A turning point for Africa?

Foreign Secretary William Hague talked about the lessons of events in the Middle East: Inspiring scenes of people taking countries into their own hands will ignite greater demands for good governance and political reform elsewhere in the world.

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The Rt Hon William Hague

It is a great pleasure to be here this afternoon and I congratulate The Times for staging this event. It is an excellent idea to host a summit focussing on Africa’s successes and tremendous opportunities at any time; but to schedule it at the precise moment when the eyes of the entire world are turned on North Africa suggests an extraordinary degree of prescience on the part of the editor of The Times and the organisers and I congratulate them twice over.

As I speak British Forces are conducting the fourth day of operations to enforce a no fly zone and arms embargo over Libya, to protect civilians against a government which has responded to legitimate demands for change with military force and is now under investigation by the International Criminal Court.

It is not for us here to choose the government of Libya - that is for the Libyan people themselves and I do stress that. But they have a far greater chance of making that choice now than they did on Saturday, when the opposition forces were on the verge of defeat. With our partners we have halted the advance of Qadhafi’s troops towards Benghazi and prevented his planes from wreaking havoc from the skies, and this has undoubtedly saved many lives over the last few days.

We will continue to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 until there is a complete and genuine ceasefire and an end to attacks on civilians. At a time of such hope and optimism in many ways in the Middle East, we cannot let the Libyan government violate every principle of international law and human rights with impunity.
The thirst for greater political and economic freedom continues to gather unstoppable momentum among the young people of North Africa and the Arab world. The sudden outpouring of this demand in so many countries simultaneously may have come as something of a surprise, but it is no surprise that people want freedom - the rule of law instead of the rule of state intelligence organisations, governments which they can choose and change, access to information, and economic opportunity free of corruption - for these are the common aspirations of people everywhere and I welcome the fact that the African nations currently on the UN Security Council, South Africa, Nigeria and Gabon, voted in support of action to protect the people of Libya. I met the President of the Gabon this morning and was able to thank him for his country’s principled stand.

We are only in the early stages of what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East. These events are already set to overtake the 2008 financial crisis and 9/11 as the most important development of the early 21st century, and are likely to bring some degree of political change I think in all countries in the Arab world.

It is a historic shift of massive importance, presenting the international community as a whole with an immense opportunity. We believe that the international response to these events must be commensurately generous, bold and ambitious.

The Prime Minister and I are working to galvanise a transformation of the European Union’s neighbourhood policy so that it can act as a magnet for positive change, providing clearer incentives for the creation of free, democratic and just societies that respect human rights. The European Union already has vast means at its disposal to promote such reform, and we believe that it should also hold out the prospect of deeper economic integration with Europe so that the people of the region can see a clear path to a more prosperous future.

But these momentous events do not necessarily stop at the borders of the Arab world.
One of the emerging lessons of the crises in the Middle East is that demands for freedom will spread, and that undemocratic governments elsewhere should take heed.
The effects of this are already rippling out in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Following protests in Khartoum President Bashir of Sudan has reiterated that he will step down at the next election. In Zimbabwe over forty students, activists and trade unionists were arrested for Treason simply for watching video footage of protests in Egypt and Tunisia.

Inspiring scenes of people taking the future of their countries into their own hands will ignite greater demands for good governance and political reform elsewhere in the world, including in Asia and elsewhere in Africa. Africa led the way in this during the final decade of the last century, with South Africa’s successful struggle against apartheid led by man who became a global icon for freedom and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela.
By making this argument Britain is not trying to dictate change, but pointing out that such sentiments will spread of their own accord. The desire for freedom is a universal aspiration, and governments that attempt to isolate their people from the spread of information and ideas around the globe will fight a losing battle over time.

Governments that use violence to stop democratic development will not earn themselves respite forever. They will pay an increasingly high price for actions which they can no longer hide from the world with ease, and will find themselves on the wrong side of history.

Governments that block the aspirations of their people, that steal or are corrupt, that oppress and torture or that deny freedom of expression and human rights should bear in mind that they will increasingly find it hard to escape the judgement of their own people, or where warranted, the reach of international law.

The action we have taken in Libya, authorised by the United Nations Security Council, shows that the international community does take gross violations of human rights extremely seriously.

For just as Qadhafi is an obstacle to the peaceful development of Libya, there are some others who stand in the way of a brighter future for their countries.
In Cote d’Ivoire former President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to concede that he lost last year’s presidential election, and is sanctioning attacks on defenceless civilians in a desperate attempt to cling illegitimately to power. I spoke last night to President Ouattara and discussed the need for UN sanctions on those who obstruct the African Union’s attempts to broker a peaceful transfer of power, and for those responsible for human rights abuses to be held to account.

In Zimbabwe today Mugabe’s security forces continue to act with impunity, ramping up intimidation in order to instil fear in their opponents and to prevent the people of Zimbabwe from expressing their democratic voice.

And in a number of other African countries there have already been arrests and censorships of journalists attempting to report on what is happening in the Arab world and thereby raising the democratic deficit in their own countries. This is not only futile in this age of mass communication, but it is also directly contrary to the lesson the North African events have for the world, which is that such actions are counterproductive.

The foundations of good governance - the rule of law, free media and strong independent institutions - are not a luxury but a fundamental basis for economic long term development and security.

It is clear to us that the opening up of closed political systems to more representative and accountable government is not only the appropriate response in affected countries in the Middle East, but applies to other societies everywhere.

Democratic freedoms and long term stability and success go hand in hand. When we look at the success of Ghana, Botswana and South Africa the connection is clear, as is the deficit of both in countries held back by conflict or misgovernment. This is a point our Ministers constantly make with countries in the region.

There is ample evidence that the coming years could be a turning point for Africa; a chance for it to build on successes across the continent, to overcome the legacy of the past and to realise the huge human and economic potential in many of the countries of Africa, if progress on reform and governance is stepped up.

With three fifths of the world’s uncultivated arable land, a fifth of the world’s copper and half of the world’s gold, a combined GDP set to have more than doubled between 2008 and 2020 and forecasts for the highest working age population in the world by 2040, Africa’s huge potential is clear for all to see. Many of you here are already part of Africa’s success and will be well aware of the exciting opportunities ahead. Others are waking up to it. One Chief Executive of a top financial services company who has spent many years advising US businesses on global opportunities said recently that while those US businesses normally discussed Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, last summer for the first time they clamoured “but what about Africa? Tell us about Africa!” Much of this is down to improvements in the quality of government in many countries as well as a sense of economic opportunity.

The African Union is now approaching its 10th anniversary and has been involved in successful mediation in Mauritania, Guinea and Niger. It is wrestling with the current challenges in Cote d’Ivoire and it is willing to deploy essential peacekeeping troops to the most challenging of conflict zones such as Somalia and Darfur.

There are many countries where democracy is flourishing or where hard won gains are being consolidated. Botswana has provided a pillar of political stability and democracy in the continent since its independence. Ghana, Malawi, Zambia and Sierra Leone have all seen peaceful transfers of political power with Niger and Guinea Conakry both holding peaceful elections in the last year. Even in a country as wrought with conflict as Somalia, the stable region of Somaliland enjoyed a remarkable transfer of democratic power from one elected government to an opposition party last summer. And in Sudan we will see Africa’s newest nation come into being this year following a remarkably peaceful referendum on secession, accepted by North Sudan, which Britain worked very hard to achieve, making it an early priority of our foreign policy to focus the UN Security Council on the potential crisis there and demonstrating that targeted engagement from the international community can achieve real results.

Improvements in governance are helping to drive Africa’s prosperity forward. The African continent is second only to Asia in its growth and projected growth, which averaged 6 per cent in the five years to 2009 and avoid recession since the onset of the financial crisis.

Alongside the big success stories of Nigeria, South Africa and Angola are the smaller economies who have made significant progress. Even in Zimbabwe, which has been blighted by decades of misrule, Finance Minister Tendai Biti has steered the economy from hyper-inflation in 2008 to growth of 8% last year. This is a remarkable feat.
Parts of Africa have become a byword for smart innovation. We are all familiar with the mobile phone banking phenomenon in which Africa has lead the way, after the Kenyan company Safaricom was the first to make this commercially successful. However equally striking is the use of mobile phones by Ugandan farmers to check market prices, by Senegalese fishermen to select the best ports to unload their catch and by Ghanaian customers to guard against counterfeit medicines. The Webbox, designed to transform a standard TV into an internet portal, is being developed by South Africa’s Vodacom.
These developments show how Africans are developing their economies and societies in their own ways. Given that 80% of global poverty reduction comes from economic growth we can all see what these developments along with increased regional economic integration and freer trade will mean for millions of Africans currently living in poverty.
Africa’s prosperity is also good news for countries like our own.

Britain has an ambitious foreign policy which seeks to build up our standing and influence in the world, and to support our economy. We are working hard across government to support African growth and encourage British companies to make the most of Africa’s business opportunities. I have tasked all of our Embassies and High Commissions in Africa to make this a priority, working with our UKTI trade and investment teams. The Department for International Development is also working to promote African wealth creation and support free trade initiatives.

UK exports of goods to Africa have more than doubled since 2001, and there are many further opportunities for trade and investment between us. British companies and educational establishments can support African growth through the transfer of finance, skills and technology. Our networks of people to people links are strong and we enjoy a vibrant and active community of British Africans living in the UK. Leading government figures in Africa, including from Zambia, Kenya, Botswana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa and the Seychelles have studied in the UK, and of course Britain and 19 African countries share membership of the Commonwealth.

We are committed to meeting the target to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on international aid and are the first country in the G20 to set out exactly how we will do so. Following a root and branch review of all UK aid spending led by our International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell the UK will focus our aid programme in fewer countries where the need is greatest and where UK support will make the greatest difference. Over the next four years our aid will help provide tens of millions of Africans with the means to work their way out of poverty.

Africa must also get better breaks from the international community. In the EU, the world’s largest trading block, we remain a consistent advocate of the sort of free trade policies that benefit African economies, and of course we strongly support Africa’s ambitions to achieve a common market by 2028.

We also recognise that Africa’s place on the world stage will be increasingly important. Many countries are already playing their part internationally, such as AU co-ordination of pan-African positions at G8 and G20 meetings, South Africa’s invitation to the forthcoming BRIC summit and simultaneous membership of the UN Security Council and AU Peace and Security Council, alongside Nigeria and Gabon also on the UN Security Council.

We want to build strong bilateral partnerships and work with African countries on areas of mutual interest, such as free trade areas, development, conflict resolution and climate change, and to see Africa’s permanent representation on a reformed UN Security Council. Because we see the nations of Africa as important partners we are expanding several of our missions in Africa, particularly in South Sudan where we hope that our growing Consulate-General will become a full fledged Embassy in July.
And we will work resolutely with our partners in the region and internationally to address problems facing particular African countries. I mentioned Cote D’Ivoire earlier. In Zimbabwe, we support the crucial work of SADC, led by South Africa, to develop of roadmap towards credible elections with Zimbabwe’s leaders. In Somalia, instability is fuelling the spread of terrorism and piracy, which I discussed with my G8 colleagues last week. I can announce today that we will be channelling £6 million into projects to develop the capacity of regional countries to prosecute pirates, as well as to help equip the Seychelles Coastguard as it deals with these threats.

We will be unhesitating in arguing for the good governance that is needed if we are to speak of Africa’s economic lions in 2040 in the same way we do of Asian tigers today. Fourteen Presidential elections are mooted in Africa in this year alone, each of which will be a test for the future direction of the continent. Credible elections are not the whole solution for Africa’s future but they are an essential ingredient of it.

If the challenges facing Africa are met successfully it will reinforce the shift of the balance of economic power and political influence to the South and the East that we are already witnessing. For too long now Africa has been viewed as the continent of wars or poverty. This audience today knows there is another story, one of steady progress and of great potential. People used to talk of Brazil as the country with a great future. Brazil has now made its leap into its own future; many African nations are doing the same and I want you to know Britain stands ready to work with African countries every step of the way in a partnership that we hope will enable us all to prosper together.

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Published 22 March 2011