AFRICA COMMISSION: Africa Has Become a Living Wound. Now We Have the Chance to Heal It

By Geldof, Bob | The Independent (London, England), March 11, 2005 | Go to article overview
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AFRICA COMMISSION: Africa Has Become a Living Wound. Now We Have the Chance to Heal It


Geldof, Bob, The Independent (London, England)


EAT YOUR dinner, they told me as a boy, think about the poor starving children in India.

In those far-off days the concern of the adult world was for Asia. It had a huge population and gloomy prospects in the eyes of economists.

The people of Africa were poor, too, but they had riches in the form of gold, diamonds and copper - and ground so fertile that plants grew overnight wherever you dropped a seed the day before. Africans earned double what Asians did. Africa would be all right.

Forty years on and things are not all right. Africa has stagnated while Asia has seen an astonishing turnaround. First the tiger economies of east Asia leapt ahead. Now India and Bangladesh have followed. Today Asians earn double what Africans do. And life expectancy in Africa is now 17 years less than in India. Why has Africa fallen so far behind?

What we have done on the Commission for Africa - as our declaration in The Independent today tells the world - is analyse the situation, define the real problem and come up with a plan for change.

Our report is being launched in the year that Britain is in the chair at two of the world's most powerful economic groupings - the European Union and the G8. Many of those serving on the commission are political leaders in power. That means it offers the chance of real change.

If other nations can be persuaded to adopt Britain's plan then poverty in Africa could be on the way to eradication. Tony Blair has called Africa a "scar on the conscience of the world". But it is not just a scar. It is a living wound - one which causes one in six African children to die before their fifth birthday. And millions more to go to bed hungry every night.

Our report tries to tackle that. The question we set ourselves was simple: why? The answer, we found, is a complex cocktail of causes: war, and a lack of mechanisms to stop conflict which are taken for granted in developed economies; bad government; corruption.

But the most damaging problem is not the most dramatic. It is what, in the opaque jargon of development, is called "lack of capacity". That means poor roads, broken-down lorries, telephones that don't connect and power grids that regularly black out. It means civil servants who do not have the skills, training, money and basic equipment - let alone the computers - to collect data, formulate sound policies and then deliver the services that ordinary people require.

That is not all. Africa's parliaments, newspapers and judges do not have the ability to hold the continent's governments up to proper scrutiny. Crumbling clinics and schools deprive people of health and education - and their nations of a skilled, healthy workforce. It's an economic climate in which companies and individuals are afraid to invest their money to create jobs.

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AFRICA COMMISSION: Africa Has Become a Living Wound. Now We Have the Chance to Heal It
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