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Saturday, February 25, 2017
Listen to Africa: An open letter to Tony Blair
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¬†Christian Aid published a report on the state of Africa today to mark the start of Christian Aid week. Released as an Open Letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, the report entitled 'Listen to Africa', focuses on conflict, trade and aid - three issues which must be addressed if, as Mr Blair recently stated, "the scar on the conscience of the world," is to be healed. The aid agency described the report as a stark reminder to the Prime Minister why he and his fellow G8 leaders attending their summit in Canada in June, cannot afford to ignore Africa's problems. Its publication came days after fellow aid agency CAFOD added their support to the Jubilee Debt Campaign in a demonstration outside Canada House in London's Trafalgar Square. Speaking after the protest a CAFOD spokesperson said the noisy but friendly presence was to remind the Canadian Government that one billion people live on less than 60p ($1) a day and to call for action on debt relief at the forthcoming G8 summit. The event was the first of three planned lunchtime actions, the next will also take place outside Canada House on Thursday 16 May and the third will be held at the Canadian High Commission on a date as yet to be confirmed. Christian Aid week continues until 18 May and this year focuses on trade and what the agency's partner organisations in Honduras, Ghana and the Phillipines are doing to make trade work for poor people. The following is the unedited text of 'Listen to Africa', courtesy of Christian Aid. Listen to Africa 'War is often thought of in terms of military conflict or even annihilation. But there is a growing awareness that an equal danger might be chaos ≠ as a result of mass hunger, economic disaster, environmental catastrophes and terrorism. So we should not think only of reducing traditional threats to peace, but also of the need for change from chaos to order.' Willy Brandt, North-South: A programme for survival, 1980 Dear Tony, At a time when the whole world, it seems, is talking about war, Christian Aid is using this report to highlight yet another conflict which, despite having ground on for decades, is receiving scant attention. This is an African war, on whose outcome the whole future of the continent depends and in which the developed nations of the world are heavily involved. But currently it is being lost. It is the War Against Poverty. The front-line forces in this fight are not soldiers, militia or suicide bombers. They are the courageous Africans who are determined to turn the tide in favour of their people ≠ working though community organisations, churches, human rights groups and development agencies. They know what's needed. They have a battle-plan. But few in power are listening to them. It is time their voices were heard. Christian Aid supporters and partners were among the many people around the world who applauded your vision last autumn in using the occasion of your keynote speech to the Labour Party Conference to highlight the continuing, desperate plight of the people of Africa. Coming, as it did, just weeks after the horrific events of September 11, this was a particularly courageous step. At that time, of course, the eyes of the Western world were indeed turned to developing nations ≠ but largely in a spirit of fear and revenge, not compassion. Your call for a new Partnership for Africa was, therefore, in the very best traditions of recognising the interdependence of rich and poor peoples. We may, perhaps, be forgiven for a touch of cynicism when, as the war in Afghanistan intensified, we heard little more of this new Partnership. We wondered whether this was yet another in the line of initiatives for Africa that would be quickly forgotten. Then, in February, your visit to west Africa caught us by surprise. Here you were, within weeks of the immediate crisis in Afghanistan receding, speaking of partnership ≠ 'the necessity and the possibility of a greatly strengthened partnership between reforming African governments and the world's richer countries. A partnership based on shared responsibility and mutual interest.' Specifically, you spoke of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), agreed in October by African heads of state, as representing: 'a real chance ≠ the best chance in a generation ≠ to do development differently, and more effectively'. On trade, you repeated calls for trade barriers to rich countries to be lifted. And, on the subject of resolving Africa's horrendous conflicts, you pledged that Britain would try to get leaders of the G8 group to agree 'to do more' at their forthcoming summit in Canada. Quite a performance, Tony. And one that we again applauded. Almost as much as we were disappointed by the reaction by certain sections of the British media ≠ which seemed incapable of seeing beyond the questionable implications of your trip for the internal workings of your Transport Secretary's press office. One aspect of your policy drew our immediate attention. 'It is clear that Africans themselves must drive the process of reform,' you said in Ghana. 'If we have learned anything in development over the last decade it is that development strategies imposed from the outside, in the absence of local leadership and commitment, will fail.' We couldn't agree more. And this is where we can offer most help. Christian Aid has 253 partner organisations across 23 of the poorest countries in Africa. These are the local church development and human rights groups that we support, and together they form a unique source of local expertise. Here, Tony, you will find the true voice of Africa ≠ and we strongly urge that you listen to it. Now. 'When you listen, listen quietly so that you can hear the movement of the grasses,' says the Ghanaian proverb. It means, on one level, that you must listen to what is going on at the grassroots. On another, it is a warning. For, as one of our partners there explained, 'often the grasses are moved by the leopard advancing.' A stark warning on the consequences of not listening to Africa and other parts of the developing world came from Willy Brandt, the former West German Chancellor, in his groundbreaking report 'North-South: A programme for survival', published in 1980. The importance of what became known as the 'Brandt Report' was that it added the idea of global interdependence in the modern world to the moral imperative to help poor regions like Africa. He said that the widening gulf between the rich northern countries and the poor of the south was not sustainable. His words have a chilling resonance post-September 11. 'There is a real danger that in the year 2000 a large part of the world will still be living in poverty. Mass starvation and the dangers of destruction may be growing steadily ≠ if a new major war has not already shaken the foundations of what we call world civilisation,' he said. And that was more than 20 years ago. Since the Brandt Report, the plight of Africans has actually worsened. Average incomes are now lower than in the 1960s, and Africa is the only region of the world where the number of people living in extreme poverty is expected to grow. United Nations figures predict that by 2015 some 597 million will be living in this parlous state, up from 484 million in 1999. In a macabre twist, the same projection says that these figures would have been even higher, were it not for the high numbers who are expected to die from HIV/AIDS. On many levels, indeed, Africa is a tragic record breaker. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest level of malnourished people in the world. While, at just 48 years, the people of the region have the lowest life expectancy. Just being born in Africa means that you will live, on average, 29 years less than if you had been born in the UK or Ireland. It is not as though the world has stood idly by while this deterioration has continued. Efforts have been made by international bodies like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to revive the economies of Africa. But, as this report shows, these initiatives have had little impact on the statistical indicators of poverty. In many cases, they have made the situation worse. Christian Aid argues that this failure is principally because inappropriate models of development have been imposed from outside, and that the interests of the reformers from the world's rich countries have carried at least as much weight as the interests of those they purport to help. Development has been attempted in a top-down way, and the real needs of Africa's poorest people have been neglected. The need now, therefore, is for genuinely selfless aid to be given ≠ targeted at the areas and projects that African people themselves say are priorities. And for this to happen, the World Bank and the IMF, the World Trade Organisation and the governments of donor countries like Britain simply must ≠ listen to Africa. Your championing of the recent NEPAD initiative, Tony, is a sure sign that you at least are prepared to start down this road. The important thing about NEPAD, of course, is that it comes from the leaders of Africa themselves. This is not the outpouring of some mid-Atlantic think tank. And the leaders are offering a deal in which an appeal for higher levels of aid is balanced with commitments to good governance and to combating the often endemic corruption in their countries. So far, so fine. But NEPAD joins a dizzying array of existing initiatives on Africa ≠ the UN Millennium Declaration, the G8 Okinawa Declaration, the Copenhagen Declaration, the Skagen Declaration, the Cotonou Agreement, the EU/Cairo Plan of Action, the AGOA, the TICAD and the Sino-Africa process. To name but a few. So what, essentially, can prevent NEPAD and your own initiative turning into just two more African acronyms? Many of our African partners have pointed out that what NEPAD has in common with all these others is the complete lack of consultation that preceded the agreement. Consultation, that is, between the various governments and their own people ≠ as represented by the kind of development and human rights organisations that we at Christian Aid support. Some of these partners have said that the agenda set by NEPAD is not African at all, but a rubber-stamping of the pure liberalisation policies of the West ≠ policies that have already caused much damage in Africa. All of Christian Aid's partners were in favour of Africa speaking out for its own interests. But they also want their own peoples' voices to be heard in the debate. In this report we have tried to show what that voice might sound like, by presenting stories from three distinct perspectives. These are areas that you yourself, Tony, have identified as crucial to Africa's future. On conflict, we hear the voices of women who are the forgotten victims of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are women who have been raped, often gang-raped, by the various forces squabbling over the mineral wealth in the east of that country. As well as the burden of rape, many must also carry the fact that they, and their children born as a result of these rapes, have become infected with the HIV virus. They represent the strongest of calls for intervention to resolve this conflict, which is now enmeshed with all surrounding countries. Its resolution is essential for any discussion of wider regional development. On trade, we hear from those who are supposed to be the privileged recipients of Western beneficence. These are the people of Ghana ≠ a country often held up as an aid success story, but where some development policies have left millions destitute by effectively destroying the industries that used to support them. Had the West only listened before, they say, their country might indeed have been a shining example. Instead it is a place where rich companies get richer and the poorest people are left scavenging to survive. On aid, we do have a success story to report. But it is not one brought about by grand strategies hatched in London, New York or Brussels. It is the story of how women in the poverty-stricken border area on either side of Malawi and Mozambique have made real improvements to their lives, and the lives of their families, by formulating and running their own development plan. Christian Aid has listened carefully as the women have identified the things they need most, and then, together with our partners working there, we have offered support to realise these aims. It might not sound much ≠ a small-scale breeding programme for goats here, cash-crops and wells there, basic training everywhere to give the women an effective voice. But it is genuine, bottom-up development. And it works. Food production has increased impressively, for instance, meaning that these communities have been better able to cope with the food shortages that are threatening the region. It works because we consulted the real experts on poverty in Africa. The ordinary people themselves ≠ those for whom the frightening statistics are a daily reality, but who are rarely asked their opinion. The Malawi/Mozambique project is a small-scale example, but it illustrates a big point. If the War Against Poverty is ever to be won in Africa then these are the people that the world needs to talk to. So please, Tony, listen. Yours sincerely Dr Daleep Mukarji Director, Christian Aid
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