The Sketch: Brown takes on Africa's ills – and finds time to tackle a personal foe too

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The Independent Online

Watch out Africa, Gordon's coming and he's offering to do to you what he did to us. He might not have understood the English but his Big Man theory of government is well recognised in some parts of Africa. He'd be quite a good dictator as dictators go – he might even get elected, with his people counting the votes.

He arrived at the Development Committee a few minutes early with his policeman and PA – but the glamour of office was gone. He was the image of a post-Suez Briton, looking for a role in the world (or "something to do" as we call it).

Tory Chris White's first question pointed out that witnesses are normally invited to this committee but the ex-PM had asked himself along. That was the only interesting fact of the day. It's quite hard talking about a billion people dying of disease and hunger without saying anything interesting.

"There is merit in talking about New Africa because it will encourage leaders to become reformers," he told the committee. In that sense New Africa is going to be like New Labour. It's about the future not the past. Education. Intense relaxation about people getting rich. Promises, pledges and targets. Public-private partnerships! And, overall, it's a communications exercise.

The problem is – New Labour needs a Tony Blair and Gordon Brown suffers in comparison. But he did at least manage a knowing reminder of his predecessor. Asked what he thought of African leaders who fail to meet promises to stand aside after two terms in power, he replied, "It is very difficult for us to impose a rule on African countries that we do not apply ourselves."

The sole highlight soon passed. He didn't square up to broken funding promises from Gleneagles, and avoided saying what China was up to. And why, Pauline Latham asked, were we giving aid to an India which had a space programme we couldn't afford ourselves?

What was it all about? A branding exercise to position Brown as good with people, a member of the international power élite, and not making millions like that Tony Blair.

Can he do more harm than good? Maybe – his PPPs used private money (expensive) and public management (poor) rather than public money (cheap) and private management (strong). That could further impoverish more than one poor nation. Also, his dirigiste instincts are quite in tune with the Napoleonic Code that runs the poorest countries on that continent. It might for once be better if he did pass by on the other side.

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