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11 October 1999

Only money will set Africa free

Peter Hain, now a foreign office minister, explains his new policy for the continent of his birth

By Peter Hain

I was born in Nairobi and brought up in Pretoria. My parents fought for freedom in South Africa, and I carried on fighting for that freedom through the Anti-Apartheid Movement after they had been forced to leave and we came to London.

In Soweto in April 1994, I stood at dawn watching people voting for the first time in their lives, the queue stretching far out of sight. “Is this really happening?” I wondered.

Now I am about to return to Africa, as the British minister for that continent; the only son of Africa, I believe, to have served in that old seat of colonial power off Whitehall, the Foreign Office.

Africa has suffered centuries of slavery, economic exploitation, colonialism and neo-colonialism. As a result, it has been left in poverty. The continent of my birth and my adopted homeland need a new partnership and I am determined to build it.

Why should Africa, the cradle of humankind, remain the basket case of the world? Certainly Africans must take responsibility for today’s endemic corruption, human rights abuses and ubiquitous violence.

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But Africa still suffers from international policy neglect. During the cold war, both sides manipulated the continent, using proxy wars and client states. Once the Soviet Union disintegrated, both west and east virtually turned their backs on Africa.

Yet – common humanitarianism aside – its success remains vital to western interests, because a successful Africa would create a much safer, more environmentally sustainable world. It would reduce aid budgets and the UN’s budget. It would open up new markets and remove havens for terrorism that will otherwise increasingly threaten the west.

Britain, like other western nations, hasn’t really come to terms with the changes in Africa. The land of my childhood, South Africa, has turned from international pariah to global role model and regional leader. Nigeria, bled dry by dictatorship, repressed and brutalised by a regime that kept a fifth of Africa’s population in poverty while it squandered great natural wealth on itself, is restoring democracy and rebuilding its economy. Botswana, Mali, Ivory Coast, Mozambique and Tanzania are other examples of success.

So we need a new policy on Africa. And it will be as follows. We will support those who stand up for democracy and human rights. We will help governments that want to modernise their economies. We will work with those African leaders who are committed to freeing their people from poverty.

But we will not support corrupt governments. One of the saddest features of Africa is the spectacle of human rights being denied by government leaders, some of whom were themselves imprisoned in the past for having led liberation struggles. Nor will we subsidise economic mismanagement. We will not fund repression or bankroll dictatorship. Those evils have failed Africa.

We have to prevent wars starting. That means tackling the root causes of conflict – oppression, injustice and poverty – by development aid and debt relief. These are areas in which Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, lead the world.

Africa now accounts for more than half of all the war-related deaths in the world. It has more than eight million refugees, returnees and displaced people. That’s part of the reason why two-fifths of Africans live below the $1 a day poverty line and why the statistics on primary school enrolment and under-five mortality rates are the worst in the world.

Guns are another of Africa’s curses. Labour, therefore, will not supply defence material where this could start, sustain or stoke internal oppression or external aggression and we are backing the West African small arms moratorium. We are also training armed forces for regional peacekeeping.

Aids is killing more Africans than war. Every day, around 5,500 Africans die of the disease, and thirty million in all are likely to die within the next five years. More money has to be found to help. And money does help – as experience in Uganda has shown.

We will fund voter education and election assistance. We must also fund security sector reform to improve the quality, supervision, training and democratic accountability of African armies and police forces, which are too often responsible for the arbitrary and brutal use of force.

For instance, we are providing help to reshape Nigeria’s military as a bulwark of democracy, rather than an alternative to democracy. We are also helping to track down the billions of dollars stolen from the Nigerian people by the Abacha junta.

Debt relief will only work where African governments are themselves committed to tackling poverty and to economic policies that encourage growth. Where they are, we will back them to the hilt and support them in the international financial institutions.

Clean government will inevitably lead to extra foreign investment. Human rights are not just a moral imperative: where they are respected, economies flourish. Human rights make humans rich. Good governance means good international relations. More reform calls for more aid.

So I am not pessimistic about the continent of my birth. With such a renaissance and with support from the EU, the US and the rest of the industrially advanced world, Africa could have a bright future.

Peter Hain is minister of state at the Foreign Office

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