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Aspiring Africa

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Meg was asked to speak at a meeting organised jointly by the British Council and the BBC World Service on the theme “ASPIRING AFRICA - How can Brown’s government help meet the hopes of the continent?” Her contribution follows.


A Labour government is always stronger when we combine our internationalist ideals with a hard headed realism about how we can make real progress. Our history in the anti-colonial struggles, the various aid and trade campaigns and anti-apartheid movement show a commitment to the peoples of the world - not just those on our small island.


Dealing with the whole continent of Africa, its very size makes the problems and possibilities difficult to grasp. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is just not appropriate.

But we know that, as Tony Blair put it, ‘Africa is a scar on the conscience of the planet’ and in his speech yesterday, Gordon Brown spoke movingly about the tragedy in Darfur.


We get a lot of bad news about Africa such as:

        Since World War 2 there’s been more conflict than in any other region. Around 4 million deaths linked to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone.

        It’s the world’s poorest region half the population live on less than a dollar a day. Most of Africa will not meet most of the Millennium Development Goals.

        Life expectancy is 46.


But there is also good news:

        Democratic change is growing. Over two thirds of African elections are multi-party. Peaceful democratic change is the norm.

        Institutions are improving, such as the establishment of the African Union.

        The New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) spawned an African Peer Review Mechanism to open up governance for review. This replaced the Organisation of African Unity’s dogma of non-interference.

        The number of children in school has doubled since 1990.

        African economic growth has beaten the world average for five years.


It’s a mixed picture; terrible wars, HIV /Aids and starvation along with signs of hope and promise elsewhere. We have to do what we can to help Africa succeed. As well as the compelling moral case, a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Africa would be better for the world, better for us.


Two issues impact enormously on Africa and the rest of the world. They require an approach that involves us working with many countries in tackling them - migration and climate change. 

  • Migration we have more African asylum seekers than from any other part of the world. We have to manage migration to our mutual benefit.
  • Climate change a major challenge which affects all the other things we want to see happen. 

There are three further areas in which we are working and where we can make a difference:

  • Assistance in bringing an end to conflict, preventing conflict and helping to keep the peace.
  • Governance working with African governments, institutions and civil society to improve governance issues such as corruption, human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
  • Development we lead the world through the work of the Department for International Development, and the charitable organisations in working to end poverty in Africa. 

In the time left I want to highlight the importance of working with women on many of these issues. We know that better educated girls, better educated women, lead to improved family incomes, improved maternal and child mortality and to a better society.


We were a driving force behind UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on ‘Women, Peace and Security’, adopted unanimously in October 2000. The resolution recognised the disproportionate effect of conflict on women. It also underlined the essential role of women in the prevention of conflict, and as full participants in post-conflict peace building and reconstruction efforts.


The UK Government has outlined its plan for responding to this resolution and has programmes on these issues. For instance, in the Democratic Republic of Congo we support the Electoral Commission and women’s organisations in ensuring women’s full participation in the elections as voters, potential leaders, civic educators and election observers.


In June I attended the Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, where we discussed this work. It’s relevance to the conflict in the north of Uganda was clear. Ugandan Women MPs and Ministers are seeking to ensure this happens as talks are ongoing to end the long running conflict.


We provide financial support for work in a wide range of areas of life. For instance, good governance, human and legal rights mean little without the means to enforce those rights. This is as important for a poor person living in a rural environment as it is for professionals in the cities.


In Kampala I was able to visit the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers. They work with poor and vulnerable groups, especially women and children, to help them get access to legal advice. They are engaged in a wide range of work including helping children in child protection cases and women suffering from domestic violence. The Association also provides a legal education programme to create awareness in both rural and urban communities.


The Chair of the Association contacted me in July as she was in London on the British Council InterAction programme. Along with other African participates they came to the House of Commons to talk to me about the scheme. They told me that InterAction is a transformational leadership programme, working with individuals who want to make a positive difference in their organisation, local community and society. It aims to connect and inspire up-and-coming leaders throughout Africa and the UK. They were hugely enthusiastic; they saw the programme as giving them the skills to improve their countries.


Many Africans are determined to improve the lot of the people around them. Meeting them, and others, I was struck by their determination to continue to do the always hard, sometimes dangerous, work in their respective countries. They deserve our continued support.



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