Peter Hain – 2001 Speech at the Africa Educational Trust

Below is the text of the speech made by Peter Hain, the then Foreign Office Minister, to the Africa Educational Trust on 23rd January 2001 in London.

It is a great honour for me to be delivering this speech this evening in memory of the Reverend Michael Scott. He was a great inspiration to me and many others who campaigned against the evils of apartheid. He left an indelible mark in southern Africa, particularly in Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Education is vital to the British Government, here and in Africa: education for all not just an elite few. And I am therefore a great admirer of the Africa Educational Trust, which for 40 years has helped educate young Africans who have escaped from oppression and conflict. A galaxy of stars have returned home to play major roles in the transformation to majority rule in southern Africa. Many of the southern African politicians, officials, teachers and businessmen I meet have benefited in some way from your work.

I was born in Nairobi. I am a son of Africa. As an African born British Minister for Africa, I have a personal commitment to the African continent. I want to help build a genuine partnership between the continent of my birth and my adopted homeland. The future of the United Kingdom is inexorably linked to the future of Africa. We have much in common. Britain cannot afford to ignore the plight of our African brothers and sisters.

Our policy is straightforward. We back success in Africa. We are work in partnership with Africans to overcome past failures: African and western. We support Africans who stand up for democracy. We help those who want economic reform. And we encourage and support those who strive for peace.

THE YEAR 2000 IN AFRICA

On the eve of the new millennium, there was an air of optimism. Much was made about the 21st century being Africa’s century. The future looked bright. Africa had finally broken free from the shackles of colonialism. From the divisive politics of the Cold War. It was ready to decide its own future. Talk was of an ‘African Renaissance’.

But, if we are to believe national and international media, the year 2000 was a disaster for Africa. Afro?pessimism ruled supreme. Commentators called Africa ‘the hopeless continent’, riven by conflict, bad leadership and economic failure. Journalists queued up in their attempts to put Africa down. And in doing so, one could almost sense an air of relief. Why? Because African failure lets the international community off the hook. If Africa is ‘hopeless’, then there is no point in even trying to help. With a shrug of the shoulders, attention can turn away.

Can we blame the Afro-pessimists? At times, last year tested even my faith in Africa’s future. Pictures of Ethiopian and Eritrean armies slaughtering each other across barren and inconsequential land in scenes reminiscent of 1914 Europe. Brutal conflict in Sierra Leone, caused by rebels backed by a neighbouring state and destabilising the region. Seemingly never-ending conflicts in the DRC and Angola fuelled and sustained by the illegal trade in diamonds. Civil war in Burundi. Successive coups and counter coups in Cote d’Ivoire. And government-motivated political intimidation and violence in Zimbabwe.

And even where Governments were trying to make positive changes, disaster struck. Devastating floods in Mozambique. Drought in Kenya. Forest fires in South Africa all set back development efforts. The collapse in cocoa and gold prices and the rise of oil prices undermined Ghanaian economic success. The terrifying plague of AIDS continued to engulf and ravage the continent. And malaria kept killing thousands of Africans.

So, it is easy to see why Afro?pessimism dominated the headlines. In the words of President Mbeki, what happens in one part of Africa affects the continent’s image as a whole. Unfair, but it is a fact.

And yet, as so often, the headlines betrayed the superficiality of journalism. I travelled extensively in Africa throughout last year. During my travels and my many discussions with Africans and Africa watchers, I picked up a common theme. Yes, Africa does face enormous challenges in this new era of globalisation. But a new shared vision of Africa’s future is emerging. There is a growing consensus among African leaders that they must implement urgent economic, political and governance reforms. Leaders are defining more clearly the resource needs, and development priorities required to meet these challenges. A new generation of African leaders is coming to power. Democracy and political participation are growing. A new generation of African entrepreneurs is emerging.

The UN Millennium Assembly in September 2000 was a watershed for Africa. A succession of African leaders came to the podium and spoke about what they, not the rest of the world, but they needed to do to set Africa on the road to recovery and growth. And in response, Tony Blair led the way for the developed world. Let me remind you of a little of what he said. ‘…we need a new partnership for Africa, in which Africans lead but the rest of the world is committed; where all the problems are dealt with not separately but together in a coherent and unified plan. Britain stands ready to play our part with the rest of the world and the leaders of Africa in formulating such a plan.’ This is the cornerstone of our policy. We want to see a step change in the way that Africa and developed countries engage with each other. The future involves a modern, forward looking relationship, based on equality, respect, shared convictions, mutual interest and mutual obligations.

The OAU itself has recognised that the time is right for Africa to develop its own development strategy: entitled the ‘Millennium Africa Programme’. The Presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria have been mandated to develop it. We are working hard with these countries, across Whitehall and with the private and NGO sectors to ensure that we are ready to respond promptly, positively and productively to this African led strategy.

I have been saying since I began this job that democracy in Africa is growing rapidly. Last year we saw further evidence of this in Senegal, Tanzania, Mauritius, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Yes there well publicised problems in Zimbabwe. But elections were held. And the world quickly learned of the terrible events surrounding them. Further proof that that African governments are becoming increasingly accountable. And Zimbabwe now has a functioning opposition party represented in Parliament. Earlier this month we saw the first peaceful, democratic change of government and President in Ghana. Throughout Africa, civil society has developed a voice. And that voice is increasingly being heard, loud and clear. In 1973, only three African Heads of State were democratically elected. Last year the figure was 32 – 10 times greater.

The decision by the OAU Summit in Lome in July to exclude the Presidents of Cote d’Ivoire and the Comoros sent a clear message of rejection of coup d’etats and military juntas. Africa’s leaders made clear that only leaders who come to power through accountable and transparent means would be welcome at their table. I believe this brave decision and other efforts by African leaders played some part in the removal of the military dictator General Guei by the people of Cote d’Ivoire.

The refrain of African solutions to African problems has been ringing for some years now. Too often, it has been used as an excuse for the rest of the world to abdicate responsibility for helping to resolve Africa’s disputes. We demonstrated through our efforts in Sierra Leone last year that we take seriously our responsibility as members of the UN Security Council and wider UN family. But we also saw renewed African efforts at conflict resolution. President Bouteflika of Algeria worked tirelessly to bring the warring parties in Ethiopia and Eritrea together. He personally, and the OAU as an organisation deserve great credit for the fact that Ethiopia and Eritrea have signed a peace deal and UN peacekeepers have been deployed. Nelson Mandela, even in retirement continues to work for peace. His efforts in Burundi following on from the work of the late Julius Nyerere – who gave this lecture in 1997 – appear to be bearing fruit. Largely through the efforts of President Guelleh of Djibouti, we are now seeing early positive signs that the largely forgotten tragedy of Somalia could be coming to an end. After more than 10 years of civil war and a failed state, reconciliation will not prove easy. But there is now hope.

So, I would describe the year 2000 as the year of African peacemaking. Africa’s leaders demonstrated that when given appropriate international support, they can resolve African disputes. Of course, problems remain. Africa’s ‘First World War’ in the Democratic Republic of the Congo drags on with unmitigated humanitarian suffering. Of course, I deplore the use of violence and I regret the assassination of President Kabila. But I hope that creation of a new government in Kinshasa will deliver fresh impetus for peace. But importantly, no new African conflicts erupted in 2000. This is a new trend on which we must build.

THE CHALLENGES FOR AFRICA

But despite these positive signals, Africa still faces enormous challenges. Africa is poorer now than 30 years ago. Over 250 million, that is 40 per cent of the population of sub Saharan Africa live on less than one dollar a day. Average output per head in Africa is now lower than it was 30 years ago. GDP per head in the EU is more than 45 times greater than in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa’s share of world trade has fallen sharply, and investment has declined. Average real economic growth is currently two per cent a year. But as population growth is also around two per cent a year, GDP per head is stagnant. If Africa is to meet the international target of halving poverty by 2015, GDP will need to grow by an average of seven per cent a year. If the terms of trade continue to deteriorate, conflict proliferates or if international development assistance continues to decline, this growth requirement will be even higher.

At the dawn of the 21st century more than 250 million people in Africa do not have access to safe water. More than 200 million do not have access to health services. 533 million do not have access to electricity. Only 10 African countries have achieved Universal Primary Education. In most countries literacy rates have stagnated over the past twenty years.

So, while I recognise the early signs of positive change, I still have profound fears for Africa’s future. The list seems endless: HIV/AIDS, poor governance, conflict affecting half the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, economic marginalisation, deteriorating infrastructure, low levels of saving, capital flight and human migration, the continuing debt burden, deterioration of the terms of trade, declining incomes and worsening education. These all point to a continuing decline in economic and human development in Africa.

The statistics I have seen on the impact of HIV/AIDS in sub Saharan Africa are horrific. Ten times as many people in Africa died of AIDS in 1999 as died in conflict. In some countries, a quarter of the adult population will die in the next six years. Skills will be lost. The time and energy of the healthy will be diverted from economic and agricultural production to caring for the victims of AIDS. But in despair, there is hope. The Governments of Senegal and Uganda have made great strides towards bringing the AIDS pandemic under control. There are also early signs of success in Tanzania and Zambia.

But Malaria also offers a huge threat to Africa’s future. If it were possible to control malaria, this could translate into an additional 20 per cent growth in Africa over a 15 year period.

New drugs are urgently needed to combat the increasing problem of drug resistance, as well as new vaccines to prevent HIV, TB and Malaria. But there is inadequate research for most of these rampant diseases and it is regarded as unprofitable for drugs companies to develop drugs and vaccines to prevent or treat them.

The challenge is enormous, but we have examples of what can be done if there is a determination to make a difference. Polio was once a huge threat to Africa. But now Africa is well on the way towards eradicating it, even in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. There are efforts underway to tackle the threat of communicable diseases. Across Whitehall we are working hard to assess what more we can do.

If we are to halt Africa’s economic marginalisation and decline in the global economy, international investment and flight capital must return. But international business sentiment is increasingly negative about Africa’s prospects. As Africa missed the industrial revolution, it now risks missing the knowledge revolution. Investment rating services list Africa as the highest risk region in the world. But Africa has huge economic potential. It has great strength in natural resources, and potential for processing and manufacturing. There is a new generation of entrepreneurs emerging in a number of countries. In Uganda, following debt relief, there are early signs that flight capital is starting to return. We must build on this and help our businessmen and women to discover and invest in those areas of potential. We must educate potential investors to look beyond the negative headlines.

For example, I mentioned earlier that only nine per cent of Africans outside South Africa have access to any form of electricity. That means over half a billion people are effectively cut off from the benefits of modern technology. And these numbers are growing as electrification fails to keep pace with population growth – and grid extension stalls due to high costs.

For Africa to catch up with the rest of the world, it may need to focus upon free-standing technology rather than fixed networks which require massive and prohibitively costly investment across huge geographical areas. A combination of mobile telecommunications and solar and renewable power could enable Africa to make the necessary leap forward.

Modern renewable energy – including solar, wind and micro hydro – could drastically improve communities’ livelihoods and quality of life: powering equipment, pumping clean water, cooling essential vaccines and providing light for remote schools. New public/private partnerships are beginning to take forward viable and profit making schemes.

CONCLUSION

I would like to end by answering a question I occasionally hear expressed: why does Africa matter to us? There are many reasons why Africa matters. Firstly we have a strong humanitarian imperative to end the misery of poverty. But there are also economic incentives. Africa is an essential provider of raw materials, from platinum to timber. There is huge potential for shared economic benefits from increased trade with over 700 million people in countries with valuable natural and human resources, and with whom we have many historical, cultural, family and business ties.

If we do not work to stop it, conflict and violence within and between African countries could grow to epidemic proportions. It could spread beyond Africa, as people become refugees and economic migrants.

Increasing levels of crime in Africa, particularly in the trafficking of drugs, damage lives and societies here and in other developed countries as well as in Africa. The continuing spread of disease, including but not only HIV/AIDS, increases the risks to the health of people throughout the world. Three quarters of all new British heterosexual HIV/AIDS victims last year were infected whilst travelling in Africa. The global environment is threatened by continuing environmental degradation, including deforestation, global warming, erosion of bio-diversity, and air and water pollution from environmentally unfriendly industrial and other production processes.

For all these reasons, the world shares a keen interest in halting the decline of social and economic conditions in Africa. Moreover, as the demonstrations in Seattle, Prague and Nice have shown, there will be increasing political tension if poor countries are left behind as the rest of the world moves ahead with globalisation. These are powerful self-interest reasons for action. But they merely supplement the most important motive: the human cost in Africa of lives lost and unfulfilled potential stands as an indictment against our common humanity. We have an opportunity to build a better future for Africa’s children; we must not miss it.