Blair's parting drive to aid Africa
The British prime minister wraps up his farewell tour to Africa this week, ahead of next week's G-8 summit in Germany.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Not so long ago, many in the West hailed British Prime Minister Tony Blair as Africa's new savior: the European leader who shamed other rich countries into helping the impoverished continent he called the "scar on the conscience of the world."Skip to next paragraph
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But as he wraps up his final visit to Africa as prime minister this week, Mr. Blair is fighting growing criticism from aid groups and African governments that the Group of Eight (G-8) countries' much-heralded promises of assistance have come to naught.
Blair says the trip will build momentum ahead of next week's G-8 summit in Germany, where he will push for leaders to follow through on promises made in 2005. But it also shows the complexities of the G-8's relationship with this continent, as well as the skepticism with which many Africans view Western interventions.
"His personal leadership did ensure that Africa was high on the G-8's agenda like never before," says Aditi Sharma, head of the HIV-AIDS campaign for the nonprofit group Action Aid. "But now ... with lots of those promises off track, African people are starting to lose their trust."
This week, Blair visited Libya, where he praised improved relations with Muammar Qaddafi, and Sierra Leone, where he pledged $10 million for African Union peacekeepers. In South Africa on Thursday, Blair met with anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, called for tougher action against Sudan over the crisis in Darfur, and emphasized the priority he has given to Africa during his tenure.
In a speech at the University of South Africa, Blair said both the West and Africa faced two possible paths.
"One is chosen by countries like South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana and many others, reinforcing economic growth with good governance and the stamping out of violence and corruption," he said. "The other, the path of Zimbabwe or Sudan, where bad government and violent oppression send the country's economy spiraling down. Our choice is to support the good. Africa's challenge is to eliminate the bad."
Pushing G-8 to honor aid pledges
Many aid experts expect Blair to repeat his calls for fellow leaders – most pointedly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who next week is hosting the annual G-8 summit – to step up their assistance to Africa.
Antipoverty advocates have criticized the G-8 countries for lagging far behind the promises they made when Blair hosted the Gleneagles G-8 summit in 2005. Among other pledges, the rich nations promised wide-scale debt relief and a doubling of aid to Africa by 2010, to $50 billion from about $25 billion.
Although there have been improvements – 22 countries have had their debt canceled and some 20 million more children have entered school, according to the aid group Oxfam – actual aid from G-8 nations decreased last year, and estimates show the G-8 missing their 2010 target by almost $30 billion.
Blair's successor, finance minister Gordon Brown, has worked closely with the prime minister on poverty alleviation and will probably continue Britain's leadership on African issues, aid experts say. But many advocates believe it is Blair, scheduled to step down this month, who can best pressure other G-8 nations.