Friday, 11 March 2005

The Blair Africa Project

On 11 March, a week AFTER Africa Confidential published an exclusive report on the main findings, British Prime Minister Tony Blair launched his Commission for Africa report.

Blair insisted that he would reform British policy to meet the Africa Commission recommendations, so we examine the areas where he would have change course:

* on security, Britain would have to give serious support to the African Union peacekeepers in Darfur; the plans for an International arms trade treaty would mean boosting Whitehall's capacity to investigate and act against the British-based arms dealers selling into Africa's war zones;
* on multinational companies operating in Africa's war zones, Whitehall would have to improve the Department of Trade and Industry's capacity to monitor companies, compliance with OECD and other guidelines;
* on the poaching of Africa's health workers, Britain is one of the worst offenders and would have to invest substantially in training the one million new health workers which the Commission report says Africa needs by 2015;
* on immediately ending subsidies on cotton and sugar, Britain would have to start by pressuring the USA to comply with a WTO ruling that its cotton subsidies are illegal;
* and on debt, the Commission argues that all Africa's low-income countries - including Nigeria which owes US$34 billion - should be eligible for up to 100 per cent debt write offs but many of Britain's fellow G8 states refuse to finance this.

Just five days after Blair launched his Commission report in London, Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo swept into town with Finance Minister Ngozi Iweala and a large retinue. Before President Obasanjo addressed the august dignitaries of the Commonwealth, he breakfasted with a group of journalists at the Commonwealth Club opposite the Nigerian High Commission in Trafalgar Square. Obasanjo praised the Blair Commission heartily but said the real test would be implementation. He reserved his main complaint for the fees that London lawyers are charging the Nigerian government in their efforts to track down the state's wealth, stolen by the military regime under General Sani Abacha.

Thursday, 17 February 2005

Taboo topics

Nearly two years after the Sudan government began massacring its own citizens in Darfur, the United Nations at last seems to be moving – albeit slowly – towards action. Iraq has put military ventures out of fashion and many have used this as an excuse for not getting together a peacekeeping force to protect Darfur’s beleaguered civilians.

On 14 February, though, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made his strongest speech yet, calling on both the European Union and the NATO to consider what they might do. Such a move was unthinkable only weeks ago but Annan has drawn strength from a devastating UN human rights report that details one atrocity after another – and names the Khartoum regime and its Janjaweed militias as the only people systematically attacking ordinary villagers.

Sanctions and prosecutions have long been taboo topics at the UN Security Council, especially among governments with big commercial interests in Sudan – China and Russia and, to a lesser extent, Britain and France. Suddenly, the goal posts have shifted and sanctions, prosecutions and peacekeepers are being discussed as possible options.

Suddenly, the National Islamic Front regime has lost much of the diplomatic shield it had so carefully fashioned. ‘Sudan cannot be trusted to tackle Darfur war crimes, UN human rights chief tells Security Council’. This is an unusually undiplomatic headline to find on the Council’s own website.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour told the UNSC on 16 February that the International Commission of Inquiry findings meant the ‘only credible way’ to bring the perpetrators to justice was to prosecute them at the International Criminal Court. Any initiative by the Khartoum government to deal with the atrocities ‘should be dismissed given the extent of the Government’s officials in the crimes’, the UN quoted her as saying. These are precisely the same officials who are supposed to bring peace to the South.