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PM Concludes First Meeting of the Commission for Africa

British Prime Minister Tony Blair
10 Downing Street, London
May 4, 2004

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR:

Good Afternoon. This is our first press conference at the conclusion of the first meeting of the Commission for Africa, and can I say how grateful I am for the participation of all the various Commissioners in the Commission in what I hope will be a challenging, important and a piece of work that will change, not just the way that we look at the issue of Africa, but change in particular our ability to confront the problems that are there and to try to resolve them.

The focal point for this is going to be the G8 next year. The Chairmanship next year is with Britain. The Commission for Africa and its report will form the key focal point of our chairmanship. So this will be the issue upon which we concentrate our efforts and try to get international agreement, and therefore this is not simply a piece of analysis or research, a lot of the details, a lot of the detailed work is already there.  It is actually an attempt to get an agenda that we can agree as a Commission, that we can then take out, that we can mobilise public and civic support behind and eventually get action from governments in both the developed and the developing world in Africa in order to affect change. 

Now you all know and will have been through this many times, as we all have, the sheer shocking facts and position that Africa finds itself in - the only continent in the world that has actually gone backwards rather than forward in many of the key indicators over the past few years. You will also know that the United Nations set certain millennium goals in order to improve the situation in Africa. But as everyone knows, and as some of those involved in this commission, and some of the leaders from Africa here today know better than any of us, the fact is there is a huge gulf between what people want to happen, and what can happen, unless there is the requisite will, the right policies, the right determination to make sure that we can achieve it.

And so in the work that the commission will do, it will take a series of the key issues and will try to bring them together, because the one thing that is very obvious is that you cannot look at the problems of Africa in isolation from each other. You cannot look at the problems of the economy without also looking at the problems of governance, of natural resources, of human development, of the culture, heritage, participation of people. Peace and security are huge issues that affect the way that Africa develops as a continent, so the idea is to bring these things together, and to bring them together and build on the concept that we initiated first of all really through the Nepad process. The idea of a new partnership for African development. And that concept, which is being taken forward and with which this work obviously will be consistent, that concept was rather than having an attitude towards Africa that was about donor and recipient, wealthy countries trying to do what they could for Africa, it was instead the idea of a partnership between African countries and the developed world for improvement that would be improvement ultimately, not simply to the benefit of the African people, but also to the benefit of the entire world, and that was the concept behind it.

And it is perhaps timely for next year, we have got the 20th anniversary of Band Aid. We have got the anniversary of the Brandt Report and we have got the opportunity in the G8 to really bring this to a head, to bring it to a point of focus and a point of action for the international community, and that is what people want us to do. So I know people sometimes say well there is a sort of fatigue with all the different initiatives, well I don't think there is any fatigue anywhere with people's anxiety and sense of moral outrage at what has happened in Africa. What I think people need is an agenda for action and for change that can command support across the international spectrum.  It is a big task for us to set ourselves, but we intend to do it.

And my gratitude again very much to all those who have agreed to participate in this commission, and you see some of the Commissioners here today, and I am grateful to them for the work that they have done. And all the people involved in this actually are people with a significant and long record in this area, but we have tried to bring everyone together to get the right common agenda and partnership for change.

QUESTION:

The one area where money is actually talked about in the handout that was made today is with the international finance facility, which I heard Gordon Brown speaking about at Chatham House some time ago, but that really was some time ago, and I wonder if you can give us some idea of who has signed up to it, what progress there is, because apart from that I don't see any cash on the table.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course finance is one major part of it, of course it is, but there is no point in us pre-judging the conclusions we will come out with before we come out with them.  You know that this country has trebled its aid to Africa over the past few years, but the international finance facility is an idea that Gordon has put forward.  We are actually trying to gather support for it, but again it is something that we will consider in the course of this commission work.  I think what people come to in the end is a very clear understanding that financial support is necessary, although it is not the only problem that people have, and sometimes you will look at issues like market access and realise that they too could make a major impact.

CHANCELLOR:

First of all I am very grateful to Trevor Manuel, who is the Finance Minister for South Africa, and Ralph Goodale, the Finance Minister for Canada, for joining the group that I am involved in looking at both the economy and finance for development. As far as the international finance facility is concerned, that is one of the issues that we will clearly want to look at, because whichever way you look at the challenges ahead of us, the contract between developed and developing countries, whether it be HIV-Aids, water, health, education, anti-poverty work, then there is a clear need for reversing the trend of the last 20 years when aid, particularly to sub-Saharan Africa, was virtually halved. So we must do more. As far as support for the international finance facility is concerned, I was present in Paris under the chairmanship of the French government, who are supporting the international finance facility.  I think 60 countries were present to examine and to give support to the international finance facility, and that was only a few days ago. The African countries, a large group of African countries, and emerging market countries, issued a statement supporting the international finance facility. The IMF and the World Bank are now doing a major study on this issue and they will be reporting in the autumn. At the same time, as I think many people here know, we have got to deal with an immediate issue, and that is debt relief, and I am hoping that in the next few weeks as we approach the G8 summit we can see a breakthrough in the provision of debt relief, both in opening up the possibility of debt relief after this year to many of the conflict countries, and there are 12 countries still who have been unable to qualify for debt relief; and secondly, in giving deeper debt relief to countries, some of whom are represented today, who have not yet found a sustainable exit from debt, even although we have had in the order of 100 billion of debt relief potentially pledged, and I think 70 billion about to be made available. So there is an issue of debt relief, as well as the longer-term issue of finance for development.

QUESTION:

I noticed in your list of themes which you are covering in this commission, you cover almost everything that Nepad is looking at aggressively, except one, which is science and technology, which they are now working on to create a coherent science and technology policy for Africa, region by region.  Do you not think science and technology are important for Africa, which is facing all kinds of issues in health, in agriculture, there are all sorts of opportunities in biological development.  Is science and technology not important for development?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is very important and I am sure we will be looking at that as part of the deliberations we undertake.  I have got no doubt about that at all.

CHANCELLOR:

It will be part of the work we are doing.  If I may say so, as far as the British context is concerned, we have got a 10-year framework for science that is being published in the summer, and one aspect of that will be the impact that science research and technological innovation can make in dealing with some of the problems of the developing countries.

QUESTION:

I want to direct my question to the two African leaders here today.  Briefly, how many of your colleagues have signed up to this, yet another Commission for Africa? And secondly, can you truly tell us that you don't know any of the problems that you have now come all the way to London to try and solve?  Don't we know that the woman in Africa who has got a baby on her back, digging for some food, needs her life to be better. Don't we know that?  Do we need another commission for that?

PRESIDENT MKAPA:

Well you asked how many other African leaders have signed up to this initiative.  I don't know.  I know I was asked to sign up, and that is why I am here, and I know my brother here was asked to sign up, and he is here. But we really are not here representing other heads of State, or indeed even our governments, we are an independent one, an independent commission, and we will discuss these problems and make these recommendations independently. That is the first question. With regard to the second question, don't we know what the problems are, or the solutions indeed, and why do we have another commission. I will ask you, why preach us every Sunday, preach, in spite of the fact that the Bible has been with us for 2,000 years.  It is as simple as that. Sometimes inculcation can energise people to do something for a change, and that is what we hope to do, that our deliberations here at this time, and towards this objective in time, may produce the energy that will generate action and implementation of the recommendations that may well be a replication of what has been said before.

PRIME MINISTER MELES:

Let me say that I fully agree with President Mkapa's answers to both questions, and add a few points. First, while we are involved in this commission in our individual capacities, when and if this issue is discussed amongst our colleagues in the African Union, I expect that most if not all African leaders will be supportive of the idea. Secondly, on the second point, I would like to say that we are not coming to London to try to understand the problems of Africa, we are not even coming to London to try to understand what the solutions are. We are coming to London to work together with others to create the political will, to implement the solutions that we all think can help Africa. That is the main point - to help generate the political will to do something about it. Secondly, there is always room for improvement on any of the solutions that we know can work in Africa. And so the issue is not about a new analysis of Africa's problem, or it is not even a new solution to Africa's problems.  Most of the solutions that we are likely to come up with are going to be there already on the table. The issue is to put them together in a new way, in an effective way and to create a political will. That is why we came here.

SIR BOB GELDOF:

If you can imagine it as an overview of all the many reports, and analyses and commissions, you are right. Then you can sort of get an idea about it, and it came really about because in a sort of dismay, I thought that the piecemeal applications to the problems of Africa were a perfect mirror to the separate problems that Africa has, and while we dealt individually with each excrescent as it manifested itself, it impacted negatively upon the next one that might appear. So while you are dealing with the economy or the development of a country, the next minute something totally unforeseen, like Aids, would enter the frame and flake negative, and you have the practical applications you have hitherto applied. And so the only way we could possibly begin to understand the totality of decline that is the continent of Africa was to take an overview of all the problems, all the analyses, try and make them coherent, going forward to a potential policy of action with a new political will. That is what we are about.

QUESTION:

A question for Bob Geldof.  On this issue of preaching the message, you have been preaching the message for years now. How do you get over, with this commission, the fatigue that the Prime Minister referred to in his opening remarks there?

SIR BOB GELDOF:

Well I am prone to that sort of fatigue.  I came to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor utterly tired of this stuff.

QUESTION:

Inaudible.

SIR BOB GELDOF:

I know, but you have got to understand what it is that re-animates you before you can transmit that enthusiasm. And this is viably exciting, even though it doesn't look like it up here I am sure, looking at six stooges, but it is. And this isn't just about the people here.  I really do want to engage in a general debate.  At the moment we have someone in my part of the commission in Africa who is gathering the noisy Africans, the academics and intellectuals and business people, civic society people, who are going to write essays and talk about it. I want the British papers to start printing essays from people here who are thinking about it. I want the letters pages to ring with this is rubbish, this is what should be happening.  It isn't impossible to do this. To start from scratch in the 80s and get schoolchildren actively engaged in this issue was achievable. We can do it again, and it happens to coincide with this bizarre political, and I suppose civic society, coincidence of the EU, the G8 and Live Aid. Certainly around those anniversaries and throughout the rest of the year the BBC for a start will be doing a lot of programming, so it will be in everybody's head.  If the papers come to the party then we can re-animate a debate that must happen if Africa is not to drift further from us. That is completely untenable. And I have said it this morning, you may have heard me, and I think maybe I heard Gordon say it first, that this dreadful 21st Century Orwellian image - and that is also what makes it important, that we try to deal with the world at the beginning of this century, in our G8, in our EU Presidency - is we cannot accept the idea of people dying on our screens every night forever. That must begin to stop, and I suggest that this is the day it begins to stop.

MR HILARY BENN:

Can I just add, it is also about persuading people that change for the better is possible. Take a country like Mozambique, it went through an enormously long conflict. In the last 5 years it has doubled the number of children in school and it has begun to reduce poverty.  Why? Because it has a foundation of peace and stability. And I think if you are able to point to examples like that, this is a complex continent, with huge problems, but also enormous potential, and part of the task for the commission is going to be to tell that story and all that complexity, and talk about that potential, and to demonstrate in the end this is going to be about Africa solving its own problems and Africa determining its own future, and the question is how can the rest of the world help that process to happen.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Britain has promised to increase its aid for Africa, but British aid still falls short of the 0.7% of GDP, which is the internationally agreed standard.  Will Britain match these standards soon? And to follow up my ... question, to what extent are you willing to cooperate with Nepad, which already exists and they have their own projects for Africa.

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously it is very important that we work with Nepad, and indeed Nepad came out of an initiative that originally myself and the President of South Africa took some years ago. And so it is important that we work closely with that process that is yielding things. And I think what is quite important incidentally is not to think that nothing has been done or nothing has happened in the past few years, it has, and there have been some significant advances, but the fact is the scale of the problem is growing, it has been complicated by even greater problems that have arisen, like HIV-Aids obviously and the huge problems that that has caused.  Now I think what is important for us is to make sure of course that we operate consistent with Nepad, but we want to take this further. And I think the purpose of having a Commission for Africa that is going to be independent is to come out with a set of proposals we can actually put for action at the G8 next year. As for making progress towards the UN 0.7% of GDP goal, that is what we have been trying to do these past few years and we have been increasing aid as a proportion of national income every year, and obviously we want to carry on on that path.  Now I think the fact that we have as I say trebled aid to Africa in the past few years is an earnest of good intention in relation to that. And I would also point out that we have been making sure that we can raise that as a proportion of GDP whilst our economy has been strong, and therefore actually getting there has been even more difficult but more important to achieve.

QUESTION:

You have got 9 African Commissioners, 3 Brits, a Frenchman, Irishman, this sounds like the beginning of a shaggy dog story - sorry - 2 North Americans, but nobody from the largest economy in the EU. So one question was whether you have some plans for in some way involving Germany in this process. I also wondered if you could, and the second question is to everyone really, give some insight into how the meeting today went and what form these meetings are likely to take in the future.

PRIME MINISTER:

In respect of the second part of that question, my colleagues can answer for themselves, but I thought it was good, because the fact that all the people here are people with long experience in this area, but they also know that more needs to be done. And so I thought it was extremely businesslike, we got through the stuff we needed to get through.  Obviously there will be longer discussions when we actually come to the point of the initial drafts of the report and so on, but there is a huge willingness to put this together in the way that we have described.  In respect of your first question, what is important is that there will be all sorts of countries that we will want to involve in this, and we will find the ways of doing that.  Obviously you get to a point where you have got to limit the number of people on the actual commission, but I can assure you we are obviously very conscious of the fact that if we are putting it to the G8 next year, we need to be doing the rounds in Europe and also with the other G8 countries. So we will make sure we touch as many bases as possible.

SIR BOB GELDOF:

Can I just add that I have asked some German academics and writers and journalists to begin thinking about our relationship with Africa, and indeed the forces that play within their own countries that might militate against helping Africa, or indeed coming up with new thinking with regard to that.  I would like to reproduce that as part of the Commission almost in the other countries that the Prime Minister talked about, but the idea would be similar to what we are trying in Africa.  I am just getting as many people involved in a national debate within their own countries. It is particularly important in Germany, which is going through a hard time economically, that they maybe look out from their own misery and look at a greater one, and to get a sense of perspective hopefully while doing that. And again if the papers begin to print these essays, and we have asked Michel Camdesu could he maybe get something going in France, then you really will get a large debate at the beginning of our century about where we all stand in relation to each other.  This is a personal thing, let me say. I think that would be extremely useful.

QUESTION:

Bob Geldof, in your interview this morning on the Today Programme you said it would be a source of shame if this initiative were to fail. How will you judge in 5, or 10, or whenever years time, whether this has succeeded or not? And I would like to ask the same question to the Prime Minister, how will you judge whether what you are doing today has made a difference or not. And if I could to the two African leaders on the platform as well, how will you know whether or not this has made a difference?

SIR BOB GELDOF:

I am glad you actually said that.  I didn't actually say it would be a personal source of shame, but now you mention it, yes it would be. And I said I felt that for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, I think I knew them well enough that if they left office without having achieved something in this area, on a personal level, and they can speak for themselves obviously, I felt that they would probably remember that as being a sort of badge of shame. But it would be very much for me. It is hard to say to journalists, but it is potentially very important this, I know you kind of don't see why, but it may be. And I don't know how you measure the success, I mean African isn't going to go Hey Presto we are rich, it is not going to happen like that, it will happen because of a change of attitudes and a change of mutual behaviour and that is far more comprehensive and long-standing than anything like pressing a button and a deluge of cash descends upon them.  And it is to deal with those other intellectual ideas that we can begin to arrive at a totality of an inclusion to the monstrosity that is the poverty of Africa. And I have no shame whatsoever in hoping that the end conclusion might be some sort of Marshall-type plan, a comprehensive plan. It may not be that, it may not be what the Chancellor, the Prime Minister, or indeed the Presidents or Hilary wants, but it may be that, and I would like that.  I am one of those activists that think maybe that is the way to go, but it may not be.  I wouldn't view that as a badge of shame, just not having tried would be utterly shameful.

PANEL MEMBER:

I think I would measure success or failure on the basis of one or two criteria. First, if this commission were to come up with a framework for Africa's development that is shared by as many of the actors as possible, and that is different from the framework that we have had over the past 20 - 30 years, if there were to be a shift in the orthodoxy of Africa's development I think I would consider that as a major success. Secondly, if there were to be concrete moves towards the creation of a fairer trading environment that for me would be a major success. As Bob Geldof said, I don't expect miracles out of this commission, there are not going to be miracles, with or without this commission, but I would very much hope that there would be some specific movement forward.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is a good question, how do we judge it.  I think there are two ways of looking at it. I think first of all I would judge it as to whether people, instead of what they feel at the moment, which is a sense actually of desolation about Africa, they at least feel that they are on a path, no matter how slowly they are travelling, but on a path of progress and that people can see if you like the house up on the hill which they are trying to get to. Because the second thing is, to bring it right down to practical politics, the purpose of this is to get an agenda for change that is internationally agreed, and believe me if that happens in itself you will then start to find the action points happening from that, that people will act on that and they will start to make changes and they will have an influence when we come to the world trade negotiations, it will have an influence when we start to talk about debt, it will have an influence when the UN sits down and works out how it gets proper conflict resolution brought into Africa, it will have an influence when we are sitting down with drug companies and big pharmaceuticals and the multinationals and working out how we get the right drugs into Africa at the right prices, how we are making sure that those industries that are operating in Africa operate according to proper rules without corruption.  It will start making a difference when people realise that good governance is good governance, whatever part of the world it is in, and should be like that. So I think that is what this can do. And all the way through what I think has to happen, and this is one of the other things I think this report can do, and I have noticed this particularly when you look at the changes. The part of the world that has changed most dramatically in the past few years has been in the east of Europe when they have had a goal to aim for - now leave aside whether it is right or wrong, and let's not get into European enlargement today -but the fact is that was a goal that people were aiming for, and as a result of that they were able to make their people go through very painful decisions, they were able to do things that frankly they would never have been able to do otherwise, and they were able to inspire people to make the changes necessary.   One of the things that this has got to do is to be such a strong and powerful agitator for change that it allows also African governments as well to say well look here is a possibility, and some of these changes will be very painful but nonetheless they are right and they will yield benefits, and it will then put huge pressure on the developed world to do what they know they should be doing. And what you need to get the developed world to do the things that it needs to do, on trade and all the rest of it, is to have that focal point that is a point of agreement in the international community, and that is what I think this offers at best.

QUESTION:

I would like to ask the commission how much is dealing with the real problems, or at least the worst of the roots of all these problems, which is political corruption, the bad governance, how much are you dealing with this issue and how you are dealing with it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course that will be a major part of the work. The only other thing I would say is that it is also true, no matter how many examples of corruption and difficulty people can point to, it is also true that we have had over the past few years in Africa many democratic elections and governments being elected in accordance with proper governance. But of course it is an important part of the commission's work.

PANEL MEMBER:

If I had time I would like to engage you on whether the root cause is really mis-governance and political corruption, of all these problems of African development, but we don't take the time.

PRIME MINISTER:

But it will be an interesting thought to take with us in our work.

QUESTION:

I work for the UK disabled ... and I am doing this work for disabled awareness of the Aids situation in Africa itself.  I would like to ask a question.  I have asked various people to write a sentence in this book. Would you be so kind as to add your contributions please ...

PRIME MINISTER:

I think I have got to say yes to that. So there you are. It is a good positive note to end the press conference on, and many, many thanks, and thank you very much to colleagues as well.

Source: 10 Downing Street

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