An opportunity for redemption in Africa

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The commission for Africa, which met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa yesterday, is unlikely to come to any radical conclusions about how that continent can escape its wretched condition. The solutions to Africa's problems have been well rehearsed over the years. Developed nations must grant more aid and write off debt. The US and the EU must cut agricultural subsidies and open their markets. Pharmaceutical companies must make anti-retroviral Aids drugs cheaper and more readily available. And then there is security. If money-laundering, arms sales and the looting of natural resources continue, many parts of the continent are destined to remain violent and unstable. Unless Africans are protected from marauding militias in countries like Congo and Sudan, terror will continue to define their daily existence.

But though the Commission will not discover a magic cure for Africa's ills, it has the potential to be more than just a talking shop. Its work will prove invaluable for Tony Blair when he attempts to use Britain's leadership of the G8 and its presidency of the EU next year to push Africa up the international agenda. A fresh and authoritative analysis of the state of Africa will make it difficult for richer nations to evade their responsibilities. This Commission has the opportunity, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, "to turn international attention into international action".

Another cause for optimism is the fact that the Commission has harnessed the talents of a number of serving politicians. The Brandt Commission on Africa of the 1970s, to which this exercise has been compared, was made up of elder statesmen. We also have the advantage of knowing that Sir Bob Geldof, another commissioner, will not be loath to let the world know if it degenerates into a waste of time.

This Commission is an opportunity, not so much for Africa, but for the world's developed nations. It is a chance for us to fulfil our moral obligation to the world's poorest and most abused continent.