Home | News    Thursday 7 October 2004

Blair outlines ’immense and powerful’ moral case for helping Africa

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ADDIS ABABA, Oct 7 (AFP) — British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a clarion call Thursday for the world to help Africa free itself from poverty, disease and conflict, describing his personal crusade for the continent as "the one noble cause worth fighting for".

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Tony Blair

In an impassioned and at times emotional speech to dignitaries in Ethiopia, Blair argued that the "common bond of humanity" around the globe gave a clear moral imperative to richer nations to help.

Heading to the speech in Addis Ababa directly from a visit to a centre which cares for orphans and people with AIDS, the British premier spoke at length about how such projects brought people hope.

"When I come and see what is happening here, and what could happen, I know that how difficult politics is, there is at least one noble cause worth fighting for, and it is here on this continent", he said.

Blair pledged to make Africa the centrepiece of his agenda when Britain takes the rotating presidency of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations’ club during 2005, calling it "the year of decision for Africa".

He additionally promised that Africa would be "the top priority" for troops from a new European rapid-response Battle Group force, who could be sent in at only 10 days’ notice to stop conflicts, before African troops could be mobilised.

Later Thursday, Blair was attending a meeting of the Commission for Africa, the organisation he set up last year to spearhead development efforts in Africa.

Among the audience at the grand, circular assembly hall of the United Nations building in Addis Ababa, were the dignitaries who make up the commission, ranging from Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to Irish pop star turned charity organiser Bob Geldof.

Rather than arguing on the basis of political expediency, Blair’s speech appeared to be firmly rooted in his own Christian moral values.

There was "an immense and powerful moral cause" in seeking to alleviate poverty in Africa, he said, also labelling child poverty and a lack of access to education simply "wrong".

However, Blair also argued that Western nations also had a powerful self-interest if they wanted to prevent Africa becoming a centre for terrorism.

"We know that poverty and instability leads to weak states, which can become havens for terrorists and other criminals," Blair said.

However, the way to assist Africa was not simply through charitable aid, but assistance such as fair trade, help with AIDS and assistance in ending conflict.

"Forget this feeling about wealthy countries giving out of the generosities of their own hearts to African cities," he said, also taking a swipe at aid which came with conditions, such as prescribed economic policies, imposed by donor nations.

"Countries should not be forced to sign up to policies which they do not believe will work, because a donor thinks they will be good for them," he said.

By the time his Commission for Africa published its report into the way ahead for the continent early next year, "the time for excuses will be over," Blair stressed.

"The one thing that stands between them and us, between success and failure, is the absence of political will."

He added: "The price of failure would be disaster for Africa and the wider world. The prize for success will be an Africa standing proud in its own right in the international community."

Blair flew to Ethiopia from Sudan, where he attempted to resolve one of Africa’s current crises by getting the country’s government to agree to a series of policies to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

He presented Khartoum with a five-point plan to alleviate suffering in Darfur, where conflict since February 2003 has left an estimated 50,000 people dead and another 1.4 million displaced.

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