Home | News    Friday 8 October 2004

Blair presses for $150M in aid for Darfur


By ANTHONY MITCHELL, Associated Press Writer

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Oct 7, 2004 (AP) — At a conference to discuss Africa’s future, British Prime Minister Tony Blair pressed the international community to raise $150 million to help people caught up by violence in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

British Minister Tony Blair, holds a news conference with his Ethiopian counterpart Meles Zenawi, at the 2nd meeting of the Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2004

Blair also said Britain plans to train 20,000 African peacekeepers over the next five years to boost the continent’s ability to respond to conflicts like the one in Darfur — where pro-Sudanese government Arab militia have been raiding African villages, killing tens of thousands and forcing more than a million to flee their homes.

Blair — bedeviled by Iraq and in search of a more positive legacy — was flying out of Africa late Thursday after calling for concerted international action to address wars, poverty, disease and other crises afflicting Africa, the only continent to have grown poorer over the last 40 years.

"The international community should be supporting Africa’s own solutions to its problems, as we are in Sudan," Blair said, adding that US$150 million (euro122 million) was needed to help the victims of fighting in Darfur.

Britain is geared to use its upcoming chairmanship of the G-8 group of industrialized nations to spearhead the effort to help Africa.

"The international community should be supporting Africa’s own solutions to its problems, as we are in Sudan," Blair said, adding that a US$150 million (euro122 million) to help the victims of fighting in Darfur.

Britain is geared to use its upcoming chairmanship of the G-8 group of industrialized nations to spearhead the effort next year.

In Ethiopia, Blair chaired a meeting of his Africa Commission which will spell out what Africa needs to develop and explain what held back the continent in the past. Its findings will come out in time for Britain’s presidency of the G-8 and the leadership of the European Union later in 2005.

"Next year will be the year of decision for Africa and the international community," Blair told the commission whose members includes Irish rocker Bob Geldof, Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. "The time for excuses will be over."

Blair said that a European Union’s rapid-reaction force being set up could respond to a crisis in Africa within 10 days if African peacekeepers fail to stem future problems.

"There will be times when Africa cannot stop a conflict on its own, Blair said. "Then, the rest of the international community must be ready to help."

But a senior African Union official said that while poor Africans need security, the also could use access to markets in Europe and the United States in order to earn their way out of poverty.

The subsidies "are very serious as they threaten the livelihoods of millions of African producers. If they are stopped, the lives of millions of Africans would change dramatically," African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare said through a spokesman.

Even if "its debt is canceled and foreign aid is doubled, Africa would still be far from approaching the US$67 billion dollars (euro54 billion) it needs annually to develop," Konare said.

In 27 years, Africa will double its population, which could be an opportunity if the continent prospers - but could pose a risk to the entire planet if poverty persists, he added.

Blair expressed the same concerns.

"We know that poverty and instability leads to weak states which can become havens for terrorists and other criminals," Blair said. "Even before 9/11, al-Qaida had bases in Africa ... They still do, hiding in places where they can go undisturbed by weak governments."

In the past 50 years, 186 coups and 26 major wars have killed over seven million people and cost Africa US$250 billion (euro203 billion). Half a dozen African nations are still troubled by serious conflicts, the United Nations says.

African countries are also saddled with US$305 billion (euro247 billion) in debts, and their products account for barely two percent of world trade. Investment in the continent has shrunk to US$11 billion (euro8.9 billion) a year.

HIV complicates efforts to spur economic growth and development in Africa. More than 26 million Africans are infected with HIV and an estimated 15 million have died from AIDS, including many people from the continent’s relatively small educated and business class.

"The problems are multiple, we know them all," Blair said. "The difference is this time we have to put together a plan that is comprehensive in its scope and has at its core a real partnership between Africa and the developed world."

Geldof said he would was " not going to let the Africa Commission just be a talking shop." The Irish rocker’s fund-raising campaign 20 years ago raised millions in donations from around the world for the starving of Ethiopia, and "we are going to get solutions and make sure they are enforced," he said.

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