Geldof warns Blair that Africa could be a 'badge of shame'

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Failure to help alleviate poverty in Africa would be Tony Blair's "badge of shame", Bob Geldof said yesterday.

But after the first meeting of the Commission for Africa, attended by African and Western politicians, Mr Blair promised to make the issue a "focal point" of Britain's chairmanship of the G8 group of industrialised nations next year.

The Prime Minister admitted that the "scale of the problem is growing" in sub-Saharan Africa, but he said the Commission would act as "a strong and powerful agitator for change" and put the continent "on a path to progress".

He hinted that Britain would strive to increase foreign aid from 0.34 per cent of GDP to the United Nations goal of 0.7 per cent, and he would use his influence as president of the G8 and EU next year to put debt relief and aid for Africa at the top of the international agenda.

In the past Mr Blair has called Africa "a scar on the conscience of the world".

Yesterday, after the first meeting of the Commission, he predicted it would produce "a piece of work which will change not just the way we look at the issue of Africa, but change in particular our ability to confront the problems which are there and try to resolve them".

Geldof, the catalyst behind the Commission, called for a "Marshall-type plan" to fight poverty in Africa. He said it would be "a badge of shame" for Mr Blair and the Chancellor Gordon Brown if they did not try to help the continent. "We cannot accept the idea of people dying on our screens every night forever," he said. "That must begin to stop and I suggest that this is the day it begins to stop." He acknowledged that "Africa isn't going to say 'hey presto' we're rich" but he said the industrialised world must try to help.

Geldof said the Commission was "viably exciting" and would help address the previously "piecemeal approach" to problems in Africa although, in an aside, he referred to the six world leaders on the Commission platform yesterday as "the six stooges".

Mr Brown reaffirmed his own personal commitment to tackling debt in Africa. He said he hoped the G8 would announce progress on the extension of its programme of debt relief to the world's most heavily-indebted poor countries.

Africa is the only continent that has grown poorer in the past 25 years. Life expectancy in Zambia is only 37 years, compared to Britain where it is 78. The continent's share of world trade has halved in a generation and it is the area most badly affected by HIV/Aids.

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, called for Western countries to open their markets to African goods and said he hoped the Commission would "generate the political will" to bring aid to the continent. But he added "I don't expect miracles."

The Commission, which consists of 15 leading figures from both the industrialised and developing world, will produce a report in July 2005 proposing solutions for Africa's problems.

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