31 years; deep issues in that country must be resolved. We withdrew our high commissioner from Swaziland. We now have an excellent high commissioner in South Africa, and we need to keep our focus on Swazliand.
It is a pleasure for me to follow the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), who has vast experience of international affairs stretching back a number of decades, and which experience he deploys to full effect in chairing the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.
A little earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) lamented the lack of contributions on the subject of Darfur, though I can safely say that he virtually single-handedly atoned for that error of omission. However, if I needed any encouragement and exhortation to speak on the subject, my hon. Friend generously provided it, and I would like to focus narrowly my remarks on the subject of Darfur, which I regard as one of the greatest humanitarian crises continuing to unfold in the world today.
Reference was made earlier in the debate to the issue of the International Criminal Court warrant against President Bashir, and to the immediate and wholly unjustified consequence that 13 international aid agencies were expelled from the country, together with a number of others whose work was curtailed. Inevitably, that has had a deleterious consequence, which was entirely predictable and will not cause the slightest loss of sleep to one of the worst tyrants and thugs on the face of the planet—namely, Bashir himself.
It is important to note, however, something that is factually established, with the signature of the Government of Sudan, and which is therefore clear beyond doubt or argument. There was a joint United Nations-Government of Sudan humanitarian assessment of the situation in Darfur between 11 and 19 March this year, culminating in the issue of a joint report on 25 March. It makes sobering, and perhaps harrowing, reading. What that assessment found was significant: approximately 650,000 people in the region were judged not to have access to full health care; feeding programmes for pregnant women and for malnourished children continue to be disrupted; and 1.1 million people who are currently receiving food rations as a result of the emergency two-month programme under the auspices of the World Food Programme stand to cease to receive those rations unless alternative sources of supply are urgently identified and delivered.
As if all that were not sufficiently grievous, we have to reckon with the UN warning of imminent and major water shortages, which are on the way as sure as night follows day. The implication of that, of course, is that we face a double whammy of humanitarian crisis. Not merely is the ugly phenomenon of thirst and hunger likely soon to be exacerbated, we face in addition the prospect of an exponential increase in diarrhoea, cholera and a plethora of water-borne diseases. If we reflect on the significance of those water shortages—the damage to sanitation, the impact upon hygiene, the detrimental effect on waste management—and of the withdrawal of a vast repository of professional expertise in international NGOs, the consequences for some of the most vulnerable people on the face of the earth scarcely bear contemplation. Yet we have a duty to contemplate them and decide within the international community what action is to be taken.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury rued the inadequate reference to the subject, and one might add that, in addition to our not having said much about the humanitarian crisis that is continuing to engulf the people of Darfur, we have said next to nothing about the security situation and particularly its interrelationship with the humanitarian aid effort. The truth can be starkly stated. Aid workers go about their business not in a congenial or even moderately benign climate but, to their enduring credit, in a climate of fear, suspicion and apprehension about what will happen to them or to those whom they are seeking to help.
There are recent examples that underline that point. Very recently, three Médecins sans Frontières workers were kidnapped by a pro-Bashir militia and taken away from the line of duty and the people whom they wanted to help. As if that were not bad enough, as recently as two weeks ago on 16 March a local employee of a Canadian aid agency was shot dead. It behoves the House, the Government and the international community to decide what is to be its response to the wholly unacceptable situation in which a thuggish and tyrannical regime is cocking a snook at the international community and entertaining, apparently without any concern at all, the prospect of an even worse humanitarian plight in weeks to come than has obtained to date. We must have a response to that.
I look forward to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), offering the House the Government’s assessment of the scale of identifiable need both now and in a couple of months’ time when the wet season comes. I should appreciate it if he could give some indication of how the Government and the international community intend to plug the gaps in aid delivery, and how they intend to finalise that planning now so that deliveries can come on stream when the World Food Programme withdraws.
As we would expect, the hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. I hope that he will forgive my saying that I did refer to Darfur earlier. He is making serious and relevant points, and I know that he has paid great attention to these matters over the years. If there is one issue that transcends others and stands in the way of our getting a solution, what does he think it is?
I wish I knew for certain, but I suppose that I feel, in concert with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, that if the responsibility to protect as a doctrine were accorded the status in the international community that it properly warrants, there might follow a diminution in the number and severity of egregious domestic human rights abuses that take place. Now, I do not say that that would broker a lasting peace agreement and its retention for years to come, but the way in which the bestial oppressors in Khartoum treat with abject contempt the doctrine that the international community sombrely proclaimed only four years ago shakes and horrifies me.
Even on a small scale, it would be useful if we could up the ante multilaterally, perhaps through a joint visit by the humanitarian boss John Holmes and Ban Ki-moon to the region to see for themselves the scale of the difficulties. That would at least send a message to Khartoum that the issue will not go off the radar, that it is not being relegated and that we do not intend the regime to be able to continue to act with impunity.
The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), who did indeed refer to Darfur, and dazzled me with his usual display of knowledge and eloquence, causes me now to want to focus on the violence in Darfur because that is the background to the issue.
As someone who shares the hon. Gentleman’s interest, I appreciate all he says about the Sudan. However, there is a problem with the International Criminal Court citation inasmuch as some of the politics—for example, a visit by the Secretary-General—could never happen because the Secretary-General could not meet President Bashir. That is one of the problems of the legal route going alongside the political route. Like him or loathe him, one has to deal with Bashir.
I accept that that appears to be the case in the short term. I still maintain that the ICC decision was right. I appreciate that there can be a balance between doing what is just and what is immediately convenient and expedient. Nevertheless, I would rather not be drawn too far down that track because I would like to say something about the background to the issue.
The House should be reminded—and we should remind those attending to our debate—of what spawned the terrible humanitarian crisis. It is the six-year catalogue of horrific human rights abuses: aerial bombing, mass shooting, widespread rape, the disruption of crops, the theft of livestock, the calculated poisoning of water supplies and the chaining together of human beings and burning them alive. Those are all part and parcel of the story of savagery that has shamed and disfigured the Government of Sudan in the eyes of the world.
There was a response from the international community —on my reckoning, there have been no fewer than 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions, which specifically refer to the need, among other things, to deploy troops and logistical support. My mind turns immediately to UN resolution 1769, which was passed on 31 July 2007, the terms of which—calling for a total deployment of 26,000 joint, hybrid UN-African Union troops—were supposed to be completed by the beginning of 2008. We are now 14 months on. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who informed me by written reply last Thursday that the Government estimate that 18,300 people are currently deployed in the region. We are therefore still way short of the figure that should have been reached a long time ago.
However, as other hon. Members have said, the problem is not only the inadequacy of the size of the force, but the lack of anything like the logistical back-up to effect the limited but important mandate that has been conferred on it. We have not yet been able to get a single helicopter. Despite the formation of friends of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, with several countries rhetorically speaking in support of the importance and urgency of the mission, few have contributed much by way of practical assistance. Although in many ways I admire the contribution of the Department for International Development, and the Foreign Office is doing its best, it is not particularly impressive that we as a country have, as I understand it, to date provided only four—I repeat: four—military personnel to the region. There are big problems, and it seems to me that a step change is needed if we are to achieve something.
Moreover, there has been a flagrant infraction of the status of forces agreement between the Government of Sudan and the United Nations, when recently the deputy commander of the UNAMID mission wanted to go to Darfur to conduct an assessment of the security situation and was prevented from doing so—would you believe it, Madam Deputy Speaker?—by Sudanese security officials on security grounds, despite the fact that part of the raison d’être of that deputy force commander is to make such assessments himself.
I simply make the prosaic but valid point that the longer we wait and the less we do, the greater the burden and the bigger the cost will be when the day of reckoning comes and the challenge of reconstruction confronts the international community. I cannot but feel that we must invest the debate with a degree of urgency, because sometimes, quite understandably, we can all become numbed by the seeming inevitability of it all, to the extent that things do not shock us quite as much now as they did when first the cocktail of barbarity was unleashed, principally—although not exclusively—by the Government of Sudan, in concert with the Janjaweed militias. A more mendacious bunch of mass murderers it would be difficult to find anywhere, but they continue their work to this day. We should use the good offices of the Foreign Office and DFID, acting multilaterally, to try to achieve a step change in the speed with which the necessary deployment of personnel and munitions is delivered.
I want to finish on a point that I know the Under-Secretary of State for International Development could very properly say was a matter not for him but for the Home Office. He might be tempted to do that—I have almost given him his get-out clause—but I implore him to take the point a bit more seriously than that, because we are supposed to believe in the attempt at joined-up government. I am not trying to make a partisan point, as he knows me well enough to recognise, but a humanitarian point.
I am very concerned about asylum policy in respect of people coming to this country from Darfur. In about the middle of 2008, the Government decided not to return failed Darfurian asylum seekers to Sudan, pending a judgment from the courts and the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal that it would be prudent to resume such returns. My understanding is that the Government are looking to the tribunal next month for a ruling, but I exhort them not to undertake such returns.
In 2007, Sadiq Adam Osman was returned to Sudan. In March 2007, he was savagely beaten up—people do not visit upon themselves disgusting weals; that was done to him. The case was covered in The Guardian on 29 March 2007 and, if I remember correctly, in a Channel 4 programme at about the same time. That was a dangerous return. More recently, there was a case of a man called Adam Osman Mohammed from south Darfur, who came in pursuit of asylum in this country, did not get it and returned in August 2008. Subsequently, when initially—and perhaps unwisely—he ventured to move from Khartoum to Darfur, he was followed by Sudanese agents and shot dead in front of his wife and small child.
I put it to the Minister that we have a legal obligation, as well as, I would argue, a moral duty, to adhere to the principle of non-refoulement. That is to say that we should not return people to countries where they are at risk of imprisonment, torture, death or a grisly combination of all three. It is my submission to the Minister that that is what we would be doing if we returned Darfurian asylum seekers to Sudan. It is frankly not acceptable for the Home Office to say, “Well, they can’t go back to Darfur, but it’s all right if they go to Khartoum.” The place is crawling with state agents. Darfurians bear tribal scars that make their allegiance explicitly obvious to the Sudanese Government. It is a highly risky process to send them back and then simply to hope that they will be all right.
The truth of the matter is that, in this conflict, too many people have suffered too much for too long, with too little being done to help them. It is an inescapable fact that the numbers of dead, dying and destitute are rising daily, and we cannot simply look the other way. I feel passionately that the responsibility to protect has to be embraced and that acceptance of the doctrine and its practical implications for conflict resolution must be vigorously pursued by our Government in international forums. Where necessary, we must talk not of peacekeeping but of peace enforcement. It is the enforcement of peace that is now necessary in Darfur.
I have probably rather bored the House over the years by emphasising that we have to decide what we mean by the responsibility to protect. Is it to involve a serious attempt to avert war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, or is it simply to be a rather futile exercise in vacuous moral posturing that has no implications for policy? I want it to be the former, not the latter. The Government cannot do this all on their own, but I appeal to Ministers to catapult the subject of Darfur from the back of their minds to the front, and to seek the improvement in the condition of the long-suffering people of that benighted region that they need and deserve.
I guess that we do not need reminding—although it is always worth doing so—that the economic tsunami that is now engulfing our world metes out its worst effects to those who are the least able to defend themselves. That includes many of the nations of Africa, including Sierra Leone. We heard a lot about that country from my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) earlier.
I believe that we need to keep things simple. A combination of trade and aid is needed, but the sub-plot is the question of how we can best deliver this to the greatest effect. Whether we are combating climate change or relieving poverty, it starts with us as individuals. What we do can make a significant difference. I am ever impressed by the work of the fair trade advocates. For example, in my constituency, Christine and Michael Ward knock on our doors and our consciences, reminding us constantly that, for only a few pennies more, we can purchase fairly traded tea, coffee and other products, which gives hope and opportunity to the growers in the third world that would otherwise be denied to them.
I also recognise that helping to build undeveloped economies, while important, does not resolve the concerns of the here and now. Starving children cannot wait for the upturn in the economy. That is why I am delighted by the comment by our Prime Minister that, even in this difficult time, the wealthy nations must play their part. I hope that the G20 will make that resolution. The test will be that they will have failed if they do not recognise the needs of Africa as a priority. As a Labour Member, I am obviously justifiably proud that we have trebled the spend on overseas programmes over the past 12 years, and that we are now the second biggest giver of international aid in the world. However, I would still like us to go for the gold as soon as possible.
It is true that, while Government agencies and non-governmental organisations such as World Vision do an amazing job, concern is frequently expressed about how much of the aid reaches its proper destination, and about how much corruption depletes the value of the giving. I am often reminded of the words of the late, lamented Lord Donald Soper, a Christian socialist who was a great hero of mine. He spent much of his time standing on a soap box at Speakers’ Corner. One Sunday, one of the wags in the audience asked him why we should give overseas aid, when half of it never reached the poor. Lord Soper replied that that was a reason for giving twice as much. I think he had a point.
However, there is a better way of making every pound count, and of reducing administrative costs and the risk of corruption. I know that the British Government have been working hard on this, and if it can all be done, it will provide a better answer. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby explaining earlier some of the administrative quandaries—indeed, the nightmare of problems—that Government projects sometimes take on and their failing to produce the intended outcomes.
I modestly suggest that there is a way of pursuing those objectives, at least at the bottom end. In fact, there are probably two ways of providing direct action and support. The first is remittances. Expatriates of many African countries—and, I suspect, of elsewhere—send part of their hard-earned earnings directly back to the families they left behind. There is nothing wrong with that. Going as it does directly to the families in need, it is estimated to account for twice the value of our overseas aid budget. At some time in the future, we could perhaps consider the possibility of providing tax relief on such payments, although I acknowledge the difficulty of ensuring proper tax compliance.
The second and direct way of offering support is from community to community. Over the past eight years, I have been involved with the Hastings-Sierra Leone friendship link. If you would like to know more about it, Madam Deputy Speaker, you can look at www.hastingshastings.org.uk, but I will try to tell you a little about it in the remaining minutes.
First, we are not the only town in Britain to be involved in twinning projects. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby was at the vanguard in her efforts to drive and support links between Crosby and Waterloo in Sierra Leone. Her motivational leadership—I was going to say that she chairs the committee, but my hon. Friend does not really chair anything; she motivates, harangues and ensures that things happen—helped to achieve that. That is a practical example of what can happen. I believe that a £1 million library is being built, but school libraries are already in place and 250,000 books have been delivered, all aiding and supporting the education of young people in that town.
I would like to say a little more about our twinning experience in Hastings, how it came about and what it has made possible. I hope that the Government will feel able to encourage more such links, as they really work. Back in 2001, following the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone, I had cause to be in the lift—a very slow lift—just by the Dining Room with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), who was a Defence Minister at the time. He told me he had just come back from Hastings, Sierra Leone, and the town was in a terrible mess; he asked whether we could do something about it. It so happened that, some months previously, the then British high commissioner, Sir Peter Penfold, had suggested that members of the peacekeeping forces contact UK towns with the same message—namely, that they should try to contact towns of a similar name in Sierra Leone and see what could be done.
Such a message came to Hastings via a young officer known as Wayne Addy, a young man from nearby Sedlescombe. Nothing happened at that time, but when it was added to by the entreaty of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton, it fell on ready ears. I approached Dr. John Geater, chairman of the local Christian charity, LOAF. The LOAF project had recently built a school in Rwanda and an orphanage in Romania, so it had experience in developing countries. LOAF adopted Hastings, Sierra Leone, as its 2001 project and enlisted the support of local engineer Derek Tomblin, who in the years since has been superb in offering his expertise and enthusiasm to the cause. Derek travelled to Sierra Leone and identified some 13 bridges that needed total rebuilding, restoring or upgrading. LOAF appealed to the Hastings and St. Leonards community—schools, Churches, businesses and so forth—to sponsor a bridge; and a generous community responded.
A group calling itself the Hastings-Sierra Leone friendship link was then organised to ensure continuity when LOAF moved on to another project. Within three years those bridges were built, assisting the locals of Hastings, Sierra Leone to move more freely around the district, to travel into Freetown and to rebuild the devastation that the civil war had caused. While the idea was that of Derek Tomblin and the plans came from him, the building was done by local labour: that was what was so important. Derek Tomblin and all those involved, however, were not content with simply a one-off project; they wanted a long-term relationship—a reciprocal relationship whereby Hastings UK could learn as well as give.
We discovered an ex-pat Sierra Leone group in London, known as the Sierra Leone-Hastings association UK. The leading lights of that organisation, Yvonne Johnson and Yvette John, were more than ready to come to Hastings UK and over the years that followed, we have regularly enjoyed community events with African music and food in our parks and in our community centres. It has been fun, but it has also enabled us not just to pay for those 13 bridges but to proceed with a major project to build a community resource centre. The centre, designed by Derek Tomblin with local input, is now virtually complete, and should be operational by the end of the year.
Most important, in 2006, Hastings borough council, under the then Labour leadership of Councillor Jeremy Birch—who is now the chair of the Sierra Leone friendship link—decided to pursue the idea of a formal twinning with its namesake in Sierra Leone. We have a number of other twins in Europe. This will be very different, but the commitment was absolute. Although political control of the town changed subsequently, the whole-town understanding was maintained. The new leader of what was now a Conservative council, Councillor Peter Pragnell—along with the deputy mayor, Eve Martin, and with the support of the mayor, Maureen Charlesworth—took part in the formal twinning ceremony on 14 February 2007 in Sierra Leone, which I was happy to attend.
This has become a genuine all-party project including people across the political spectrum. For example, the Liberal Democrats’ Paul Smith was also involved. The formal twinning gives status and structure to the arrangement, but it is the day-to-day work under the wise guidance of Robin Gray, secretary of the friendship link, that has enabled us to make a difference. Indeed, the social interaction between the two towns has been almost as important as the direct financial aid. For example, Roger Mitchell and his wife Margaret have been very much involved in linking schools. Seven of our Hastings schools are now linked with seven schools in Hastings, Sierra Leone. Recently, Chris Lacey of Helenswood school handed over a cheque for £6,098. That money was raised by the young people as a contribution to the cost of providing a community nurse in Hastings Sierra Leone. Of course, every penny will be spent for that purpose.
Another fine example is the twinning of Christ Church school—I stress that it is a Church of England school—with Kankaylay Islamic school in Hastings, Sierra Leone. Although Christ Church is a Christian school, when it learned that about £11,000 was needed to buy land and rebuild Kankaylay—a lot can be done for £11,000 in Sierra Leone—that Christian organisation set about raising the money. It has already raised about half of it, the land has been bought, and over the coming months Christ Church school will seek to raise the building costs.
Arrangements of that kind will work because of the involvement of local people. It is not organisational and it does not require Government intervention, although Government support would be very helpful. What matters is the existence of an organisation that is “grass roots” in the obvious way that I have described. Anne Hanney, head teacher of that school in St Leonards, was part of the original twinning party. She recently arranged for a further group from Christ Church school to visit Sierra Leone with the support of the creative partnership project. Three members of her staff—Anne Hsapoloyo, Rose Pelling and Tania Kavanagh—were involved in a week of activities at the Islamic school, teaching and learning not just lessons but games, and bringing back ideas, which are now being used successfully at Christ Church. That is a fine illustration of the fact that the link can work in both directions.
The school links have been fun as well. I recall that at the time of the twinning Veriko Scrivener, a teacher from Elphinstone School in Hastings, composed a song called “I Love Hastings” . It was amazing to see all the little African children from Hastings, Sierra Leone singing in unison, joined by Hastings school children.
I could have described much more if I had had time to do so. Conquest Hospital in Hastings has been sending surplus medical supplies. Gary Walsh of the East Sussex fire and rescue service not only went to Hastings, but has since been offering training opportunities and advice to its Sierra Leone counterpart. The police have formed a link, as have Churches.
It is right that in Hastings, Sierra Leone, and Sierra Leone generally, there is a two-faith society, Christian and Muslim. What impressed me was that, in all their public affairs, both the Muslims and the Christians are part of the show. I asked why it was that they got on so well, and a Roman Catholic priest made it clear that it was down to respect. That might be something we can learn from.
This face-to-face, town-to-town, school-to-school contact is so different from putting money in a box, and as I said at the beginning, every pound raised goes to the purpose, and it goes with love. It so happens that Hastings UK is one of the poorest towns in Britain—indeed, it is among the 30 poorest—and thus we appreciate that the cash we can offer will always be limited. But as Mr. Kamara, the head teacher of the Kankaylay Islamic school, said on the recent visit,
“no help is too small to make an impact on rebuilding hope”.
We certainly hope that our small contribution will make a difference to our fellow world citizens in Hastings, Sierra Leone, and I commend the twinning concept to all.
If anyone feels enthused to join in the celebration, we in Hastings UK can offer barn dances, and on 4 July there will be a town-wide sing-song in Alexandra park, to which all are welcome.
When attending debates such as this one, I sometimes feel that this House would be rather better received than it is at present if only those who spend their time criticising and writing about Members of Parliament could hear the range of experience that colleagues bring to their contributions, speaking with passion and considerable knowledge of people in countries far away, who can offer them not a single vote, but whose care and consideration those colleagues have at the very top of their agenda.
This has been a fascinating debate, which I have much enjoyed. Colleagues have spoken from their experience, and I am no different from others in having had the tremendous experience of having been to Africa on a number of occasions. Two of my travel companions are in the Chamber at present: the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and I made many trips to South Africa together in the 1980s and ’90s, and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) and I were in Mozambique not too long ago. The relevance of both those trips will become clear shortly.
At the beginning of the debate, my very good friend the Minister tried to probe my Front-Bench colleague by asking about the future structure of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. He was trying to find out something that might give him a thread of comfort as he and his party head towards an election. I remember doing something similar in 1996-97: we tried to probe the Labour party to find out about some procedural issue that we believed we could then fling to the public and which would act as some sort of lifeline to us. It was like holding up an umbrella in a volcano; it does not work. It does not matter what the Minister thinks will be the structure of Departments under a future Conservative Government. When a Government start to worry about what an incoming Government of a different political party are going to do and start to talk about it, that betrays a certain lack of confidence, and I worry that the Minister might have fallen into that trap in his earlier questioning of us. In any case, he did not get the response he might have been hoping for.
I shall now turn to the meat of my remarks, and I shall be brief. I, too, wanted to make the point that in speaking about Africa we all too often concentrate on problems, rather than on the good things that are happening. We have all had great experience in Africa of things that go well and of the tremendous excitement of being in different places. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey and I were in South Africa in some awful times, and we went back to South Africa after the transition and change. We had stood together as the Caspers cruised up and down a road in Crossroads just after a camp had been evicted, and some years later, in 1999, I went back as an election observer and saw the tremendous difference in the country.
I had the good fortune to go to Rwanda with my party a couple of years ago to see the change taking place in that country, and we will be going back again this year. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) made reference to the great work done by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and I would also like to pay tribute to that organisation and to the work that the political parties do through it. I simply say that the Conservative Women’s Organisation has recently visited Uganda and has worked with the opposition parties there. The selfless work that our political parties do abroad, working with those who are fighting to create fledgling democracies and to make sure they have strong foundations, is rather unsung. That work, which is done by politicians and the WFD, has much to commend it. Almost all of us have taken part in it in some way and we should celebrate that.
I recognise that a couple more hon. Members wish to speak, but the particular point that I wish to make to the Minister briefly relates to the work of aid agencies—my point is supported by comments made thus far—and I am thinking, in particular, of the work of faith-based aid organisations, especially Christian ones. My reason for doing so is that from time to time there is a struggle in this country involving those who fear that Christian-based organisations are too powerful and have too many privileges and those who believe that an increasing secularisation would be of benefit and who seek to squeeze out the influence of faith organisations. Whatever the circumstances in this country, and whatever debates we may have about the influence of faith and about rising secularism, in Africa faith is really important—in many places the Christian faith is very powerful and the work of the Church is crucial.
I wish to discuss two or three aid agencies in particular, but first I should like to comment on the scale of the Church’s work, because it is one of the few movements that is global and local. Through its larger organisational structures, it is robust enough to support national health services and its influence is such that it can mobilise hundreds of thousands of people worldwide to lobby on issues such as climate change and debt relief, yet much of the work of the Church is hidden and undocumented. Outside communities where it has a presence, its work at the grass roots is almost invisible.
Tearfund has worked with and through evangelical Churches from across the denominations for 40 years, and it believes that the Church’s greatest potential lies in local congregations rooted in the local community and local structures. The local church is the poor—its members share in the suffering—and its work is exemplified in many ways: it does work on HIV/AIDS—we have mentioned that before and I shall say a little more about it later—it provides water and sanitation, bringing sanitation and hygiene to areas not reached by the state; it provides advocacy, because the Church is one of the few agencies able to disseminate information from the grass roots in countries such as Zimbabwe; and it does work on gender equity, because the local Churches’ deep roots in local culture mean that they are often uniquely placed to tackle discrimination.
May I mention two particular agencies? I went to see the work of Habitat for Humanity in Kenya and Tanzania some years ago. Habitat for Humanity is involved in building homes, and for over 30 years or so it has built some 53,000 homes in 28 countries for some 300,000 people, but it is about more than just the building of houses; the process that Habitat for Humanity goes through involves the local community and its work has moved on from the mere building and repair of houses to the consideration of tenancies in slums, the right of tenants to remain and the efforts of those in slums to get some sort of civic governance and civic recognition for what they do, thus giving them stronger rights. The work of an organisation such as Habitat for Humanity is so much more than just providing a roof over people’s heads; it is getting to the roots of poverty by tackling the injustice that has gone along with the absence of people’s rights to the very basic privileges that the rest of us take for granted. In a speech recently, Ian Walkden, the UK director of Habitat for Humanity, said:
“The home is the centre of all human development. Decent housing drives individual well being, economic development and strong community. In short it is the most influential intervention we can choose in transforming individual lives, local economics and community development. If you live in a shack made from rubbish and scavenged material, your children get wet when it rains and they are cold at night. You are vulnerable to eviction, enforced migration and infection and your poverty exposes you to the most brutal forms of abuse and control. The impact of unfit housing goes well beyond the physical. Rubbish housing crushes the human spirit, wrecks lives and creates a damaged environment. It locks people into insecurity and dependence. At Habitat for Humanity we think that can be changed.”
The work of World Vision, which my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and I saw when we were in Mozambique, was equally moving and effective. Some 12 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Some 2 million children are living with HIV worldwide, and almost 90 per cent. live in sub-Saharan Africa. The work that needs to be done to support those who have been orphaned through AIDS is critical. I ask the Minister to recognise the need to set out specific criteria for the support of those orphaned by AIDS and ensure that the message is clear. We also need to support national Governments to deliver comprehensive and integrated prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV, which is all too often not specifically set out in the targets that people need to reach. I urge the Minister to change that.
I understand from Tearfund that about a year ago DFID began to work on a strategy for working with faith-based and Christian organisations. How far has that work gone? I understand that a guidance note was in preparation for use by DFID staff on how to engage with faith groups. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us how far that has got, with which groups the Department is involved, and when they will be able to see the guidance.
In closing, I wish to quote Archbishop John Sentamu, who said:
“The church…does not drive in to places of strife in the morning and leave before the lights go down. The church remains as part of the community, and where there is hurt, the church shares that hurt, is part of it and is hence uniquely placed to be part of the solution.”
I ask the House to recognise the immense work done by people of faith in Africa, to support them, and to ensure that as many as possible are brought to the table when development proposals are being discussed, so that they feel an integral part of the development needs of the countries in which they serve so selflessly.
We have heard some excellent contributions tonight from Members on both sides of the House. Time is not on my side, so I shall concentrate on one issue—the complete lack of progress in many African countries towards achieving the fifth millennium development goal on maternal health.
Across the world, on average one woman a minute dies in childbirth. The total of that awful statistic is 500,000 women every year. Indeed, that is probably an under-estimate, because in many countries no accurate figures are kept. Of the 20 countries with the highest rates of maternal mortality, 19 are in sub-Saharan Africa. MDG5 has two targets. The first is to reduce by three quarters, by 2015, the number of maternal deaths. The second is to provide universal access to reproductive health services. So little progress has been made in so many African countries in the last two decades that the situation is getting worse in some countries.
A couple of Members have highlighted Sierra Leone tonight. That country has the worst record for maternal mortality. In Sierra Leone, one in six women—a staggering statistic—is at risk of death during pregnancy or in childbirth. In northern Europe, the figure is one in 30,000. We have to consider the wider context. Such a death is not just a human tragedy for the woman and the children in her family. It has economic consequences.
In Africa, two thirds of the transport is done by women, not by trucks or planes. Women carry goods from A to B. It is mainly women who tend the crops and provide 80 per cent. of the food. Women are the breadwinners in a third of all households in sub-Saharan Africa. My message is that Africa cannot afford to lose 500,000 capable hands every year.
Why is that happening? I can quickly give four reasons. First, there is a lack of trained health care assistants. One in four women in Africa give birth having never seen a health professional at any point during their pregnancy. Secondly, across Africa women have no access to family planning services or safe abortions. Complications from unsafe abortions kill 14 per cent. of women who die. The next contributory factor, which has been mentioned tonight, is the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in many developing countries. A third of women in those countries are infected with HIV and, of course, women who are infected with HIV are five times more likely to die in childbirth. Last, but certainly not least, is the low status of women in many African countries and, I must say, the abject failure of the Governments to give any priority to women’s rights and to improving women’s access to free and affordable antenatal care.
As other Members have mentioned, as well as a lack of political will in developing countries there has been a lack of political commitment to making progress on MDG5 in the international community. I pay tribute to our Government, our country and DFID. We have given at least £50 million towards maternal health programmes.
The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is no longer in his seat, has just mentioned the key role of British NGOs. They, too, have led the way. Save the Children, Oxfam and this year’s Comic Relief all need to be congratulated. They have all brought the need for better and safer motherhood programmes into the public arena.
What more can we do? First, many of the countries with the highest maternal mortality are in the Commonwealth. I see the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) has returned to his seat, and those of us who are on the CPA executive should propose that the British branch should organise and host a high-level seminar on the subject of the lack of progress on MDG5.
Secondly, there is still more that we can do to assist the training of health professionals—certainly midwives—in Africa. We give our academics a sabbatical year, so why do we not at least consider giving a sabbatical year to our NHS staff—or to those who are able to take one—so that they can go to Africa and pass on their skills and expertise?
That sounds like a splendid idea, and I will certainly point the Secretary of State for Health in that direction. My second suggestion would offer a very good way for us to transfer skills and knowledge to the developing world.
My final point is that the UN can and certainly should do more to co-ordinate international efforts. There is far too much fragmentation among the UN agencies, and they need a much clearer focus on improving maternal health. I have been sitting here doing some sums during the debate. It commenced at 4.15 pm, and by the time that it concludes in 30 minutes’ time, 400 more women will have endured an agonising death in childbirth somewhere in Africa. That must not go on in the 21st century. As the leaders of the G20 are meeting in London, perhaps as well as considering and taking forward a concerted plan of action to tackle the global financial crisis, they should agree a concerted plan of action to make progress towards the achievement of millennium development goal No. 5.
I shall be very brief, to give the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) at least a few minutes to say something. I heard the speech on Darfur made by my friend, in this respect, the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). I intend not to cover the same ground, but to talk about Sudan for three or four minutes, because Darfur is not the totality of Sudan.
This is an absolutely key year in the great country of Sudan, which has the largest land mass and the sixth largest population in Africa. Later this year, in July, elections are supposed to start that will lead to the referendum on whether the north and the south finally split in 2011. It is vital that those elections take place according to a proper timetable, and that we in the UK and the west give sufficient support to ensure that they take place and are properly monitored, so that we can get the best possible result—an outcome that is fair and proper.
The country has a number of difficulties at the moment. We have heard about Darfur from a number of hon. Members; but of course, tensions exist between the north and the south. Much of that tension is to do with the failing price of oil, which brings with it much peril to Sudan’s population, because people have become dependent on that money. I should like to say that we in the west have a proud record in being willing and able to provide foreign aid to support those oil moneys. I exonerate the Government of this country, but too often, sadly, the promises that have been made—in Oslo, for example—have not been delivered, and Sudan has therefore failed to have sufficient resources to do what it needs to do to bring some stability and peace to that bedevilled country.
My plea, which goes via the DFID Minister and to the Foreign Office, is that we do what the people of Sudan always ask us to do—not to lose sight of them, given all the other great tragedies of the world. As the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) so clearly laid out before us, Zimbabwe brings its own tensions to Africa and the wider world, but when we go to Sudan, we are always requested to remember that, too often, it slips down the agenda. This is the year more than any other when our eyes and—dare I say?—our budgets should be concentrated on ensuring that that country, which has had so many problems not least in Darfur, has a chance to move forward after so many years of conflict. I for one will hold the Government to account, and I hope that other parliamentarians will do likewise, to ensure that we play our part and that the great country of Sudan can do what is needed with the elections, and subsequently the referendum.
It is a privilege to take part briefly in this debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Members for City of Chester (Christine Russell), and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), for making shorter speeches than they might have done, to allow everyone who wanted to say a word, including me, to do so.
I apologise to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), for not having been here at the outset of the debate, but I had commitments outside the House, one of which was directly relevant to the debate. I was at a memorial service in St. Mary le Strand for someone whom I have known since we were both teenagers, Kari Blackburn Boto. After a great university career, Kari went on to become the head of the BBC World Service’s Swahili service and of its Africa service, and was in charge of Africa and middle eastern services for the BBC. She died tragically, and in a very untimely way. The many people gathered with her family today were there to pay tribute to Kari, and to what the BBC World Service has done for Africa over the lifetime of all of us in the Chamber.
Kari, a white British woman who married a Ugandan, had a fantastic mixed-race family, including an adopted Ugandan son. She stood for developing the role of women in journalism in difficult communities, such as in the Muslim communities of Africa, and encouraging them to take leadership positions. The reputation of independent and impartial broadcasting played a hugely important part in the development of democracy, the understanding of the need for education, and the political processes of Africa. It was a timely coincidence that this debate was held on the same day as the service. Today would have been her 55th birthday. One of her sons was in the Gallery earlier, listening to this debate.
People such as Kari understand that Africa is a hugely complex and varied continent. I think that my borough has more African constituents than any other in Britain; my colleagues the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) and I have dealings with huge numbers of people from west Africa—Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana. I pay tribute to those people for the contribution that they make in this country, but also for the way in which, as we have heard, they send remittances back. They become engaged in the issues, and go back and work for democratisation. Those from Sierra Leone, a community that has suffered so much, have tried to give back a huge amount.
I make a plea to the Government on behalf of people in this country who are of African descent, including people from Zimbabwe, who have been referred to by Members on both sides of the House. When people come here from Africa, particularly from Commonwealth countries, with which we have so much common heritage, we should understand our obligation to look after them well. We should give them the opportunity to work while they cannot go home, so that they can contribute to the country from which they have come while they are kept away from it.
There are many charities—my friend the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) referred to many of them—that do wonderful work in a collaborative way, in which people from Africa and people from this country work together. They include small charities such as XLP, which set up a secondary school in northern Ghana, and large charities such as WaterAid, which does such wonderful work in making sure that the risks resulting from environmental changes do not take an even more severe toll.
There are many other issues to think about after having heard such excellent contributions, but I end with two very simple points. Elections are coming up in South Africa; they will take place in just a few weeks’ time. It is really important for the new Administration in South Africa to rise to the challenge of its continental responsibilities. It is important for it to carry on raising awareness, through the enlightened policy that it has recently adopted for dealing with HIV/AIDS. That must be continued, not the benighted policy that it had before. It must work really hard to curb the violence and lawlessness that can so undermine the spending that needs to take place on utilities, housing and education.
Finally, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) generously mentioned that he and I had attended the UK launch of the network of parliamentarians across the world whose aim is to support others in conflict prevention and human security. As we meet on the eve of the G20, I hope that the Ministers on the Front Bench, our Prime Minister and the other leaders will pay heed to the communiqué issued at the end of that launch conference, which made it clear—for the great lakes region, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and others it is central—that conflict prevention saves money as well as saving lives, and that the ratio of £2,000 on defence budgets compared with £1 on conflict prevention budgets needs to be changed. I hope that we shall see a new priority for Africa, not only in Africa but also in the policies of the Government at home.
It is an honour to wind up this timely and informative debate. There is a proverb from the Kanuri region of Nigeria: the pillar of the world is hope. If I had to sum up the mood of the debate in a single word, it would be one of hope.
As we have heard, Africa continues to face not just economic challenges, but others such as disease, conflict and corruption, all of which might divide the continent. However, despite these pressures, the one thing that continues to unite Africa, as I have been fortunate enough to see for myself over the past two years during visits there, is a genuine sense of hope for the future. Sadly, hope these days is not enough, so I am pleased that the one thing that has been underlined in today’s debate is the strong message from both sides of the House that there is a clear determination to do all we can to support Africa in finding an African solution to the many challenges that the continent continues to face.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) clearly outlined in a powerful opening speech the five principles that we on the Opposition Benches believe should underpin British policy in our efforts to support the continent. I shall start with a few words on our progress in achieving the millennium development goals mentioned by several speakers—the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), who focused on the failure to achieve the MDGs in Sierra Leone, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who was rightly concerned about progress across Africa in achieving those goals, and the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christine Russell), who highlighted her concern at the lack of progress in achieving MDG 5.
In signing up to the goals nine years ago, the UK made a commitment, as part of the international community, to
“spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty.”
In essence, we agreed that through those eight goals, we would work tirelessly to address the key issues holding back development in the world, particularly in Africa. The millennium development goals offer hope to many millions of people across the world. Although progress has been made, now that we have passed the halfway point in time, it is clear that much more needs to be done.
A few weeks ago the Secretary of State for International Development said that owing to the “financial tsunami” sweeping across the world, the achievement of the millennium development goals could be pushed back by three years. Two weeks ago I visited the International Monetary Fund in Washington, and the message there was equally clear—that despite overall progress towards the goals, it was likely that the world would still fail to meet its commitments, and that Africa, and in particular southern Africa, would fail to reach the MDGs by 2015.
To underline that, the 2008 Africa Progress Panel’s report gave a clear assessment of what still needs to be done when it said:
“Right now, 33 million children in Africa of primary school age are not in school. Some parts of Africa continue to experience high levels of conflict. About 300 million Africans do not have a reliable supply of clean drinking water, and 450 million do not have access to proper sanitation.”
In addition, figures suggest that 12 out of the 13 countries with the highest maternal mortality ratio are in Africa, and that about 41 per cent. of Africans are still living on less than $1 a day.
It is evident that Africa is struggling, but why does it continue to struggle? Contributions from hon. Members highlighted some of the continent’s failings, but it is time we owned up to our own mistakes, learned from our failures and promised that in future we will live up to our commitments. That is why the Opposition support the United Nations target of spending 0.7 per cent. of gross national income on international development by 2013. In his opening statement the Foreign Secretary referred to 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product, so I hope the Minister will clarify the point when he winds up.
The Government are always keen to trumpet how much they are spending, but we firmly believe that we should gauge success not only by input but by output, and we encourage the Government to be equally forthcoming about what has been achieved with the money spent. Clearly, the hon. Member for Crosby shares that view; she was frustrated at the failure of her parliamentary questions to get to the bottom of what has been achieved with the UK’s shares of funds given to the various multilateral organisations.
Of course, some of Africa’s countries have enjoyed greater success than others, and it would be unjust to suggest that all are failing. In a wide-ranging speech, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) highlighted many of the continent’s successes. Botswana’s governance and economic growth have been outstanding, for example. Furthermore, as was mentioned, Ghana recently held presidential elections and enjoyed a peaceful transition of power; as we have discovered, it is proud of the fact that it has three living ex-Presidents. There is also Rwanda, a country that I have got to know well. Despite its recent appalling past, it continues to progress under President Kagame. However, it is worrying that the stark assessment of the World Bank is that the very African countries that have made most progress by engaging with the developed world will be the first to feel the chill of the global economic downturn.
Many hon. Members raised cases of hope and issues of concern from across the continent during the debate. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who is not in his place, gave an informed speech, reminiscing about his time as a Minister at the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; I sensed that it was the unwritten eighth chapter of his book, “A View from the Foothills”, which is available from all good bookshops. The hon. Gentleman made some interesting points about food security and the increasing role of China in Africa.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) gave a powerful speech focusing entirely on trade, and highlighted the challenges facing the G20 later this week. He warned of the dangers of protectionism and highlighted the problems of internal trade barriers in Africa and the fear that many poor African countries run the risk of falling behind their neighbours.
The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) spoke with great eloquence, focusing on concerns across the House about President Bashir’s expulsion of the aid agencies from Sudan, and the ongoing issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) spoke about the need for good governance and the devastating effect that a series of failed states has had on the development of progress on the continent. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) spoke with great experience and authority, as one would expect from the Chairman of the International Development Committee, about the Committee’s recent visit to Kenya and the encouraging signs that its members found for sustainable development—not least the low-carbon produce. He also spoke about the parliamentary reform being carried out in Tanzania; having been there for the presidential elections in 2005, I found that deeply encouraging.
Perhaps the greatest hope came from the two contributions about Zimbabwe. For 38 years my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) has highlighted his concerns about the country. Although, like the political scene, the economic situation there remains bleak, it seems to be stabilising following the introduction of the US dollar. Prices of goods bought in US dollars have fallen by 3 per cent. since January. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the chairman of the all-party group on Zimbabwe, rightly paid tribute to our high commissioner and staff; I had the privilege of meeting the high commissioner during his previous tenure in Tanzania.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke with great authority about several southern African states, highlighting human rights abuses. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) has been a strong and consistent voice in the House on the subject of Darfur. Reinforcing the message of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, he eloquently highlighted the humanitarian crisis that continues to engulf the region, and made the moral and practical case on why more must be done. The hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) focused on his constituency links with Sierra Leone; my constituency, too, has such links through its excellent organisation, the Olney-Newton Link.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) spoke from great experience and underlined the excellent work being carried out by many faith-based agencies such as World Vision, which happens to be based in my constituency. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) spoke with authority about Sudan. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to that country with him a couple of years ago.
I congratulate the Minister on the high percentage of DFID’s bilateral aid that is directed to Africa—although I hope that last year’s underspend on the continent will not be repeated this year, or, indeed, become the norm in these tough economic times.
I started on a positive note, and I would like to end on one. Africa’s poverty levels have dropped by 6 per cent. since 2000, and the Africa Progress Panel suggests that if we continue to build on the work that is being done, the percentage of Africans living in absolute poverty will have dropped from 46.7 per cent. in 1990 to 31.4 per cent. in 2015. Between 1999 and 2005, primary school enrolment across the continent has increased by 36 per cent. Africa has made progress, but we in the international community must do more.
We have had an excellent and historic debate—the first in this Chamber dedicated to Africa as a continent, and opened by a Foreign Secretary, for 17 years. At a time when the continent faces some of its greatest ever challenges, I am sure that the whole House will agree that we cannot allow another 17 years to pass before we debate Africa again.
This has been an excellent debate that has demonstrated the deep passion and knowledge about Africa in all parts of this House; in that respect, I agree with the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt). The debate takes place against the background of a global recession that will affect the poorest most and undermine the remittances, markets and growth which together have fuelled much of the progress that many African countries have made in recent years.
Once again, the awesome dual responsibility of being both the conscience and leader of the international community in relation to the rights and needs of developing countries falls to Britain as we host the G20 in London this week. In 2005, at Gleneagles, Tony Blair and the then Chancellor persuaded world leaders that Make Poverty History, a mass movement for change, had to become the political mission of a 21st-century fair and prosperous world. Now, once again, it is our Prime Minister who is insisting that the voices of Africa and of the poor are heard by those around the top table in London at the G20. He invited African leaders and Finance Ministers to London a fortnight ago so that he could meet them face to face, hear first hand about the impact of the recession, and understand the decisions that are necessary to protect the poor and maintain the growth that is so essential not just to poverty reduction but to political credibility and social stability. It is he who urged the World Bank to create a vulnerability fund that will protect the poorest in the short term; he who will seek to ensure that IMF and World Bank reform reflect the needs of the developing world; and he who will seek agreement to ensure that we begin the process to complete Doha so that fair trade, not protectionism, is our response to the current economic crisis.
It is right that today and every day we reiterate our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent. of gross national income on aid. As the Prime Minister has said, now is not the time to retreat from our commitment to achieving the millennium development goals. Now is the time for every developed country to step up to the mark, fulfil its responsibilities, and keep its promises on aid. We should do so because social justice is not just about the life chances of kids in London, Manchester and Birmingham —it is about the dreams and aspirations of the children I have met recently in a Kampala youth centre, in the refugee camps around Goma, and among the AIDS orphans of South Africa.
To believe in social justice in Britain is to believe in global social justice. But we should also learn from the economic shock of the past six months that global interdependency is not a question of ideology or of the future—it is today, here and now, a reality. A fairer world is not just some idealistic pipe dream—it is also about our self-interest. Our growth and our security are affected by the political, economic, social and security environment in Africa. We can win the war against climate change only if we work in partnership with Africa and the developing world. In these difficult times, we must demonstrate leadership in our dialogue with the British people, and alongside strengthening pride in our national identity and helping people and businesses through, explain why investing in Africa is ultimately good for Britain too.
We should be frank about both the achievements and the challenges. Africa, with our support, has made real progress, but there remain serious concerns: recent political developments in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Madagascar; appalling violence in places such as eastern DRC and Somalia; still too much corruption in countries where political and social elites steal resources for the few that are meant for the benefit of the many; and, for too long, denial in South Africa about the scale and nature of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has killed so many so unnecessarily.
I want to turn to the contributions made during the debate. The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) is clearly born to rule, and he has not been attending the modernisation conference that has been put on by the Leader of the Opposition in recent times. It is important that the hon. Gentleman makes it clear whether the Opposition would retain an independent Department for development, run by a Secretary of State, in the Cabinet. [Hon. Members: “He did!”] I do not believe that he cleared that up during the course of this debate. [Interruption.] I agree with the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of a joined-up approach in the horn of Africa. He also raised an important issue when he talked about the strength of MONUC forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, although we should all welcome the change in the political dynamic that has led to Rwanda, DRC and Uganda working together politically and from a security point of view.
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) raised the question of our commitment to health services and the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. We are making an unprecedented commitment of £1 billion to the global fund from 2008 to 2015, and we will make £6 billion available to fund the building of health systems, which are crucial if we are to have the front-line health services that people desperately need. The hon. Gentleman asked about the impact of the recession on our commitments. The Prime Minister has made it clear that our commitments to the 0.7 per cent. figure for the developing world remain as strong as ever.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) and the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) raised the question of the situation in Darfur and Sudan, and their points were excellent and made passionately. The joint assessment of the humanitarian situation causes us great concern; now is the time for the international community to act. We call, of course, on the Government of Sudan to reverse their decision to expel the non-governmental organisations, which was totally unacceptable, and we stand firm in our commitment to support the comprehensive peace agreement process, which is the only hope for the future of Sudan and Darfur. Those expulsions were unhelpful, regrettable and totally unacceptable, and we call for them to be reversed. Simultaneously, we need to ensure that humanitarian assistance is provided as a matter of urgency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chris Mullin—[Laughter.] I am trying to promote his book, like everybody else. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), no doubt speaking from the foothills, expressed concern about the commitment to African conflict resolution. The Foreign Secretary made the important point that the rise in assessed contribution for the UK is more than the reduction in discretionary contributions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) raised the question of the effectiveness of aid, and she is absolutely right, whether we are talking about Sierra Leone or elsewhere. I will visit Sierra Leone in the next few days and I will take account of my hon. Friend’s points when looking at the difference we are making there, but the UK’s intervention and the subsequent aid that we have provided has made a tremendous difference to the progress made in that country from a very poor baseline.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) rightly raised the question of Zimbabwe. He has been a consistent champion of the people of Zimbabwe, who have faced dire consequences on account of the behaviour of the Mugabe regime. We support the new Prime Minister. We hope that the new Government will be able to make progress on human rights and economic reform, and we stand ready to help. But it has to be demonstrated to us that the Government there are serious about changing the policies that have done so much damage to the people of Zimbabwe.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) talked, quite rightly, about the importance of good governance, democracy and transparency to the improvements that we seek in Africa. The distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), spoke about his recent visits and the lessons that he has learned, which he brought to this debate. It is important to make the point that those visits often inform our views in a far more powerful way than abstract discussions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) talked about the situation in Zimbabwe. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) was right to draw attention to the importance of the right to protect. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) was right to raise concerns about the situation in Swaziland, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) was right to focus on the importance of twinning relationships between schools and fair trade organisations in making a difference.
The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) was right to point to the central role of faith in many African countries. We need to engage in a positive way with the contribution that faith has to make, both in this country and in those countries. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christine Russell) was right to say that the lack of progress that we have made on maternal mortality is scandalous, as is the impact that it has on African countries. We are working very closely with organisations such as the White Ribbon Alliance, and Sarah Brown has taken a leading role in that. We want to see the international health organisations—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).