Sat, 12 Mar 2005

From: AFP

Helping Africa is today's 'moral challenge': Blair

Michelle Hoffman, Agence France-Presse/London

British Prime Minister Tony Blair threw his weight on Friday behind an ambitious campaign to double aid to Africa with an extra US$25 billion yearly, denouncing the "obscenity" of misery on the continent.

"It is, I believe, the fundamental moral challenge of our generation," Blair said at the launch of his multinational Commission for Africa report which coincides with Britain's chairmanship of the G-8 group of leading industrial countries.

"There can be no excuse, no defense, no justification for the plight of millions of our fellow beings in Africa today," Blair said.

"In a world where prosperity is increasing... it is an obscenity that should haunt our daily thoughts that four million children will die in Africa this year before their fifth birthday," he added.

The 17-member commission, launched by Blair in February 2004, labeled widespread poverty and economic stagnation in Africa "the greatest tragedy of our time", and proposed a sweeping series of actions by African nations and the international community.

"Africa requires a comprehensive 'big push' on many fronts at once," it said in its report, listing corruption, security issues, education, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and health measures and fair trade as major priorities.

African leaders had a duty to accelerate reform and make its governments accountable to their people, but "the developed world had a moral duty -- as well as powerful motive of self-interest -- to assist Africa," it said.

Blair presented commission's report in London on Friday alongside fellow commissioners including South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and Irish pop star turned debt relief campaigner Bob Geldof.

The report's detailed recommendations aim to serve as a blueprint for action for G-8 countries when they meet in Scotland in July, and for World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in December.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, another commissioner, was hosting a concurrent launch in Addis Ababa, while a third event was to be attended in New York by William Kalema, chairman of the Uganda Investment Authority, and British government minister Baroness Valerie Amos, representing Blair.

Blair and his Finance Minister Gordon Brown, also present at the London launch, have put Africa at the top of international agenda this year, during Britain's presidency not only of the G-8 but also of the European Union.

The Commission for Africa makes concrete recommendations for action by donor states, but also says Africa must "take the lead" in the effort.

It calls for 100-percent debt relief for poor sub-Saharan countries, an extra $25 billion annually for Africa until 2010 and then, following a review, an extra $50 billion per year.

Each year $10 billion should go to infrastructure -- roads and buildings, but also communication technology -- another $10 billion to health services, and $8 billion to education reform.

It also cautions donors against attaching too many strings to their money, saying aid should come as cash grants and without "policy conditionality".

Aid "must be given in ways that make governments answerable primarily to their own people," it said.

Wealthy countries must also agree to eliminate agricultural subsidies that protect farmers but distort international trade and harm Africa, the report argues.

Finally, Africans have to have a greater say on the global scene, at financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, but also at the United Nations.

The commission called for "greater African representation" on the UN Security Council but stopped short of calling for a permanent seat.

British charity Oxfam said the Commission "report can be a rallying call for a generation that will no longer tolerate the obscenity of extreme poverty in Africa -- or it end up gathering dust."

The World Bank welcomed the recommendations, with president James Wolfensohn declaring in a statement it was "ready to scale up its assistance" to Africa.

The commission also gave African states a slate of actions to undertake, including getting rid of all school fees for primary education, earmarking 15 percent of national budgets to health, and doubling the area of arable land under irrigation in a decade's time.

But the commission conceded that many of its recommendations dealt with less concrete "changes to behavior", notably to root out corruption, protect the rights of women and promote mutual accountability among African states.