UK House of Commons debate on Africa

Photo of David MilibandDavid Miliband (Secretary of State)

Before we plunge into the difficulties that Africa faces, it is important to recognise that between 1999 and 2006 Africa had made significant progress. The number of armed conflicts was down; economic growth was up; the number of children in school was up by about 30 million; immunisation rates were also up; and more than 3 million Africans are now on life-saving antiretrovirals, which were mentioned earlier. Today, it is right to recognise that Africa faces a

new set of pressures, in addition to the historical burdens that it brings forward. Less investment, lower commodity prices, lower demand for African exports and, importantly, reduced remittances from Africans living abroad all mean that Africa and its people face a new set of pressures.

The impact will vary, but right hon. and hon. Members will have seen some of the estimates. Cuts in growth rates will be widespread, but some of the numbers are very stark indeed. GDP growth in Angola has already fallen from 15 per cent. to minus 7 per cent. Botswana is feeling the effects of a 90 per cent. cut in demand for exports, as they account for 50 per cent. of Government revenue. Zambia is suffering from copper prices falling by a third. Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, export earnings are projected to be 27 per cent. lower this year than last year, and there is a cash-flow crisis projected for the DRC Government; that crisis is probably felt not only in that country.

The wrong response is clear—to scale back our commitments on development, to abandon the Doha trade round, or to reduce our ambition on climate change. Each will harm Africa more than any other continent. That is why the London summit is dedicated to taking concrete actions to protect the poor and vulnerable: to support free trade, promote investment and reform the international financial institutions. The United Kingdom will support the creation of a vulnerable financing facility managed by the World Bank and a global vulnerability monitor led by the UN to manage the impact of the crisis and increase international accountability to the poorest people in the poorest countries.

It is important to recognise that in addition to the economic and environmental imbalances that lie at the heart of the crisis, there is a political imbalance, which is represented in all the major international institutions whose representation is skewed towards the old powers. That is why I hope there is support right across the House for the Prime Minister’s drive to include the whole world in the debate in London this week. There are 20 countries representing 85 per cent. of global gross domestic product, but, significantly, there was outreach to African leaders in the meeting two weeks ago with representatives from 10 African countries, so that their issues and needs are fully on the agenda.

Photo of David MilibandDavid Miliband (Secretary of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; South Shields, Labour)

I was about to come to the fact that there has been increasing disregard of constitutional rule, most recently evident in Madagascar, in the coups in Mauritania and Guinea-Conakry and in the murder of the President of Guinea-Bissau. All those issues speak to a disregard for democratic norms that is very worrying. Two things are important. First, it is significant that the African Union should have been so alarmed by those changes; the way in which it has spoken up has been important. Secondly, we need to make our position clear in each such case, and that is what we seek to do—not least in respect of the case that for many in the House is the greatest affront to democratic norms: the situation in Zimbabwe.

Nowhere is the challenge of promoting democracy more evident than in Zimbabwe. The whole House is desperate to see an end to the suffering of Zimbabweans achieved through governance that restores economic and civil rights to its people; more importantly, so are the people of Zimbabwe. For years, the country has been led on a path of economic ruin and human suffering. Turning that around is a formidable challenge. It needs the Movement for Democratic Change to be allowed genuine power within the new Government. We all hope that Morgan Tsvangirai‘s appointment as Prime Minister offers the change that Zimbabwe needs. We commit to working with him to support stabilisation and recovery. That is why we have increased our humanitarian assistance and will spend £50 million this year to help to feed Zimbabwe’s people, combat cholera, and improve access to clean water and sanitation. But the international community could do so much more if we knew that our assistance would be well used. We need to see that the new Government will be allowed by ZANU-PF to take the measures necessary to end the suffering of the Zimbabwean people. There are some important signs of progress. For instance, public sector workers have recently been paid; and Deputy Minister Bennett has been released. However, there is an enormous task ahead: to stabilise the economy, to restore the rule of law, and to restate and re-enact commitments to human rights and democratic processes.

Today I spoke to our high commissioner in Harare in advance of this debate. The political situation in Zimbabwe remains very delicate. Yet the meeting of donors in Washington last Friday brought the international community together to focus on humanitarian issues. The next step, after the humanitarian assistance and the improvements in governance that we hope to see, is to develop a thoroughgoing reconstruction partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe when we are confident that all money will be used for the right purposes—above all, for the benefit of the Zimbabwean people.

We are also concerned about British nationals in Zimbabwe—a concern that I know will be shared across the House. The UK Government recently launched a package offering assistance to elderly and vulnerable British people to resettle in the UK. These are Britons who are no longer able to support themselves in Zimbabwe because of the severe economic, social and health care problems that affect all who live there—something that the new Government have barely begun to address.

The second area that I want to focus on is conflict, which still scars the continent, causing huge human suffering. The long-term challenge is to build Africa’s capacity to address its conflicts through the African Union. That is why the UK has trained 12,000 African peacekeepers since 2004-05, and we continue to support the development of the African peace and security architecture, in particular the African standby force, whose eastern brigade the UK supports through a dedicated British peace support training team in Nairobi. The UK is also helping to build AU diplomatic and early warning capacity through support for a new network of AU political offices.

We are also, of course, actively engaged in trying to make our contribution to the resolution of the worst conflicts. Following my visit to the great lakes with French Foreign Minister Kouchner last November, we urged regional leaders, led by President Kikwete, to launch a process whereby African mediators helped to restore peace and stability. Thankfully, under UN auspices former President Obasanjo has helped to promote significant change—remarkable change in many ways. Co-ordination between the DRC and Rwanda has led to significant improvements in the situation in the Kivus. However, although joint military action against the FDLRDemocratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda—militias is to be welcomed, the risk of reprisals remains. Hundreds of thousands of people continue to live in fear of disease and violence.

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Photo of David MilibandDavid Miliband (Secretary of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; South Shields, Labour)

All friends of Sierra Leone, in all parts of this House, should be concerned about the situation there. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend Mr. Lewis, will be travelling to Sierra Leone tomorrow, and I know that this question will be high on his agenda. Throughout government and in civil society, there are profound links between Britain and Sierra Leone and we all want to see progress there. I am sure that my hon. Friend will report back to the House after his visit.

Right hon. and hon. Members took a lot of interest in the situation in Kenya, and I shall address that, given the focus on conflict. We remain concerned for the country’s future. There are signs that the reform process begun 15 months ago might be losing momentum. Insufficient efforts have been made to end the climate of impunity, and the failure of the Kenyan Parliament to agree the formation of a special tribunal was a setback for efforts to secure justice for victims of the post-election violence. Corruption and mismanagement are still significant problems; recent allegations underline why Kenyans are calling for their Government to show that they are accountable and transparent, and to uphold the rule of law. Unless the pace of political reform picks up, the outlook is bleak. We want progress on the national accord in order to prevent a repeat of last year’s violence.

Elsewhere, it is clear that a strong international role is needed. In Sudan, the UK is a strong supporter of the Darfur political process and the African Union-United Nations chief mediator, Djibril Bassolé. We will continue to support efforts to reach a lasting political settlement with security established and civil society engaged. We shall work for a lasting political accommodation between Khartoum and Juba that ensures full implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement. I want to say a little about the International Criminal Court. Sudan’s response to the ICC‘s issue of an arrest warrant for President Bashir is no excuse to derail the objectives of securing long-term peace. I urged the Government of Sudan to engage fully with the court, reiterating the UK’s consistent support for the ICC, and calling on all parties to avoid escalation. That raises the question of humanitarian support in that country, given the announcements by President Bashir.

The UK pledged £330 million for Sudan for 2008 to 2011 at the Sudan consortium of international donors in May 2008. The immediate concern is the human suffering created by the dismissal of international non-governmental organisations. Initial estimates suggest that those NGOs provided 50 per cent. of the current humanitarian relief effort in Darfur alone. Their expulsion could result in 1 million people losing access to clean water and sanitation, up to 1.5 million losing access to primary healthcare and disruption to food distribution for up to 1.1 million people. We will continue to urge the Government of Sudan to reverse their decision and are working closely with the UN and NGOs on contingency measures to get aid to the most vulnerable. That will continue throughout April, when key decisions will have to be taken in Khartoum by the Government of Sudan, and any response by the international community, whether in New York or elsewhere, will have to be forthcoming, including issues to be considered by the African Union, based in Addis Ababa, and the Arab League.

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Photo of David MilibandDavid Miliband (Secretary of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; South Shields, Labour)

If the House will allow me, I am happy to give my hon. Friend’s question the detailed response that it requires. First, it is not actually just our budget; it is a joint budget of the FCO, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development. Secondly, he is right that the budget for stabilisation and conflict prevention is under huge pressure. That is partly because of exchange rates, but more significantly—I think that this will interest the House—because of the big rise in the amount of UN and EU peacekeeping around the world, notably in Africa. Many Members will say that that is a good thing, but the UK ends up having to pay a significant share of the bill. That means that we have less money in the pot for discretionary interventions for conflict prevention.

The rise in our assessed contributions—our compulsory contributions to UN and EU missions—will be greater than the fall in our discretionary contributions to Africa, but my hon. Friend is none the less right that there is significant pressure on that part of the Government budget. He uses the term “international subscriptions”, which makes it sound as though we were subscribing to a set of journals or magazines, but we are paying for troops on the ground. He is nevertheless right that those contributions to international peacekeeping efforts drain money from a limited pot. The rise in our compulsory contributions to Africa, however, will outstrip the unfortunate fall in our discretionary contributions.

Before speaking about trade, I want to say something about Somalia, which has suffered conflict and ineffective government for nearly 20 years. Significant changes have occurred there, even since I attended the UN Security Council in December, where the issue was debated. Since President Sharif’s election, his effort to establish a more inclusive Government offers the best chance for many years to address the country’s problems. In support of the political process, we are underpinning the African Union Mission in Somalia—AMISOM. This year, we have pledged a further £4.9 million directly to the AU and £10 million to the UN trust fund. Political progress is important in Somalia, because although AMISOM, which focuses on three parts of Mogadishu, can do some good, a political process is ultimately needed. President Sharif’s start is therefore significant. Following the departure of Ethiopian troops in January, the country did not descend into chaos. President Sharif has made an impressive start.

I was asked earlier about trade and I am happy to continue to reassert the Government’s commitment to open trade as a basis for sustained progress for some of the poorest countries. Those seeking the dignity of making their own way through selling their produce should get our support. The UK is working to ensure that the economic partnership agreements reflect the development needs of African states and provide new trading opportunities, with Europe and regionally. Through infrastructure and policy development, aid for trade allows countries to build capacity and integrate regionally and globally. The UK is on track to exceed our pledge to increase aid for trade by 50 per cent. to $750 million by 2010. The recent pre-London summit Africa outreach meeting, which the Prime Minister hosted, agreed on the need for improved access to resources and markets for African nations, argued that protectionism should be resisted, and encouraged countries to sign up to the Doha round.

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