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Is a prosperous Africa really in our Common Interest?


Analysis of the Blair Commission for Africa report results in divided opinions

Reactions to the recent report of Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa have pulled no punches.  But outright and outspoken cynicism from some quarters has been balanced by cautious optimism from others as well as a positive endorsement of the Report’s analysis of Africa’s challenges and its recommendations for action from others.

{mosimage}A recent event held at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies provided a platform for well-known commentators on Africa to debate whether the report had anything new to offer. The panellists, representing civil society and the private sector, included Clare Short, British MP and former International Development Secretary, Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society and journalist Dr. Tajudeen Abdul Raheem.

Citing the reaction to the US nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as World Bank President as the first test of the UK government’s commitment to the report, Ms. Short expressed her doubts that the report’s call for a doubling of aid to Africa would be met.  She acknowledged that any crisis in Africa would impact on its close neighbour, Europe, and that success for Africa was in Europe’s best interest.  Ultimately, she stated, it was less the Commission’s report than the increasing impatience of African societies that would be the biggest driver to enforcing change and addressing corruption and bad governance.

From the perspective of African commentator, Dr. Abdul Raheem, the report while fundamentally offering no new solutions, did signal a shift in nuance by acknowledging the issue of corruption in Africa as a two-way process and by highlighting the role of the West in enabling corruption in Africa.  Describing the presentation of 2005 as an apocalyptic year for Africa as “ridiculous”, he urged the UK to take the lead in abandoning self-interest and fulfilling its own promises to Africa.

The report’s emphasis on capacity building and training for Africans was welcomed by South African Koosum Kalyan who chaired the Business Contact group that reported on the private sector contribution to the Commission’s report.  Highlighting capacity and corruption as the two greatest barriers to the levels of growth required across Africa to meet the Millennium Development Goals, Ms. Kalyan welcomed the report’s recommendations on identifying practical solutions to support Nepad and the African Union to address these issues.

According to Richard Dowden, former Africa Editor for the Economist, while the report was well written, in his view it raised expectations that would be hard to fulfil, even under the best scenarios. 

But the report has attracted support from international bodies and during a recent visit to London, the World Bank’s Vice-President for Africa, Gobind Nankani, welcomed the report’s ‘hopeful realism’.  He stressed the World Bank’s commitment to supporting efforts by African governments to achieve greater economic growth through a balanced assessment of their own needs against available external financing/funding options.

The Commission for Africa report can be accessed in both English and French through the Commission’s website

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