Five Years After Gleneagles, Africa Has Reason to Hope

Countries and companies across the world are looking at Africa with fresh eyes. Where once they might have seen problems, they now see commercial opportunities. Africa is the new economic frontier.
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It is little surprise, in an ever faster moving world, that few of the leaders who took part in the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005 are still in place. We have moved on or, in some cases, were politely asked to move on by our electorates.

But the commitments made and the ambitions set were neither short-term nor personal. The long-term goal of those at Gleneagles was to help Africa make the most of its rich potential through increased support from the wealthiest countries coupled with fundamental reform within the continent. Hopes, crucially, which reflected the insistent demands of many millions of our citizens to act over the gross injustices disfiguring our world.

Five years on from Gleneagles, how does progress measure up to these ambitions? The picture, as the report this week from the African Progress Panel highlights, is generally promising.

Increases in donor aid and debt relief, although not at the level promised, are helping save lives and increase opportunities. Overseas aid is far from the sole answer to Africa's challenges but it has, as we recognised at Gleneagles, to be part of the solution.

Targeted aid has helped -- along with the drive from African Governments -- deliver remarkable progress in extending education. Well over half of the continent's countries are on track to achieve universal primary education by 2015. There is much more to do but on education, critical to the Africa's future, there is reason for pride.

Democracy has taken firmer root on many parts of the continent. The peaceful transfer of power in Ghana, where the result could hardly have been closer, was an example not just to other African countries.

The continent's economies have also shown themselves to be resilient. Growth was remarkably strong before the impact of the global financial crisis hit the continent -- and its people -- hard. But recovery is already underway, more quickly and more strongly than expected.

This resilience is due partly to the increased engagement of new partners like India, Brazil and, in particular, China. Between 1999 and 2008, the value of trade with China increased fifteen-fold.

Countries and companies across the world are looking at Africa with fresh eyes. Where once they might have seen problems, they now see commercial opportunities. Africa is the new economic frontier.

This is a hugely important and welcome development. It is sustained economic growth which will enable Africa in the long-term to overcome its challenges, tackle poverty and extend opportunity. With Africans expected to account for one in four of the global workforce by 2050, this is not just vital for Africa but for all of us.

But this also places new demands on the continent's governments. They have to create the environment in which the private sector -- both home-grown and from outside its borders -- can flourish. They must have the confidence to ensure that their relationships with new and traditional partners are ones in which both sides share in the benefits. Above all, they have to be willing to, and capable of, translating this growing prosperity into real improvements in the daily lives of their citizens.

We can all point to well-known examples where these conditions are not being met. We do no one any favours by turning a blind eye to the corruption, conflict and abuses which are still too common. Chronic problems remain.

But there are other, more powerful examples where African Governments are improving their performance and rising to the immense challenges in front of them. Few countries have endured such a tragic recent history than Rwanda. But its progress over the last 15 years, as I have seen for myself through the work of my Africa Governance Initiative, is in many areas extraordinary.

The Government, despite the political challenges, has created the conditions and confidence for private investment to work in partnership towards shared goals. It is cutting poverty, and improving healthcare and education. Sustained economic growth has, in turn, being used to deliver real improvements for all Rwandans.

But getting this right is not just a question of vision or political will. It is also about capacity. Even the most able, well-intentioned and determined leader needs support. This is where my Africa Governance Initiative comes in -- working with pro-reform African Leaders and their administrations to put in place the capacity that will allow them to deliver the poverty-reduction and economic development that their people rightly demand.

We have seen time and time again how natural disasters can tax governments in the most stable, well run and developed nations. Years of conflict have left, in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, the machinery of Government almost fatally weakened.

We need to step up efforts, from within and outside the continent, to build up their capacity and capability. It is up to Africa and its people to come up with solutions to their own challenges. But the deafening message from that global grassroots campaign before Gleneagles was the obligation on us all to help.

The names of the leaders may, in most cases, have changed but the obligation remains. So too does the reward in terms of a more peaceful and prosperous world if we rise to the challenge.

Tony Blair is a member of the Africa Progress Panel and is patron of the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, a charity that works with the leaders of Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia

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