Thursday, May 31, 2007

Blair to G8: Keep African promises

Source: CNN.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday urged rich nations to keep their promises of financial aid to Africa, saying failure to do so could threaten the continent's march toward prosperity and democracy.

In a keynote speech in Johannesburg on the final leg of his farewell African tour as Britain's leader, Blair also said that Africa's leaders must get tough on authoritarian governments, such as those in Sudan and Zimbabwe.

"Wealthy nations and Africa both face a choice ... Our challenge is to support the good. Africa's challenge is to eliminate the bad," Blair said in the speech.

"Next week at the G8 (Group of Eight) Summit, leaders will show whether, having put Africa at the top of the global agenda, we have the perseverance and vision to see it through. I hope we have," the outgoing British leader said.

Blair's visit came on the eve of the G8 summit scheduled for Germany, during which Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to press rich nations to fulfil aid pledges to Africa under a 2005 Blair initiative.

"We need each G8 to be bolder on Africa than the last," Blair said. "If we give up, we will lose the chance in this continent, rich as it is though its people are often poor, for our values to take root."

He said initiatives such as the new Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, which will provide matching funds for commercially sustainable African business projects, showed that Africa and the West could be partners in development.

Mandela and Mbeki

Due to hand over power to finance minister Gordon Brown on June 27, Blair is using the trip to build momentum for the summit, which will focus on the world's poorest continent and push for a world trade deal.

He visited Libya and Sierra Leone before traveling to South Africa, where he will bid farewell to former South African President Nelson Mandela and meet current leader Thabo Mbeki.

Pushing the United States and other Western nations to meet their pledges of financial aid, trade support and assistance on peacekeeping and conflict resolution is a key part of the Blair agenda in his final weeks in office, as is the need for a global deal to fight climate change.

But Blair is also underscoring what he says is the need to pressure Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's government, which has been criticized in the West for a violent crackdown on political opponents.

Mbeki is overseeing efforts to bring Mugabe and his opponents in Zimbabwe to the bargaining table ahead of elections in the southern African nation scheduled for next year, and Blair said this effort needed to bear fruit quickly.

"African governments should also hold other African governments to account," Blair said.

"The world is waiting, wanting to re-engage with a reforming Zimbabwe government ... but for the people of Zimbabwe, this is urgent, and change before the 2008 elections essential."

Blair said Sudan, where the United States has accused President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of pursuing genocide in the war-ravaged region of Darfur, was another opportunity for Africa to show it stood on the side of peace and justice.

"We have to offer President Bashir a choice. Engage with us on a solution. Or, if you reject responsibility for the people of Darfur, then we will table and put to a vote sanctions on the regime."

Blair acknowledged some people were growing cynical over repeated -- and often only partially fulfilled -- pledges of Western help for Africa, but said he was convinced the policy needed to be enhanced not questioned.

"The fact that we don't get it all doesn't mean that we got nothing," he said. "We've got to make the case in the developed world that in the end this is in our own self-interest as well. This is not about charity."

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