The report of the Africa Commission is a call to action - it must not go unheeded

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The Independent Online

No one can say that the report of the Commission for Africa is unambitious. When Tony Blair launched the initiative a year ago, cynics dismissed it as a fig-leaf to cover his increasing nakedness over the war in Iraq. There may have been an element of truth in this, but it was also an expression of genuine concern. Mr Blair has said that he cares passionately about the cause of the poor in Africa. Even if you doubt his sincerity, you cannot doubt the worth ofturning the spotlight on to the problems of Africa and the need to do something about them.

No one can say that the report of the Commission for Africa is unambitious. When Tony Blair launched the initiative a year ago, cynics dismissed it as a fig-leaf to cover his increasing nakedness over the war in Iraq. There may have been an element of truth in this, but it was also an expression of genuine concern. Mr Blair has said that he cares passionately about the cause of the poor in Africa. Even if you doubt his sincerity, you cannot doubt the worth ofturning the spotlight on to the problems of Africa and the need to do something about them.

It was to the Prime Minister's credit, too, that he set up an independent commission to inquire into the causes of Africa's apparently intractable poverty. The majority of the commissioners he appointed were African. The most prominent non-politician on it was Bob Geldof, whose passion for the African cause cannot be gainsaid.

The result is a persuasive document, which is frank and honest. It lets no one off the hook. Africa is made to bear its share of the blame, and responsibility for the solutions. African leaders must crack down on corruption, become more answerable to their people, put in place more open budgets and processes, create a better investment climate, remove the barriers to trade between African nations, and scrap the fees that poor people pay for schools and health care.

The list of requirements on the rich world is just as demanding. Some things on it are predictable - doubling aid, cutting subsidies and tariffs and cancelling debt - but no less needed for that. Other proposals are more imaginative and just as exacting - making the IMF and World Bank more answerable, compelling Western banks to report on dodgy dealings by African leaders, and putting in place measures to control the flow of small arms to Africa which are brokered mainly in G8 and EU countries.

In a number of areas, the commission's report goes beyond current UK government policies, and in one or two aspects has the potential to embarrass Mr Blair. Measures requiring that money looted from Africa be returned by Western banks will show up the gap between the actions which the once notoriously secretive Swiss are now prepared to take and those of the British authorities. And Britain does not come out well in international comparisons on the prosecution of Western companies which offer bribes.

There will be those who say the commission places too much faith in the ability of Africa's newest institutions to bring about change. The African Union, its New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) programme, and the African Peer Review Mechanism are all only a few years old. They have yet to prove themselves effective agents for reform. Having said that, they are currently making all the right noises, and setting up impressive-looking initiatives. It is right to give them a chance, for ultimately the solution to Africa's problems must be in the hands of Africans - the experiment of aid with conditions imposed from outside was tried in the 1980s and 1990s and singularly failed.

One thing is clear. The solemn vow which the leaders of the rich world made in 2000 in the Millennium Development Goals to halve world poverty by 2015 looks set to go unfulfilled in Africa. At current rates of progress, the target would be arrived at more than 100 years too late. Africans are patient people, but 100 years is too long for anyone to wait for justice. Yet if everything in the commission's report were implemented, Africa would meet that target on time. And it provides a road map on how to do that.

Perhaps the most chilling section of the report is entitled Broken Promises. It catalogues the repeated failure of the rich world to pay up on its constant undertakings of good intent to aid Africa. This report - with its insistence that the world must move from charity to justice - is a call to action. It sets the bar high. The challenge for the politicians is to jump over it.

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