Entire continent in the news

I wanted to write about Blair’s African odyssey earlier on in the week, but the only thing I could find myself typing were permutations of “Tony” “Blair” and “fucking”.

Am now feeling a little more sober but no less bitter. The position of Africa as child-like continent incapable of doing anything for itself, in need of benevolence from outsiders who are entirely innocent of its condition, received a strong boost from the British PM this week. Apparently he was reduced to an infantile delirium just minutes into a press event designed to show that he, too, got rhythm. What else can explain both the photo, and these statements from a press conference:

“Forget this feeling about wealthy countries giving out of the generosities of their own hearts to African cities,” he said, also taking a swipe at aid which came with conditions, such as prescribed economic policies, imposed by donor nations.

“Countries should not be forced to sign up to policies which they do not believe will work, because a donor thinks they will be good for them,” he said. [More here.]

Perhaps the bongos beat out of him the memory that his government is a party to precisely the kinds of agreements in which donors impose strong conditionality. “A party to” doesn’t quite cut it. How about “actively promoting”. Yes. That’s better. Britain doesn’t sit on the board of the World Bank, IMF, and spend GBP 4 billion this year through the Department of International Development without laying down its own vision of what the money needs to be spent on, and the conditions in which it is spent.

Blair’s also taking a stern line on corruption. After all, the neo-Victorian ethics that underwrite the New Labour international project demand that everyone do their part, and Africa has a great deal to do. The good people at The Corner House put together this stinging bandage for Blair’s bleeding heart. Seems as if the British aid industry needs to be looking a little closer to home.

Britain’s response to allegations of wrong doing and bribery involving its companies in Africa has been characterised by foot-dragging and inaction. Take the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In October 2002, the UN released a report detailing how 85 foreign companies illegally exploited Congo’s resources. So far none of the British companies it named appears to have been properly investigated. Congo’s population of 70 million lives in abject poverty. Despite fabulous mineral deposits, the country’s GDP is only a quarter of what it was in 1990. Little or no part of the wealth extracted by western mining companies reaches the state coffers, with revenues from tax and customs sources standing at less than £1bn a year. Ensuring that companies play by the book in Congo would make a real difference to that country.

Fucking Tony fucking Blair.

Meanwhile, a glimmer of good news, as Wangari Mathaai wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Other things being equal, it’s good that the prize has gone to her and not to, say, Indian PM Vajpayee, who was rumoured to be in the running. Cde Mathaai has taken a solid stance against the life sciences industry for which she is to be commended. But guess which of her recent statements is making the news over the world? Is it that the patenting of life forms runs counter to the work she’s been doing all her life? Or is it that HIV is a deliberately created virus?

Of course, the AIDS pandemic is killing a good many Africans. But what is it that’s doing the killing? The virus, or the patents on drugs and the until-recent denialism by the South African government which prevent poor people from accessing treatment, and living with the disease? Course, if she was saying that a little more loudly, and organising around it, she’d be Zackie Achmat who, together with the splendid Treatment Action Campaign, have scored some remarkable victories in South Africa, and inspired countless HIV/AIDS activists elsewhere. Achmat was, incidentally, in the running for the prize too. But perhaps a little too politically risky. So, it’s Cde Mathaai this year. Good that an African woman has won, and one who has at least taken a swipe at the intellectual property industry. An industry that, in Africa, receives a great deal of succour from those very institutions that the British Prime Minister guides.

Fucking Tony Fucking Blair.