Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.-[Mr. Jim Murphy.]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin) : I shall start, if I may, with the good news, because what most people see of Africa is bad news. What we see on our television screens and read in the newspapers tends to be bad news, but the news from Africa is not all bad. The great event, the importance of which one can never overstate, was the transfer of power in South Africa 10 years ago from the apartheid regime to a democratic Government. There is now a peaceful democratic society in South Africa, a vibrant civil society, a free press, free elections and all the other things that we expect of a modern democracy.
The people of South Africa are not without their problems, as they would be the first to admit, but who, standing here 15 years ago, could have predicted a peaceful transfer of power from the odious apartheid regime to a democratic Government, and that, 10 years on, it would still be a peaceful democracy? Indeed, it grows in strength with every passing year. As South Africa is by far the largest economy on the continent, it is a rather large piece of good news that it has stable government and now plays an important part not only in the community of nations on the African continent, but in the world community.
Let us consider the holocaust that Rwanda went through 10 years ago. Who could have predicted then that today, under President Kagame and his colleagues, there would be stability in Rwanda and a degree of prosperity? The people of Rwanda have gone a long way-again, they would acknowledge that they still have a long way to go-to heal the wounds of that terrible atrocity. Which country in Europe or, indeed, anywhere else could have got over such horrors in such a relatively short period? So there is good news from Rwanda, too.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, I was in Rwanda recently and I endorse everything that he has said about Rwanda's development and overcoming the horrors of the genocide. However, does he have concerns about the possibility of Rwandan activities in the Congo? Can the British Government, who are a considerable donor to the Rwandan Government, exert pressure in that direction?
Mr. Mullin : Yes, we have some concerns and we frequently exert what influence we have with the Government of Rwanda to impress on them that they must not become re-engaged in the Congo. There have been accusations, but I am not aware of evidence that they have recently got re-involved in the Congo, certainly not militarily. One must acknowledge, of course, that they have an interest. There are perhaps 10,000 ex-FAR/Interhamwe still inside the Congo who from time to time make raids into Rwanda and Burundi. Many of those people are responsible for the atrocities that occurred 10 years ago, so Rwanda has a legitimate interest in resolving the matter, and we are trying to help with that, too.
Let us stick with good news for a moment and consider what has happened in Mozambique in the past few years. Starting from a very low base after a vicious civil war, partly fuelled by the apartheid regime in South Africa, Mozambique has established a fledgling democracy and a degree of development-prosperity is probably too strong a word-that one could not have predicted seven, eight or 10 years ago. Indeed, Mozambique has just had a second successful democratic election.
Let us move on to west Africa and consider Ghana. It, too, has come a long way in the past decade or so, having got off to a rocky start, certainly under Nkrumah and later under Jerry Rawlings. It, too, has stable democratic government and it plays a leading part in the affairs of west Africa.
Botswana , which has been well run since its independence, benefits enormously from mineral wealth, particularly diamonds. As we all know, mineral wealth can be a curse rather than a blessing in Africa, but it has been properly managed in Botswana, and a stable, modern democracy has been created, an example from which other countries in Africa would do well to learn.
Malawi and Tanzania are both extremely poor countries that have been through rocky periods but are moving in the right direction towards development. They both have Governments who care about the welfare of their people and are committed to sensible economic and social policies.
Togo was not an example of how to run an African country. It had had the same leader-a military man-from, I think, 1968 until this year, a record for the whole of Africa, if not a particularly glorious one. When he died suddenly, there was an attempt to impose a regime under his son to serve out the remainder of General Eyadema's term. However, the other regional powers in west Africa swiftly got together and made it clear to the Togolese that that was not acceptable in modern Africa. The coup-if that was what it was-was quickly "uncouped". That would probably not have happened a few years ago, and it is evidence, if evidence we seek, that the democratic ethic is becoming entrenched in new parts of Africa.
Not much good news has come from Sudan over the years, but there is one fairly large cause for hope. After years of painstaking negotiations, in which the international community has played a part, between the north and the south, a comprehensive peace agreement has been signed. It allows for the sharing of the mineral and oil wealth of the country, and for a coalition Government that will lead in due course to a democratically elected Government commanding the confidence of, if not all, most people in Sudan. That is an important development and a window of opportunity, but the jury is still out. I shall not make too much of it because 2 million people died in the civil war between the north and south in Sudan. If the comprehensive peace agreement between north and south works-it is still in its early stages- it will become a template for a settlement in Darfur where bad things are still happening.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): It saddens me to have to disagree with the Minister, having agreed with the earlier items on his list, but does he not accept that the difference between Darfur, where every kind of atrocity is being committed-not least by Government jets and armed helicopters-and the south of Sudan is simple? In the south, the rebels were sufficiently well armed to fight Government troops to a standstill so they had to negotiate, whereas the wretched people of Darfur have nothing to fight back with and are experiencing partial genocide.
Mr. Mullin : I go along with most of what the hon. Gentleman said and I do not wish to overstate the latest development in Sudan, because it is good news only compared with what it follows; a civil war in which, over 20 years or more, 2 million people died. However, if the agreement is properly handled-it remains to be seen whether it will be, so I shall not make too much of it-it could form the basis for a settlement in Darfur and perhaps other regions in Sudan.
The hon. Gentleman will know that talks are being held in Abuja-they have been postponed for now but I expect them to resume in the not-too-distant future-aimed at bringing a political settlement to Darfur. Only a political settlement and some form of devolved administration that gives the people of Darfur a say in how their region is run will solve the problem.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will the Minister kindly clarify exactly what Her Majesty's Government are seeking for Darfur at the Security Council? The African Union has a very limited monitoring mandate and is grossly under strength. Everyone accepts the need to increase the strength of the African Union to a considerably larger force, but do the Government want the Security Council to give the African Union in Darfur a peacekeeping and a peace-enforcing mandate, and are the Government willing to help to provide the financial means to ensure that that mandate can be delivered?
Mr. Mullin : The British Government have already made a large contribution to the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur; we stand ready to increase it and to do more. If we were convinced that the mandate was the problem we would certainly be willing to consider extending it but there is a good deal of discretion within the existing mandate which, from time to time, the African Union forces are exercising. The key issue is to get African Union forces on the ground in sufficient numbers to make an impact, as they are beginning to do. There are just over 2,000 there now and that force will obviously have to be increased. With other members of the international community, we are managing some of the logistics. That is broadly our policy.
I think the hon. Gentleman understands that the African Union force is the only game in town and it must have a mandate robust enough to enable it to impose some order. We will be sympathetic to any proposals for change, but there is considerable discretion in the existing mandate. [Interruption.] I thought that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) was seeking to intervene, but it was just an involuntary twitch.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I was just adjusting my trousers. [Laughter.]
Mr. Mullin: There are some countries on which the jury is still out: Sierra Leone-Britain has made a major investment in rebuilding that shattered county, but it remains in a very fragile state; Ethiopia, which for the first time in many years has a Government who are genuinely concerned about the welfare of their people-
Several hon. Members rose -
Mr. Mullin : The danger of my referring to all these countries is that every time I mention one, someone will pop up like a jack-in-the-box and we will be sidetracked into a debate on a particular country.
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh) (LD): The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sierra Leone. I have asked questions in the House on the situation regarding the return of refugees from Guinea to Sierra Leone and Liberia following the war. Does the Minister intend to mention the progress in returning refugees from Guinea to Sierra Leone and Liberia?
Mr. Mullin : I was not planning to go into that matter, as the debate is about Africa as a whole; it is a rather big continent. Some day we will have a debate on Sierra Leone and we will go into that kind of detail. The hon. Gentleman is right to flag up the issue.
Mr. Bercow : I am rather worried about the Minister, specifically about his Foreign Office timidity on the subject of Darfur. There is a marked difference between his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), in which he suggests that, broadly speaking, the mandate is adequate and that there is plenty of flexibility for its interpretation and implementation in Darfur, and the answers given by the Prime Minister a few minutes ago to the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), in which the Prime Minister suggested that the British Government were indeed pushing for a much stronger mandate. I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong, but for him to be out of line with his own Prime Minister is a risky course, which he would do well to avoid.
Mr. Mullin : The hon. Gentleman is right; it is an extremely risky course but I said-perhaps he did not hear me-that we would be sympathetic, should the need arise, to stiffening up the mandate and other aspects of the resolution. We take one of the tougher lines at the UN in relation to Sudan.
Sticking with the countries on which the jury is still out, I mentioned Sierra Leone and Ethiopia. In addition, after 24 years of pretty rotten government in Kenya there has been a peaceful transfer of power to an Opposition-led Government. There have been some disappointments of late, as hon. Members will be aware. I hope that they will not feel obliged to intervene to demonstrate their knowledge of those disappointments. There has also been a lot of progress, in particular the extension of primary education across the whole country and the sacking of quite a large number of corrupt officials, including about 40 judges in one sweep. However, more progress needs to be made.
I next turn to one of the most difficult countries of all, Nigeria. It has suffered decades of misgovernment mainly under military regimes. We now see, after an extremely bleak period, a window of opportunity. There is no doubt that the political will to make a difference exists at the top under President Obasanjo. He has an effective Finance Minister, a Nigerian lady who was brought in from the World Bank. Among other things, she has started publishing the federal revenues that are doled out to the 36 states. That has had a wondrous effect. People in the states are starting to ask what is happening to the money that comes to them from the centre. Only yesterday, President Obasanjo sacked his Education Minister for corruption. There appears to be renewed vigour. Nigeria has serious problems and I do not want to gloss over them in any way; nor do the Nigerians. But we see a window of opportunity now that did not exist before.
Thirty years ago in Africa, there were just three democratically elected heads of state. Today there are more than 30. The bad news remains; there is a wide and growing gulf between the standard of living and development in Africa and just about all of the rest of the world. As I said earlier, mineral wealth has so often proved to be a curse rather than a blessing and has fuelled civil wars and instability. Africa's problems are to some extent a colonial legacy, although that is fading.
The big issue is corruption and misgovernment on an awesome scale. Zimbabwe is only the latest and saddest example. It has led in some cases to the implosion of entire societies and we are presented with the relatively new phenomenon; the failed state. In the case of the Congo, it is a failed state the size of western Europe. Somalia has seen a catastrophic failure, resulting in the exodus of almost the entire educated class, leaving the rest in chaos.
Liberia is now the subject of the largest current UN peace mission, its third international intervention. I wish that I could say that I saw light at the end of that particular tunnel, but I do not. The problems are compounded by the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS, which threatens to engulf even well-run societies. The result is that Africa today is in many respects going backwards. Hundreds of millions of people exist on less than $1 a day. Tens of thousands of children die every year before the age of five from preventable diseases. There is, as we see now in Darfur, the ever-present threat of implosion.
There is also the growth of the culture of impunity that says that however badly people behave and whatever atrocity they commit, there will be no consequences. We are determined to challenge that. An opportunity arises in the case of Darfur, where we have an opportunity to bring to justice those who have been responsible for the catastrophe that has occurred there.
Mr. Brazier :rose-
Mr. Mullin : If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself for a moment, I shall finish my point and then give way.
It is important to challenge the culture of impunity that has grown up in parts of Africa and in other parts of the world, just as we are challenging it in the Balkans. Increasingly, Africans are demanding that as well.
Mr. Brazier : The Minister said that those who are responsible for the atrocities in Darfur should be brought to justice. Can there be any doubt that the Government in Khartoum is responsible for sending helicopter gunships to strafe women and children?
Mr. Mullin : It is certainly some members of the Government in Khartoum, and many local tribal and militia leaders; all sorts of people are responsible. There has been a United Nations investigation and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, some 51 people are alleged to be among those most responsible for what has happened. Although their names have not been disclosed, they have been recorded, with a recommendation that, eventually, they be tried by the International Criminal Court. We hope that that will happen.
Mr. Bercow : I welcome the Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, subject to one rather important caveat. I did not much like his use of the word "eventually." Although I think that there would be a general acceptance that the immediate priority is effective peace enforcement, does he agree that it is imperative to bring the suspected culprits to trial before the International Criminal Court as soon as possible, and that the alternative of justice delayed would be justice denied at great expense, through some special tribunal, as the painful and expensive experience in relation to Rwanda eloquently demonstrates?
Mr. Mullin : I accept that those responsible need to be brought to justice as soon as possible, not least because we want to discourage others from carrying on down the same wicked road. As he also says, the first priority-the two are probably connected-is to restore some semblance of normality to the lives of the people in Darfur. Those are not necessarily contradictory ambitions.
What is to be done? I think that we all agree that we cannot stand idly by in the face of some of the terrible things that have happened in Africa; neither can we rush in and impose our own solutions without local consent. We have to work with those Africans, of whom there are many, who care about the condition of their people, and we have to help them to find African solutions to African problems. That is the basis of UK policy, and it is part of the rationale behind our Commission for Africa.
One of the main purposes of the commission is to drive Africa and African issues up the agenda of the G8 and the European Union, of which we will have the joint presidencies this year. It is early days, but I am glad to say that the report of the commission-on which the majority are African-has been well received. The proof will be in the eating, and we shall work vigorously to ensure that Africa is a priority for the G8 and the EU. In that context, I welcome yesterday's European Council statement, emphasising the EU's commitment to African development.
The issues are easy to enumerate and are set out clearly in the report of the Commission for Africa. First, the key issue is governance, besides which everything else pales. Unless proper democratic, transparent and accountable systems of government can be established, we cannot hope to deliver development for the people of Africa. I can put it no better than Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, did at the AU summit in Addis Ababa last year. I was present at that meeting at which he said, in the presence of a number of dictators, whom it was pleasant to watch squirming in their seats as he did so:
"This new spirit of democratic empowerment in Africa must find a home in every African country. For that to happen, politics must be inclusive, and a careful institutional balance must be preserved including regular free and fair elections, a credible opposition whose role is respected, an independent judiciary which upholds the rule of law, a free and independent press, effective civilian control over the military, and a vibrant civil society.
This institutional balance cannot be achieved without the peaceful and constitutional change of power. There is no truer wisdom, and no clearer mark of statesmanship, than knowing when to pass the torch to a new generation. And no government should manipulate or amend the constitution to hold on to office beyond prescribed term limits that they accepted when they took office."
Those remarks were made in the presence of just about all the leaders of Africa. When Kofi Annan sat down, the chair of the AU, former President Chissano of Mozambique, pointed at some of the biggest offenders and said, "And we all know who he was talking about, don't we?"
We sense that there is, in most parts of Africa, a renewed commitment to good governance and democracy. We are particularly encouraged by NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, which is pioneering the concept of peer review, where countries voluntarily open their books and political systems for inspection by senior Africans. About 20 countries have volunteered so far, starting with Ghana, the report on which is not out yet but will be published shortly. The object is to try to drive up standards in the countries that are being inspected and set examples for other countries that still have a long way to travel.
Some time ago, the Prime Minister launched the extractive industries transparency initiative. Transparency is a vital component of good governance. A number of countries have signed up to that initiative and I encourage more to do so. The object of the initiative is that countries with mineral wealth should be open about what happens to the proceeds of that wealth and that the multinational companies with which they are dealing should be open about who they are paying in respect of it. That would make a big difference in some of those countries that have been cursed, rather than blessed, with mineral wealth on their territory. The other big issue is that countries have to show resolve, as the best African leaders do increasingly, in tackling corruption.
Secondly, on conflict resolution, the long-term solution is not for the UN or Europe-former colonial powers-to send military missions to sort out problems that re-emerge as soon as they are off the scene. We are attempting to get to that position in Darfur, but I must be frank and say that this is a long, difficult and frustrating process. We want to build up African peacekeeping capacity through the African Union, because that is the only way forward in the long term. We are willing when asked, and we have been asked, to provide logistical and other support, which we do in Darfur. But the initiative has to come from the African Union, and that is generally accepted as the way forward.
Thirdly, debt relief should not be unconditional. In the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, so far 27 of the 42 that qualify for debt relief have had some debt relieved. They are expected to enjoy debt relief worth about £70 billion, a substantial amount. We all accept that many countries in Africa-not only in Africa-have in the past stored up debts that are completely unsustainable. They paid off the capital years ago, but the interest keeps mounting up indefinitely. They are spending more on repaying debts than they are on education, health and the welfare of their people. That is something that we all strive to avoid.
Beyond HIPC, which covers only the most heavily indebted, poorest countries, other countries have unsustainable debt. One is Nigeria, which has a national debt of £34 billion, most of it stored up during the years of military government. We think, although not all our international colleagues agree, that given the window of opportunity provided by the apparent political will that now exists in Nigeria to deal with some of their long-term problems, we need to look sympathetically at the problem of Nigerian debt. We intend to do that, but we have to take our colleagues in the Paris Club with us.
The fourth issue is trade justice. We are moving the barriers that undoubtedly exist to prevent African countries from exporting their goods into the developed world. There has been some progress in reducing or phasing out EU and World Trade Organisation agricultural subsidies, but we can and should do more. We intend to use our presidencies of the G8 and the EU to drive forward progress on fair terms of trade for developing countries.
At the same time, African countries could do rather more to remove internal barriers to trade. Trade between African countries counts for only about 12 per cent. of the continent's trade at the moment compared with Europe, where trade between EU countries counts for 50 or 60 per cent. The East African Community is beginning to show the way with its proposed customs unions, and we hope that other areas of Africa will do likewise.
Jeremy Corbyn : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great problems in Africa is the structure of transport and trade arrangements? Basically, the transport structures are all linked towards taking goods out of Africa, particularly raw materials, and exporting them to Europe or North America. The lack of transcontinental railways and roads is obviously a serious handicap. Should not the emphasis be on investment into some major infrastructure programmes to that effect?
Mr. Mullin : Yes, that is a factor, but there are others-many of them bureaucratic. Many Governments interfere too much in what is a matter for the free market. It pains me to say it-I see that that brought a smile to the face of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow)-but that is probably more of an obstacle than infrastructure. All over Africa, one can see the infrastructure decaying. Billions were spent on putting it in but it has not been maintained.
The big issue with infrastructure is ensuring that it is properly maintained. I remember travelling in 1976 on the Tanzam railway shortly after it was opened. Someone remarked that the railway would probably close after the last Chinese engineer left. It did not, not quite, but it went downhill considerably.
In Nigeria I was told of a steelworks in which £4 billion to £5 billion has been spent and which will never produce a single ingot of steel. Nigeria has quite a good network of railways, but no trains run on them. Although I have no doubt that there are infrastructure problems, and there is something in what my hon. Friend says about the colonial infrastructure being geared towards taking stuff out of Africa, I think that there are other, bigger problems.
Mr. Chidgey : The Minister has touched on an extremely important point. Billions of pounds have been invested in trying to create an infrastructure throughout Africa, for various reasons, whether for the requirements of colonial powers or anything else. However, the real issue is the maintenance of that infrastructure. I speak with some knowledge, as the Minister knows. Is it not the issue that, with the agreement of our partners in Africa, we need to put in a place a system whereby we can produce the human resources with the skills to maintain and protect those huge investments? Without the human resources to look after them, it is almost a waste of time.
Mr. Mullin : Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right. I am grateful for his support, because I know that it comes with a degree of personal knowledge from his past incarnation. He is right about capacity-building; I intend to speak about that in a moment.
I turn now to the fifth element in the "what is to be done" aspect of my contribution; overseas aid. Some people put that at the top of the list, saying that much more money is needed. That is true, but it needs to be spent wisely and properly, and must be properly accounted for. However, it should not be at the top of the list; governance, without doubt, should be at the top. Without governance and transparency everything else fails.
We inherited an aid budget that was 0.27 per cent. of GDP and falling; it is now 0.36 per cent. and rising. The value of our aid to Africa has more than doubled in real terms over the past eight years and by next year will exceed £1 billion a year. These days-this brings me on to the point that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) made-we tend to concentrate on capacity-building rather than on projects or infrastructure. For example, we focus on training the police, the army and civil servants, and on setting up systems for revenue collection. The aim is to give Africans the capacity to address their own problems rather than to have someone else do that for them.
I often think that the most useful aid that we can offer a poor country is to help it to set up a customs and excise or revenue system to raise some money for the state, so that the state has money to spend on health, education and the welfare of its people. At the moment, in many countries in Africa that have no resources, the only function of the Government is to stop things happening. It is only when those countries have resources that they can do something for the welfare of their people. The state then gains respect and the democratic process becomes entrenched because instead of stopping things, the state can make things happen. That is, therefore, one of the most useful things that we can do.
For example, in Angola, Mozambique and one or two other places, Crown Agents help to run the customs and excise. That has greatly improved revenues, done wonders for getting rid of corruption and provided the state with some money that it can use for the welfare of its people.
In conclusion, I am under no illusions-no one who has any knowledge of Africa will be under any illusions-about the enormity of the task that we face. However, the one thing that I have learned in the nearly two years that I have done this job is that there is no shortage of good, capable, honest Africans of integrity at every level. Our role is to help the good guys and to discourage the bad guys. We have led the way on debt relief and on tariff reform, and these days our aid is targeted firmly at the poorest people in the poorest countries. I believe, without wishing to sound complacent, that we can hold our heads high.