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    Africa Focus: The imperial tradition
    Posted on Saturday, December 11 @ 15:15:51 UTC
    Topic: Blair
    BlairThe Commission on Africa is just balm for Blair's bad conscience

    By Yao Graham, The Guardian UK

    I have few expectations of Tony Blair's Commission on Africa. We do not need another commission to look at Africa's problems. The archives of the United Nations, African institutions and many other bodies are bulging with reports and proposals on how to resolve the world's north-south divide. There are many international agreements that have been frustrated by western governments and corporations. And, more importantly, African governments have come up with many demands, in forums such as the World Trade Organisation, which have been blocked by western governments, including the UK under Blair.

    Many well-meaning people in the UK have been aroused by the opportunity they see in 2005, when Blair will host the G8 summit and hold the EU presidency. Expressions of concern for Africa's poor have been a Tony Blair constant, with the strongest expressions made when the spin value could be maximised. In the traditions of British imperialism, illegal war and occupation sit easily alongside expressions of concern for those at the sharp end of the empire.

    The reality is that Africa is a good balm for Mr Blair's conscience, especially at this time when his credibility has been badly damaged by the Iraq debacle. Poverty in Africa has long been an easy touch for western politicians who want to show they care. Since the 2002 G8 meeting in Kananaskis, Canada, which coincided with the launch of the controversial New Partnership for Africa's Development, Africa has been elevated to a G8 headline-grabber with the now institutionalised appearance of a select band of African leaders for a shared photo opportunity with the world's most powerful politicians. Each though has yielded little for Africa's peoples.

    I live in a country that Blair has enthusiastically endorsed as offering an example for Africa. For the past 20 years, Ghana has faithfully subordinated itself to the dictates of the World Bank, the IMF and donors such as DfID. The result? Economic growth with a growing gap between rich and poor and widespread unemployment. Foreign businesses are favoured over local ones. The economy has failed to attain self-sustaining growth, and the country is ever more dependent on aid and therefore more beholden to the west. Across Africa there is growing frustration with this economic model promoted by alliances of international institutions, western leaders and compliant African governments.

    Currently Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are faced with yet another case of oppressive demands from the west in the form of the EU's pressure to negotiate reciprocal free-trade agreements by 2008. These will open up Africa's markets to the destructive force of western companies, into areas that African countries resisted at last year's WTO talks. Britain is an active part of this EU stance. Perhaps Mr Blair could give his commission a shot of credibility by raising his voice alongside the many in the ACP countries and Europe who are calling for a stop to these iniquitous agreements.

    Yao Graham is coordinator of Third World Network-Africa, based in Accra; a version of this article appears in the forthcoming issue of Action, magazine of the World Development Movement


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