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Time for excuses on Africa over - Blair

[Ethiopia] Meles Zenawi and Tony Blair.
Prime ministers Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, left, and Tony Blair of Britain. (IRIN)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Friday the time for excuses on Africa was over, adding that Africa must be pushed to the top of the world’s agenda.

As he left Ethiopia after the opening of the British-sponsored Commission for Africa, set up to reverse the continent’s fortunes, Blair charged that now was the time for action.

"The price of failure would be disaster for Africa and for the wider world," Blair said as he unveiled his vision for the continent, which has grown poorer in the last 40 years. "The prize for success will be an Africa standing proud in its own right in the international community. Next year will be the year of decision for Africa and the international community."

Blair sees his positioning as president of both the powerful G8 and the European Union in 2005 as a unique chance to tackle the crisis facing Africa. And the commission he chairs will publish its report by March, ahead of the UK- hosted G8 summit in June, to inform Blair on how to combat the continent’s enormous woes.

Africa will be asked to intensify peer group review to stamp out corruption and human rights abuses. Rich nations will be asked to write-off debt, end subsidies and increase international aid. Disease, HIV/Aids, debt, poor trade rules and conflict are all ravaging Africa.

African countries are saddled with US $305 billion in debt, and their products account for barely 2 percent of world trade. Investment in the continent has shrunk to $11 billion a year.

"The problems are multiple – we know them all: debt, disease, conflict, poor governance and inadequate aid," Blair said. "The difference is, this time, we have to put together a plan that is comprehensive in its scope and has at its core a real partnership between Africa and the developed world."

The meeting is the commissions’ first in Africa after its initial gathering in London. The 17 commissioners include Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.

At its opening the Prime Minister announced a European Union battle force dedicated to intervening in African conflicts and deployable within 10 days of a political instruction. Blair said the force should be ready next year. He called for funding of the troubled Darfur region to be increased tenfold from $15 million to $150 million.

Blair also revealed that Britain would train, directly or indirectly, 20,000 African troops over the next five years. He said a recovery for Africa was necessary to keep the rest of the world secure.

"We know that poverty and instability lead to weak states, which can be havens for terrorists and other criminals," he said. "Even before 9/11, al-Qaida had bases in Africa. They still do, hiding in places where they can go undisturbed by weak governments."

Speaking to a hall of leading African politicians and economists, Blair described the drive to restore hope for Africa as a "noble cause worth fighting for" in an era of cynicism and disengagement from the political process.

"People can be cynical about it or get on board," he challenged. "I think they should get on board. It is clear the spotlight of the whole of the international community should be focused on Africa. The purpose of next year has got to be international attention on Africa. The time for excuses will be over."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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