London, February 27, 2004 (The Independent) – Tony Blair launched a
Commission for Africa yesterday in an attempt to rethink the problems facing
the continent which is the only major region in the world to have grown
poorer in the past 25 years.
A team of top-level international politicians, economists and opinion
formers have been given 12 months to produce a report which will place
Africa at the top of the agenda during Britain's year as chair of the rich
nations club, the G8, and during the UK's presidency of the European Union.
It is an ambitious undertaking, modelled on the Brandt Commission in the
1970s which set the development template for relations between the rich and
poor worlds in the Cold War era. Its report, in 1980, was called
Since then, Africa's share of world trade had halved, Mr Blair said,
announcing his new initiative at a press conference in Downing Street. And
millions of people have died from famine, disease or conflict.
The task of the Commission "will be a comprehensive assessment of the
situation in Africa and policies toward Africa - what has worked, what has
not worked and what more can and should be done", he said. Without it there
was a danger that the targets set by the United Nations in 2000 - the
Millennium Development Goals to halve poverty by 2015 - would not be met, he
The initiative will cover a wide range of areas including economic issues,
education, conflict resolution, health, the environment, HIV/Aids,
governance and culture.
Commissioners will include: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown;
Michel Camdessus, the former director of the IMF (nominated by the French
President, Jacques Chirac); Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, former chair of
the Senate Africa Committee (nominated by George Bush); Trevor Manuel, the
South African minister of finance; Bob Geldof, the musician and campaigner;
K Y Amoako, the Kenyan secretary to the Economic Commission for Africa;
Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia; and Hilary Benn, the Secretary
of State for International Development.
"I will chair the meetings of the Commission and I expect each commissioner
to consult widely," Mr Blair said. Among those to be consulted will be
development specialists, political scientists and economists, philosophers,
cultural anthropologists and opinion formers.
The Commission received a cautious welcome from aid agencies. The British
Overseas Aid Group, which includes ActionAid, Christian Aid, Cafod, Oxfam
and Save the Children, issued a statement that said: "Any initiative that
provides real solutions is a welcome step." But it warned against "yet more
targets, plans or strategies that fail to deliver".
The man behind the idea for the Commission, Bob Geldof, said yesterday, at a
launch held by the Department for International Development, that the
initiative would only work "if we tell the truth - about our failures and
theirs and about this deadly tango were entangled in".
Sir Bob said he came up with the idea for what he called "a Brandt 2" when
he returned from Ethiopia struck by how "piecemeal" were the various
approaches to Africa's problems. He proposed the idea to Mr Blair, who
entered Parliament the year after Live Aid and immediately formed a Band Aid
cross-parliamentary committee. "It will be a report card from the Live Aid
generation," Sir Bob said. Next year is the 20th anniversary of Live Aid.
"I'm really excited at the prospect that this report will have genuine
To the accusation that the Commission would be another talking shop
producing another dust-gathering report, Mr Blair said: "It's up to us to
make sure it isn't." He would be looking, he said, for "specific solutions"
on development, conflict resolution, governance and economic issues, he
said, not just proposals on trade and debt.
The aim was "to regalvanise the international community to act", he said.
"And it is easier to get people to take action if a report is published just
before a summit." The Prime Minister concluded: "I have said on many
occasions that I believe Africa is the scar on the conscience of the world.
And I think it is right that we continue to treat this as an absolute
priority over the coming years."