Tony Blair, the first African PM

The phrases could just as easily be drawn from speeches by Nyerere, Kenyatta or Mugabe as from the New Labour lexicon
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The Independent Online
Sorry, but when we're down to "Mandelson manipulates the press" and "Labour proclaims achievements of its first 100 days by promising an annual report" you know that domestic politics is on holiday. Turn to the entertainment pages, and we discover the Princess of Wales, as usual. Mr Dodi Fayed may not know it yet, but he has been selected to be the latest candidate for a media death-by-Diana, the fate that inevitably meets anyone standing too close to the Princess. The irony of her campaign to ban landmines is that she is herself a sort of social hand grenade, ready to explode, leaving unsuspecting playboys legless and broken.

However, there are still events happening around the world. I'm sure that Mr Blair is watching with a keen eye from his Tuscan holiday home, because the team is always on the lookout for models of government to enhance his mission, aka The Project.

We know from the welfare-to-work programme that Australia and New Zealand have been under scrutiny, as has the United States, if only because Friend Bill has made so many avoidable mistakes. At one point I feared that The Project was going to be the creation of a proto-Canada - Dullsville on Sunday. But I think that I have finally worked out where The Project is actually heading. Tony is an African, though in the political sense, rather than the biological. If he has a modern political hero, it is Nelson Mandela; if he has a spectre at his feast, it is Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.

Look at the facts. Labour has come to power after decades of corrupt, partisan government, pledging to destroy political tribalism. Their troops have marched for many years, often with little hope of victory and in the face of doubt from the people and hostility from the organs of civil society (yes, The Sun qualifies). At last, at last there is a breakthrough, and a sense of liberation across the nation. It seems that everyone has been waiting for this moment, and even those who appeared to be in cahoots with the ancien regime now cheer along with the rest.

The rhetoric is characteristic - "heal the wounds", "end privilege", "unify the people". The phrases could just as easily be drawn from speeches by Nyerere, Kenyatta, Mugabe, Nkrumah as from the New Labour lexicon. The new leaders are men and women of iron discipline. They take hold of the reins of power vowing that the old days should never be allowed to return.

They are inclusive and forgiving. Mr Mandela appointed whites to key posts in his government, and set up the Truth Commission to absolve his former persecutors ; Mr Blair has recruited businessmen, and given house room to the Social Democrats who helped to pitch his party out of power for a generation. They inject a new style - Mr Mandela blinds us with his shirts, Mr Blair charms us with his informality. And they set about creating what they call a new politics that will put an end to division. It is when we hit the politics that we run into difficult territory.

In Africa, as in Britain, the historic political obstacle to modernisation is tribalism. In South Africa, that includes the white tribe; here we may call them classes, but we all know which we belong to, and we know which party is supposed to represent our interests. Like most African leaders, the Blair team has clearly decided that the party political framework, when combined with these archaic loyalties, could derail The Project. Thus virtually every move they make has to undermine that framework, in spite of the fact that it has given them a huge, overwhelming mandate.

There, Mr Mandela brings minority parties into the cabinet; here, the Liberal Democrats join a cabinet committee. There they purge the party of undesirables like Mrs Mandela; here they neutralise the disruptive party conference. There they decentralise power massively, creating regional assemblies and provincial prime ministers; here we get devolution and a new style of government for London. There they turn up at football matches and concerts - remember Mr Mandela at the World Cup Rugby Finals in a Springbok shirt? Here, though Mr Banks at Chelsea is not that remarkable, since he's been going for umpteen years, Mr Fisher, the Arts minister, goes to Glastonbury - truly amazing.

All this is fine. Where we may become a little nervous is the bit that follows - an attempt to defeat tribalism by embracing every strand of opinion within the governing party. This need not be a one-party state, but it could be as near as dammit. In Africa, they tend to acknowledge that there is only one party of government and then introduce long and cumbersome methods of establishing consensus, which eventually give a result, usually too late and too complex to be of much use. The South African model is rather like this, and in the spate of reviews and commissions and focus groups set up by New Labour one can see this tendency emerging.

Unfortunately, in Africa, many also believe that in a dangerously unstable situation, only one thing can prevent the divisive tendencies re-emerging, and that is to stick together the main party political interests, find a place for everyone in government and ensure that there is no basis for destabilisation - by which is usually meant, no basis for anyone else to take over the government.

Some versions of this tendency invent vigorous federal structures to ensure that the national government does not simply do as it likes - its powers are limited and its actions are scrutinised. An example of this would be the old Tanzanian ruler, Julius Nyerere, who got his way by charm, cunning and sheer intellectual force. Some countries forget to install any checks on the power of central government and are ready to use its power to deliver what it believes is good for the people, whether they like it or not; check out Mobutu.

Of course we hope that Mr Blair's version will be Mandela rather than Mobutu. For a straw in the wind, look towards Mr Nyerere's Tanzania. The old man originated the Blairish phrase "the Third Way" (between communism and capitalism), gave us an African version of what New Labour is currently calling "inclusion," and insisted that he did not have to follow anyone else's doctrines. Oh - and he gave Peter Mandelson his first job, teaching for a year in the bush.