From Kwasi Kpodo, GNA Special Correspondent, London.
London, Feb. 27, GNA -- Members of the Commission for Africa, launched by British Prime Minister Tony Blair has ended their third meeting with optimisms that the initiative would help drive forward the continent's development and increase prosperity, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Addressing a press conference at Lancaster House at the end of the one-day marathon meeting, Prime Minister Tony Blair also announced that the Commission would publish its much-awaited reports on March 11. The report is expected to comprise details and analysis of the challenges to Africa's development and a number of key recommendations to be addressed partly to the international community, including the G8 and the EU, both of which are currently headed by the UK, on their role in bolstering Africa's progress.
Deliberations of the Commission have been dominated by the issues of aid and debt cancellation for Africa, as well as the need to boost agriculture production and encourage good governance, democracy and trade. It has also been discussing the challenges posed by corruption and HIV/AIDS.
Mr Blair said the Commission consulted extensively in Africa and around the world among civil society groups and professional bodies with the view to mobilising the much-required support. He said the report would provide the chance for the people to have access the world market on a levelled-playing field and urged the continent to develop the capacity to do it since they will find new partners to trade. He disagreed with suggestions that the problem of Africa could be solved by Africans only but agreed that the greater responsibility must come from African themselves. "There is the need for a stronger political will to do what is right -- good governance, democracy and accountability -- by leaders on the continent."
Mr Blair said the initiative for Africa would also bolster the fight against terrorism. "We will not only fight terrorism by security means. This is the reason why we are discovering Africa today," he said, adding, although there was no specific threat from the continent, it is better to engage the people to live and support each other in dignity than to look unconcerned on their plight which could turn them into something else. He announced that the UK was trebling its support for Africa. During the open exchanges at the press conference, many questioners, held the view that the Commission would achieve little progress unless emphasis was moved from aid to favourable trade and market for goods from Africa. This, they believed, would create jobs for the people and enhance their economies.
Others wondered how successful Mr Blair's plan to use his presidency of the G8 to support and achieve maximum results under its proposal for debt cancellation without the participation of the United States and Japan, which are strong players in the developed world and which have declared their opposition to debt cancellation. Responding to some of the criticisms, Mr Blair said while he agreed that giving aid alone would not solve Africa's problems, there was the need for massive resources to build infrastructure such as health and educational facilities.
"In our other recommendations, we will require behaviour change, different ways of working and altering priorities," he said, adding that recommendations of the Commission would be an integrated package and would need to be implemented quickly to have the necessary impact. Contributing to the exchanges, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, said the Commission had received a lot of criticisms "from both inside and outside (Africa)" with the sceptics wondering if it was not politics as usual by the developed world and whether anything was going to change at all.
"Scepticism about Africa is there. But from what we've gathered so far, I can say here today that it is not politics. I see those scepticism as not being able to accept defeat in the face of current realities and the need to face our challenges," Mr Zenawi said, adding that in the end "its about commitment - and the Commission has shown that if we all share in the task, Africa can do it."
Another member of the Commission, Dr Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Habitat in Tanzania, rebuked criticisms that African countries were the most corrupt and did not require external aid money to develop, saying whatever some of the corrupt leaders did wrong might have been in collusion with their partners in the developed world. "It is not enough to say Africa is corrupt, we should also find out who is corrupting them; it is not enough to say African's are stealing money, again we should find out who is banking the stolen money," she added.
Dr Tibaijuka said in order to bring about the much-needed radical change for progress, Africa cannot do without aid from the development world and urged the media to sensitise the continent to show support for the initiative. "You don't turn away an extended hand before realising that it is empty," she said. The Commission, which was established in February last year, held its maiden meeting in May last year in London, followed by another one in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, later that year. It is hoped that members will meet finally again this year to help ensure effective follow-up of its recommendations before winding up later in the year.