Africa (Poverty)

- Thursday, 30th June 2005

 

Type: Debate
Proceeding: 50545
Member: Lilley, Peter

Date of Proceeding: 30.06.2005

Title: Africa (Poverty)
Description: I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate. It is also a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) and I congratulate her on selecting an issue on which she has obviously made herself an expert. She focused on that issue and contributed thoughtfully to the debate. I hope that she will excuse me if I do not follow her on that issue.

I am not a rock star, so I do not bring the particular expertise that membership of that profession brings to the economic problems of Africa, but I am one of few MPs?if not the only one?to have devoted the best part of a decade before becoming an MP to working on aid and development projects, mostly in Africa. I hope that I can draw on that experience to contribute to this debate. I worked in countries as diverse as Ethiopia, Zaire, the Republic of the Congo?the former French Congo?Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Cameroon at a time when they were full of hope and enthusiasm and it seemed that the possibility of progress from poverty to prosperity was real. Subsequently, I saw the heartbreaking decline and reversal in many of those countries into deeper poverty, greater disease, conflict and distress. No one is more passionately committed than I am to seeing poverty made history and to seeing the goals of that campaign achieved. I recognise the good faith of those who support that campaign? and especially the Secretary of State in the contribution he made today. I also recognise the genuine support that has welled up in the country as a whole.

However, I hope that I have earned from my past work the right to puncture some of the complacent endorsement that has perhaps been a characteristic of this debate?certainly of the debate outside?of everything that has been done in the name of making poverty history. I am concerned that as well as supporting many genuine and desirable objectives, the campaign could become a vehicle for anti-free trade, anti-free market and anti-globalisation attitudes and policies that, if pursued, would be damaging to Africa, and all too often embody a patronising attitude towards Africans that in some cases borders on racism.

Those anti-free market and often patronising attitudes were prevalent within the aid agencies when I worked for them in Africa many years ago. However, all my experience of working with Africans, who became friends and valued colleagues, convinced me that those attitudes are wrong. Africans have the same number of grey cells as any other race. They have the same desire to better themselves, their families and their communities. They have the same capacity for hard work, ingenuity and enterprise as any other country. It is sad that, for example, the advertisement that appears today in many newspapers has a headline that implies that eight white men in a room in one day can solve the problems of Africa, with the implication that 680 million Africans are effectively relegated to the status of recipients of the largesse, wisdom and power of those eight gentlemen. In my view, that is nonsense and, in my experience, it is incorrect.

I did many studies for the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the UN Industrial Development Organisation, in which I identified a viable project located in a country where its inhabitants were free to invest. In many instances, that project was duly implemented by local entrepreneurs, often before the aid agencies had finished processing the report or the local government had got round to seeing whether it wanted the project to happen or not. Where African people have the freedom in their own countries and the access to foreign markets to prosper, they will take those opportunities, and they will prosper. So our first demand should be to open up access to our markets to African people who want to trade with us and export to us.

I do not know how many people have read the manifesto of Make Poverty History, but I was astonished to find that it contains no call to open up access to the markets of the EU or other developed countries. It rightly calls for an end to export subsidies, which can be damaging in African markets, but rather than attacking the protectionism of western markets, it calls for the right of African countries to protect their own agriculture and farmers.

Obviously, those countries are free to take their own decisions, but I believe that there is hardly anything less designed to be helpful to the elimination of poverty in developing countries than raising the price of food for poor people. If those countries must indulge in protection, let it be on cosmetics and Cadillacs, rather than on anything that makes their food more expensive; but, anyway, our aim should be to open up our markets to Africa?s goods.

Making Poverty History?s second aim, with which I entirely concur, is to drop the debt. I am proud to have belonged to a Government who wrote off all aid debt to African countries?although we did not make a song and dance about it at the time?thus leaving only Government guaranteed trade and multilateral debt to be dealt with.

Some free-marketeers, who would agree with me in other ways, are suspicious of debt relief. They are mistaken. It is what happens in free markets. If we lend to someone for a project that fails to make a profit and a return, the debt has to be written off. If we lend to someone who, through unwisdom or otherwise, is unable to pay back the loan, we have to write it off. The only reason why there is a problem about debt relief for Africa is that the debts are not free-market debts made freely between someone investing in those countries or lending to those people, but debts that have been guaranteed by Governments or Government agencies.

Some people say that writing off debts will reward corrupt dictators and plutocrats, but let us remember that it is not the corrupt dictators and plutocrats who will pay back those debts, if we insist on their repayment, but the poor peasants and the impoverished people who live in the townships of Africa. Whoever?s fault it was that those bad loans were made, it was not the fault of poor people in Africa, and they should not be required to repay their loans. So I entirely endorse the objective of writing off debts that cannot be repaid, but we should not start again down the path of Government-guaranteed debts and Government-channelled lending to those countries. We should encourage private investment and lending wherever possible because that results not only in the better targeting of investment, but in better managed investment and better monitored investment. That brings me to aid.

Where famine, destitution, draught or disaster exists, we have a straightforward humanitarian, Christian obligation to aid those people. There is a good case, too, for giving aid to finance hospitals, schools and the training of teachers, nurses and doctors?rather than the reverse: their training our teachers, nurses and doctors?especially if that aid is delivered directly to the project and audited transparently. But in all my experience, aid that was designed to finance projects of an industrial nature to contribute to development was unnecessary. There was no project that I ever saw that would not have occurred in the absence of subsidies.

In the UK, we have abandoned our belief that we can make ourselves richer by Government subsidising business, picking winners and selecting industries, so why are we so patronising towards Africa as to think that Africans need those outdated methods of industrial development to prosper? They do not. Our role should be to remove the obstacles to their trading in our markets, to lift the burden of debt that hampers them and to help with their humanitarian needs. If we do that, I have faith and confidence that, given good governance, the people of Africa will move from poverty to prosperity; but it will be they who lift the burden of poverty, not eight men in Gleneagles. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate. It is also a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) and I congratulate her on selecting an issue on which she has obviously made herself an expert. She focused on that issue and contributed thoughtfully to the debate. I hope that she will excuse me if I do not follow her on that issue.

I am not a rock star, so I do not bring the particular expertise that membership of that profession brings to the economic problems of Africa, but I am one of few MPs?if not the only one?to have devoted the best part of a decade before becoming an MP to working on aid and development projects, mostly in Africa. I hope that I can draw on that experience to contribute to this debate. I worked in countries as diverse as Ethiopia, Zaire, the Republic of the Congo?the former French Congo?Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Cameroon at a time when they were full of hope and enthusiasm and it seemed that the possibility of progress from poverty to prosperity was real. Subsequently, I saw the heartbreaking decline and reversal in many of those countries into deeper poverty, greater disease, conflict and distress. No one is more passionately committed than I am to seeing poverty made history and to seeing the goals of that campaign achieved. I recognise the good faith of those who support that campaign? and especially the Secretary of State in the contribution he made today. I also recognise the genuine support that has welled up in the country as a whole.

However, I hope that I have earned from my past work the right to puncture some of the complacent endorsement that has perhaps been a characteristic of this debate?certainly of the debate outside?of everything that has been done in the name of making poverty history. I am concerned that as well as supporting many genuine and desirable objectives, the campaign could become a vehicle for anti-free trade, anti-free market and anti-globalisation attitudes and policies that, if pursued, would be damaging to Africa, and all too often embody a patronising attitude towards Africans that in some cases borders on racism.

Those anti-free market and often patronising attitudes were prevalent within the aid agencies when I worked for them in Africa many years ago. However, all my experience of working with Africans, who became friends and valued colleagues, convinced me that those attitudes are wrong. Africans have the same number of grey cells as any other race. They have the same desire to better themselves, their families and their communities. They have the same capacity for hard work, ingenuity and enterprise as any other country. It is sad that, for example, the advertisement that appears today in many newspapers has a headline that implies that eight white men in a room in one day can solve the problems of Africa, with the implication that 680 million Africans are effectively relegated to the status of recipients of the largesse, wisdom and power of those eight gentlemen. In my view, that is nonsense and, in my experience, it is incorrect.

I did many studies for the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the UN Industrial Development Organisation, in which I identified a viable project located in a country where its inhabitants were free to invest. In many instances, that project was duly implemented by local entrepreneurs, often before the aid agencies had finished processing the report or the local government had got round to seeing whether it wanted the project to happen or not. Where African people have the freedom in their own countries and the access to foreign markets to prosper, they will take those opportunities, and they will prosper. So our first demand should be to open up access to our markets to African people who want to trade with us and export to us.

I do not know how many people have read the manifesto of Make Poverty History, but I was astonished to find that it contains no call to open up access to the markets of the EU or other developed countries. It rightly calls for an end to export subsidies, which can be damaging in African markets, but rather than attacking the protectionism of western markets, it calls for the right of African countries to protect their own agriculture and farmers.

Obviously, those countries are free to take their own decisions, but I believe that there is hardly anything less designed to be helpful to the elimination of poverty in developing countries than raising the price of food for poor people. If those countries must indulge in protection, let it be on cosmetics and Cadillacs, rather than on anything that makes their food more expensive; but, anyway, our aim should be to open up our markets to Africa?s goods.

Making Poverty History?s second aim, with which I entirely concur, is to drop the debt. I am proud to have belonged to a Government who wrote off all aid debt to African countries?although we did not make a song and dance about it at the time?thus leaving only Government guaranteed trade and multilateral debt to be dealt with.

Some free-marketeers, who would agree with me in other ways, are suspicious of debt relief. They are mistaken. It is what happens in free markets. If we lend to someone for a project that fails to make a profit and a return, the debt has to be written off. If we lend to someone who, through unwisdom or otherwise, is unable to pay back the loan, we have to write it off. The only reason why there is a problem about debt relief for Africa is that the debts are not free-market debts made freely between someone investing in those countries or lending to those people, but debts that have been guaranteed by Governments or Government agencies.

Some people say that writing off debts will reward corrupt dictators and plutocrats, but let us remember that it is not the corrupt dictators and plutocrats who will pay back those debts, if we insist on their repayment, but the poor peasants and the impoverished people who live in the townships of Africa. Whoever?s fault it was that those bad loans were made, it was not the fault of poor people in Africa, and they should not be required to repay their loans. So I entirely endorse the objective of writing off debts that cannot be repaid, but we should not start again down the path of Government-guaranteed debts and Government-channelled lending to those countries. We should encourage private investment and lending wherever possible because that results not only in the better targeting of investment, but in better managed investment and better monitored investment. That brings me to aid.

Where famine, destitution, draught or disaster exists, we have a straightforward humanitarian, Christian obligation to aid those people. There is a good case, too, for giving aid to finance hospitals, schools and the training of teachers, nurses and doctors?rather than the reverse: their training our teachers, nurses and doctors?especially if that aid is delivered directly to the project and audited transparently. But in all my experience, aid that was designed to finance projects of an industrial nature to contribute to development was unnecessary. There was no project that I ever saw that would not have occurred in the absence of subsidies.

In the UK, we have abandoned our belief that we can make ourselves richer by Government subsidising business, picking winners and selecting industries, so why are we so patronising towards Africa as to think that Africans need those outdated methods of industrial development to prosper? They do not. Our role should be to remove the obstacles to their trading in our markets, to lift the burden of debt that hampers them and to help with their humanitarian needs. If we do that, I have faith and confidence that, given good governance, the people of Africa will move from poverty to prosperity; but it will be they who lift the burden of poverty, not eight men in Gleneagles.

 

 

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