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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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How is the British Government supporting peace, freedom and democracy in Africa?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

At a conference discussing the British Government’s approach to Africa Meg made the following remarks.

 

Thank you for inviting me here to speak to you.

 

I welcome this event because Africa is of concern to the UK. Here in Sheffield we have a proud history of looking beyond our borders and striving to assist those in need.

 

I believe that a Labour government is always stronger when it combines the Labour Party’s internationalist ideals with a hard headed realism about how we can make real progress. Labour’s history in the anti-colonial struggles, the various aid and trade campaigns and the 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’.

 

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 problems 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 and 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.

 

A mixed picture

It’s a mixed picture; terrible wars, HIV /Aids and starvation along with signs of hope and promise. 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 the Labour Government is 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.

 

Supporting democracy

Last month I became Chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, an organisation which supports the development of democracy in countries which are new or developing democracies. This is done through a wide range of programmes some of them provided directly by the Westminster political parties and some by project staff.

 

Some of the recent work in Africa includes workshops on tackling climate change while promoting economic growth, promoting the involvement of women in politics and through NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa’s Democracy) workshops on parliamentary oversight and tackling embezzlement and corruption.

 

As well as work such as this which is regional, there are also programmes in specific countries including Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Uganda and South Africa.

 

There is no doubt that good governance is a key ingredient of successful societies – ones that are able to tackle poverty through the development of successful economies. Political parties are an important part of this in a thriving civil society.

 

The Westminster Foundation for Democracy has built up over a number of years strong and productive relationships with politicians in Africa to support them in developing their democratic institutions.

 

Working with women

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.

 

The UK 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 British 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.

 

Last year, whilst Minister for Women and Equality, 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 this 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 provide a legal education programme to create awareness in both rural and urban communities.

 

The Chair of the Association and other African participates visited the House of Commons last year through the British Council’s InterAction programme. I met with them and 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. 

Associated Photograph :

Meg with Noel Mbala, former DRCongo Minister and Dr. Uğur Üngör, lecturer in international history at Sheffield University.

Meg with Noel Mbala, former DRCongo Minister and Dr. Uğur Üngör, lecturer in international history at Sheffield University.


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