» Monday, October 4, 2004

PM’S Africa Visit

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Prime Minister was spending part of today preparing for his forthcoming visit to Africa this week. The key part of the trip would be the meeting of the Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa between 6 and 8 October. This was the second meeting of the Commission and marked the half way point of its exercise to refine its work schedule to look at how to take forward the publication of its report which was due next spring. The purpose of the Commission was to help Africa help itself by bringing together African people to examine their different experiences. This was being done as part of the UK’s combined Presidencies of the G8 and the EU next year. We hoped the issue would feed into and inform the G8 agenda which would look at the problems facing Africa – such as those relating to conflict, disease and, in some cases, weak governance. We wanted to examine how Africa could be helped through means such as debt relief, health programmes and also trade. That said, it was important for Africa to view the report as one that was being produced with it, rather than for it – hence the importance of the meeting in Addis Ababa this week. Asked to explain what was meant by ‘weak governance’, the PMOS said that he was referring to issues such as transparency, corruption and ensuring that financial transactions were above board. All affected the credibility of countries in terms of attracting inward investment. He pointed out that some countries had already made progress in tackling such issues.

Asked which other Cabinet Ministers would be accompanying the Prime Minister to Africa, the PMOS said that Hilary Benn would be going. He added that most members of the Commission, including Bob Geldof, would also be attending the meeting, although he did not think that Bono would be able to do so.

Asked the outcome the Prime Minister was expecting to see from his visit this week, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister wanted to see a Commission report which reflected the reality both in terms of what worked and what did not work in Africa and which focussed the minds of Africa and the rest of the world in terms of how to turn the continent around. The key point was that Africa should not feel that any solution was being imposed on it but should be leading the way, supported by the rest of the world, in helping to resolve its own problems. This week’s meeting would take the opportunity to go through the Commission’s agenda, refine the issues it was considering and see whether further work needed to be done before its final report was published.

Asked if the Prime Minister felt frustrated about the lack of progress regarding Africa so far, the PMOS said that no one should expect instant solutions to the deep and intractable problems facing African countries. Other continents had made progress in the last decade, but this had not been matched by Africa – which was why it was important to uncover the reasons and address them. It was worth taking the time and making the effort to ensure that the Africa Commission’s report reflected the whole picture rather than going for instant solutions. Once it was completed, it was important for people to recognise it as an authoritative analysis which had come up with real recommendations to enable the G8 and the rest of the world to respond accordingly. Put to him that issues in the past which had prevented Africa from helping itself had included trade, debt relief and aid – all of which were governed by the US, the UK and the EU for example, the PMOS pointed out that one of the key changes in our attitude towards aid programmes was the idea that we could impose aid on countries in Africa. In our view, it was far better to allow the countries themselves to decide what their priorities should be according to their needs. Similarly, it should be left up to them to decide how to tackle health problems in their own countries. Put to him that it was perfectly possible to ‘impose’ debt relief, the PMOS said that we wanted to work with countries to deal with this issue rather than impose solutions from the outside because ultimately what was important was whether they were ready to take advantage of the opportunities which debt relief gave them.

Asked if there was any link between ‘improving and stabilising Africa’ and tackling terrorism, the PMOS said that as Bono had indicated, the Commission for Africa had been set up partly in recognition of the fact that allowing problems to fester and instability to grow unhindered would mean that it would be hard to control the outcome of such a situation. While it was true that no one could say with any certainty what would happen in the future, equally it would be very difficult to guard against what could happen.

Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to the Chancellor about financial matters relating to Africa, the PMOS said that some of the discussions in the run up to the report would obviously involve the Treasury. However, we would not be briefing on them in detail. Asked why the Chancellor was not accompanying the Prime Minister on his visit despite the fact that he was a member of the African Commission, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister would be representing the UK.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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