Tony Blair: The world must judge us on Africa

The Prime Minister, in South Africa this weekend, on the fight against poverty, disease and corruption
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The Independent Online

Whenever I visit Africa, I am overwhelmed not so much by the scale of the challenges - massive as they are - but by the astonishing vibrancy and potential of its people.

Here in South Africa you are immediately struck by how far the country has moved forwards since overthrowing apartheid, with economic growth running at around 5 per cent per annum and businesses booming. But also by how far it still has to go to overcome poverty and the scourge of diseases such as Aids. South Africa shows that where there's a will, there's a way. Given a fair chance, you know Africa will grab it with both hands. The problem has been that fairness has simply not come into it.

Over the past year, pressed by public opinion, especially the Make Poverty History campaign and Live 8, we have taken some big steps towards ending this injustice. The G8 summit in Gleneagles saw commitments to double aid to Africa by 2010; write off the debt of 40 of the poorest countries; and provide universal access to Aids treatment and free basic healthcare and education for all. It may not have been as much as some optimists had hoped, but it was more than most realists had expected.

Sceptics have suggested this was all talk and no action. But much is already happening. President George Bush and Chancellor Angela Merkel have re-committed themselves to fulfilling their countries' aid promises. From last month, 19 of the poorest countries have stopped making repayments on their International Monetary Fund debts. This will be extended to more countries.

Some $4bn (£2.3bn) has been mobilised to tackle Aids, TB and malaria. And a further $4bn immunisation fund has been launched, which should, over the next 10 years, save five million lives. The UN Convention Against Corruption came into force in December.

But all that is just the start. The UK has set out milestones for 2006. The world must judge us on whether or not these are met. Comprehensive plans should be in place for a first wave of countries to achieve free basic healthcare and schooling. The Education for All Fast Track Initiative will have expanded to 40 countries. An African Union military force should be ready to deploy 20,000 personnel to conflict zones on the continent. All this by the end of the year.

Africa must also fulfil its side of the Gleneagles commitments. The Africa Partnership Forum - in which rich nations and African governments meet - will be monitoring progress. It should make its first report in October. And we will work closely with the African Union to resolve the continent's long-standing conflicts.

But if Gleneagles was the high-water mark, the world trade talks in Hong Kong were a disappointing end to a good year for Africa. We made some progress, particularly on phasing out export subsidies and quota-free access for products from the poorest countries, but not as much as we hoped and nowhere near as much as is needed.

There is a great deal of hard work ahead. Public opinion will not understand if we fail to break the log jam standing in the way of a global deal, which will generate billions of dollars of wealth for the poorest on our planet. There will be many milestones this year by which you may judge the progress we are making. Hold us to account. That is what the people of Africa deserve.

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