Magazine article New African

Trade and Aid Important for Africa

Magazine article New African

Trade and Aid Important for Africa

Article excerpt

A better future for Africa requires strong African leadership backed by sustained international development and continued increases in overseas aid. The Labour government in the UK is determined to play its full part and is stepping up efforts to help countries trade their way out of poverty, writes Douglas Alexander, UK's secretary of state for international development, in this article written exclusively for New African.

AFRICA HAS BEEN A PRIORITY FOR the Labour Party since our election to government in 1997. From the very beginning, through the creation of the Department for International Development (DFID), Labour has recognised both the moral obligation that the UK owes to Africa in terms of tackling poverty but also the immense mutual economic benefits of encouraging trade and helping African governments develop their public services and their infrastructure.

Back in 2001, Tony Blair used his speech at the Labour Party Conference to declare Africa a "scar on the conscience of the world". The global action that followed, led both by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at the time of Make Poverty History and Live 8, culminated in historic international commitments to aid, debt relief and development at the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles.

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Many African nations have since seized their opportunity and the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in Africa has fallen. Over the last five years, the economies of half of all sub-Saharan African countries have grown by an average of more than 5% a year, compared to just one-fifth of countries during the decade before. The coming decades hold great opportunities for Africa. With a market of more than 900 million people, Africa's economy has huge trading potential. And with land in abundance and the potential for an agricultural revolution, Africa might not just feed herself but could one day feed the world.

But Africa still faces great challenges, with the continent home to the highest proportion of people living in extreme poverty in the world. The global economic crisis has dramatically slowed African growth. Climate change is a contemporary crisis in many African states and conflict and state fragility continues to frustrate the goal of a safe, stable and prosperous Africa.

Can aid work for Africa?

Some have argued that Britain's international aid should be cut back because it is wasted by corrupt governments. Others argue that international aid is adding to Africa's problems and that what Africa needs is to be left alone so it can pursue its own economic development. Both arguments are simplistic and can be challenged by clear evidence of where progress has been made. It is simply not credible to bypass governments if the UN Millennium Development Goals are to be met. Where possible, the UK provides resources directly to governments, particularly to help with the delivery of basic public services, such as health, education and access to justice. We ensure, as far as possible, that aid is given in a predictable way, so that governments can make long term plans to reduce poverty. Because the only way to cut dependence on aid is to allow governments to build up their own basic services and support their own economic development.

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Offering countries access to economic expertise from our International Growth Centre, different African nations can forge their own economic futures, based on their own priorities. We are not, however, blinded by dogma and in states where there is no stable government we channel funds through trusted intermediaries, such as the United Nations, World Bank and NGOs in order to help the poor.

Where aid is given directly to governments, we ask for a pledge that financial resources will be managed well and we work closely with those governments to improve accountability, promote good governance and tackle corruption.

A better future for Africa requires strong African leadership backed by sustained international development and continued increases in overseas aid. …

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