As Fr Valerian Shirima spelled out in the introductory session to this conference yesterday, the relationship between Africa and Europe has until very recently been destructive and exploitative, and that history helps to explain the current levels of poverty and suffering in the continent. I agree with him that it is important that we all understand the truth of that history and the way that it explains the present situation. But it is also important that we do not end up casting Africa and Africans as victims with no capacity to act to change their prospects and the prospects of their countries and continent.

In fact our relationship with Africa goes back further than most people appreciate to the very beginning of our species. Homo sapiens evolved in Africa and our oldest known ancestors were found in the area we now call Ethiopia and lived about 160,000 years ago. As I understand it, we only came out of Africa 50,000 years ago. And I was reading yesterday of the results of a British study which suggested that efforts of our predecessors to live in Britain failed repeatedly with periods of ice age wiping out settlements. So human beings did not establish themselves in Britain until 12, 000 years ago. Se we are in fact African in origin and human settlement in Africa is much older than it is elsewhere.

And, according to Basil Davidson, when Henry the Navigator of Portugal first sailed down the West African coast, representatives of the feudal system of Portugal met with those of the feudal Ashanti kingdom as equals. And princes and princesses exchanged visits to each other’s courts. So in those days Europe and Africa met as equals.

But later relationships became unequal and exploitative. Slavery – on an industrial scale – denuded the continent of millions of people who were used to produce the cotton that was then shipped to the UK and elsewhere, which provided the raw material that fuelled the industrial revolution in Britain. The cloth that was then produced by increasingly industrialised processes, was then sold throughout the British Empire to other peoples who were exploited and oppressed. I am not an expert on this period of history but I have always thought it notable that – in the British Caribbean at least, and probably more widely – it was not permitted to baptise the slaves. You can see why – a religion that spread throughout the Roman Empire as the religion of the slaves because it was taught that all men and women were equal in the sight of God was denied to those who were enslaved, by those who called themselves Christians because it was impossible for them to treat people so unjustly and recognise their humanity. The Atlantic slave trade was one of the greatest evils of human history and there has been insufficient recognition of the role it played in the industrialisation of Europe. Of course human history is full of cruelty and the taking of people as slaves was commonplace – for example, St Patrick was taken by raiders as a young boy from Britain to Ireland – but the massive scale of the Atlantic slave trade was unprecedented and had massive consequences for Africa and the sons and daughters of Africa who were enslaved in the Americas and the Caribbean. I think slavery also explains the deep racism that is embedded in history as Europeans invent a story to excuse their cruelty, by pretending that the people they harmed were inferior.

And following this came the scramble for Africa, as the European powers competed to carve up the continent and get control over its rich natural resources. This led on to the Congress of Berlin in 1878 and the drawing of lines on the map which created nations with no natural geographical, ethnic or linguistic unity. There has been much rewriting of the history of the colonial era to pretend that it was well intentioned. In reality there is no doubt that it was oppressive and exploitative, and state systems were designed to hold down, divide and rule and exploit the people and natural resources of the continent. It is also clear that missionaries played an important part in the process and it is important that the Church faces up to this reality. But in explaining Africa’s suffering, we should not lose sight of the fact that colonialism was cruel and exploitative everywhere and that European governments in this era also treated their own people with great cruelty. The Congress of Berlin which carved up Africa into such unnatural state units, was followed by the horrors of the First World War in which there were 37 million casualties and 8.5million young men’s lives were sacrificed fighting over small areas of muddy trenches. And that war was followed by a terrible ‘flu’ epidemic which killed 20-40 million people world wide. Let us hope that the threat of avian ‘flu’ will not be as severe.

The colonial period ended in the 1950s and 1960s was the period of independence and full of great hope for the future. Progress was made in this era and the figures that measure live expectancy, infant mortality and literacy demonstrate this. It is simply false to suggest that people in Africa prospered more in the colonial era, but nevertheless many of the great hopes of the independence movements were disappointed. Predatory and exploitative state structures were taken over by the leaders of the independence era and too frequently used to continue to oppress and exploit. The development of Apartheid in South Africa, the wars for independence in the Portuguese territories and with both sides in the Cold War lining up on either side of all the tensions in Africa, further held back progress. But many African leaders also let down their people. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” as Lord Action said in reference to Church politics a long time ago and as we see in politics across the world over and over again. Vanity and ego is the disease of politics and we have seen it in many of the leaders of post independence Africa. Mugabe, who was such a great hero in overthrowing Smith is today destroying his country. And in my own country, in the case of both Mrs Thatcher and Tony Blair, both grew increasingly arrogant and error prone in office and had to be prised from power. The lesson here is that constitutionally entrenched term limits are very desirable. It is notable that in recent years Presidents Mkapa and Chissano stood down voluntarily and in Malawi and Zambia civil societies forced Presidents Muluzi and Chiluba to abide by their constitutions.

1989/90 saw the end of the Cold War and the end of Apartheid and brought a new era of hope for the world and for Africa. Nelson Mandela became the most loved and respected politician in the world and the terrible failures of the international community in Somalia and then Rwanda did not wipe out the hope of what President Mbeki called “an African renaissance”. There was an era of new leadership across the continent. One party states were swept aside and multi-party democratic systems spread. Increasingly constitutions were written which limited leaders to two terms in office. And there was a reassessment in Europe of its relationship with Africa. This was the result of historical change but also of great movements of people. There is no doubt that Europe exploited Africa and that Britain was one of the most exploitative countries. But if you look at the cities of Britain today, the majority of the population originates from countries that were colonised by Britain. When I wrote a letter to this effect to a Minister in Zimbabwe shortly after 1997 supporting the case for land reform but saying that this should be done because it was right and with a bias to the needs of the poor because this is what aid money was for, I also said perhaps unwisely, that we were a new generation in Government, and added that I myself was of Irish origin colonised rather than coloniser. My interest was therefore focused on poor people’s need for a fair allocation of land not colonial guilt. This made President Mugabe furious and he has repeatedly told journalists how outrageous my position was. He wanted the old enemy to rail against and thought my focus on the poor was an attempt to evade colonial guilt. But times have changed, for example my constituency where I was born and grew up is based in the centre of Birmingham, one of the main centres of the industrial revolution. A minority of my constituents are white and many of them are Irish in origin. In fact, in ten years’ time Birmingham – a city of a million people and the second city of Britain – will have a white minority and no ethnic group will predominate. We are a city of people of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Irish, Caribbean and now increasingly Somali, Afghan, Iraqi, Iranian and even recently of Francophone African descent. This is one of the results of globalisation and it demonstrates that we must learn from history but not remain trapped in it. Great harm has been done to Africa by Europe but the old Europe no longer exists and we must now be determined to forge a new relationship in the interests of justice and of the people of both continents.

There is no doubt in my view that the level of inequality and poverty in the world is the greatest moral challenge that we face. And Africa is by far the poorest continent with more than 40 per cent of its people living on less than $1 per day – and please be clear that it is local purchasing parity equivalent of what $1 per day buys in the US – not what $1 buys in Malawi. This means that in a world where obesity is a growing threat, many people – 800 million world wide – live with constant hunger. And in sub Saharan Africa half the people live with hunger, lack of education, healthcare, clean water and sanitation and thus with constant sickness that causes ever more poverty. In fact, the poor are not, as people assume, a constant group of people. They work immensely hard and “pull themselves up by their own boot straps” – but then ill health of the wage earner or child leads to loss of income and/or need to pay for healthcare. This drives people back into poverty. On top of this, we have the scourge of HIV/Aids which is a cause of great human suffering but also is leading to the premature deaths of many of working age, which means a loss of earning power and of skills and leaves many elders and children behind trying to struggle to make a living. On access to drugs, there has been great progress. The campaigns were successful and prices slashed, but without basic healthcare systems and testing systems, the drugs cannot reach all who need them. And it is important to also learn the lessons of prevention that were so successfully learned in Uganda in particular and are now sadly being forgotten. Aids spread rapidly and affected large numbers of people first in Africa. It is largely sexually transmitted but transmission is worse when people are ill fed and untreated sexually transmitted disease is endemic, as an important study in Tanzania showed. This underlines the need for basic healthcare systems to be put in place across the continent. It also means we need to be more honest about human sexuality. This is of course a particular problem for the Roman Catholic Church. To prevent the spread of HIV/Aids we need to reach out to marginalised groups – drug users, prostitutes and gay men and to women whose husbands are promiscuous in order that they are able to protect themselves from infection. But we must be clear that Aids is a world problem and not an African problem. It is currently spreading rapidly in India and China and other parts of the world. The threat is not confined to Africa, but is more advanced in Africa and adds very severely to the development challenge.

There are, we must admit, many reasons to be pessimistic about the future of the world and of Africa at the present time. The threat from global warming is very serious. It will lead to rises in sea levels, turbulent weather patterns, massive agricultural disruption and displacement of vast numbers of people. And, as ever, the poorest countries are most vulnerable to its effects. Currently the world’s leadership is failing to address the problem, and even the Kyoto treaty, which was an important step forward but is not an adequate response, is being undermined by US failure to co- operate. There is much we could do if we share knowledge and technology world wide and prioritise the need for energy conservation and the development of renewable technology. It is not difficult to envisage solar energy farms in the Sahara hooked in to the European grid distributing energy without carbon emissions across Africa and Europe. The reality is that if we fail to address the consequences of global warming and massively reduce carbon emissions over the next 30 years, the future of human civilisation will be in doubt in 100 years’ time. To prevent this catastrophe we need world wide agreement, and to achieve this we need a more equitable world order and agreement on contraction and convergence. Contraction and convergence means that we ask climate scientists to tell us how much carbon dioxide can be safely emitted globally and we then move over time to a per capita entitlement with the OECD countries having to massively reduce emissions if developing countries being able to grow but having access to new technologies so that they do not emit as much CO2 in the course of their development as did Europe and North America. So it s clear even for those who are not convinced of the need for radical action for moral reasons, that as our climate and environmental problems become more serious there is need for action, in order to preserve human civilisation. And as Africa is the poorest continent with the least power in the international system, it would be the right place for Europe to start in constructing a more just and equitable world order in order to cope with the problems that face the whole of humanity.

The second reason for great pessimism is the disastrous and unjust situation in the Middle East. This is the cause of great suffering and grave injustice, but it is also leading to an undermining of international law and weakening of international systems at a time when we need greater international co-operation to deal with the challenges that face us. And these problems affect Africa. The 1998 bombs aimed at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed many Africans. Since then there have been bombs in Mombassa and allegations of Al Qaeda activity in Somalia. It should not be forgotten that Osama bin Laden lived in Sudan before he moved back to Afghanistan and the Khartoum government’s refusal to co-operate over Darfur is partly caused by experience of US policy elsewhere. The anger of the Moslem world affects Africa and has a capacity to further destabilise the continent. And Western Africa has rich oil deposits which are increasingly driving US and Chinese foreign policy. Africa’s rich natural resources are again attracting competing attention.

On the challenge of the Middle East, , Europe should have a role as an alternative voice to US policy. To achieve it the UK needs to cease unconditionally supporting the extremism of US policy but Germany also needs to overcome its historic guilt over the Holocaust and be willing to criticise Israeli policy. Germany’s policy on the Iraq war may provide some hope here.

So it is right to admit that the task of improving Africa’s prospects is difficult and there are many hurdles to overcome, but we would not have met together if there was no problem. We are looking for ways forward and there are many of them.

  1. It is in Europe’s self interest to work with Africa to support development. A poor Africa that is politically destabilised will attract political movements and criminal elements that will threaten Europe’s interest. An impoverished Africa will continue to lead to desperate people coming across the desert and in boats to Italy, Spain and the Canary Islands in the hope of getting a chance to work and better the lives of their families. The risks of environmental strain and global warming will vastly increase these numbers and threaten further hysteria and right wing movements in Europe. How much better that we work in partnership, to improve economic opportunities for people in Africa and create legitimate systems of migration and opportunities to work overseas and return home with increased savings and skills. We must work to create a future where people travel and migrate for mutual benefit rather than out of desperation.

  2. Africa is changing. Multi-party democracy is imperfect – as everywhere – particularly when there are no limits on election spending. But African people are increasingly well informed – partly as a result of education, partly improved global communications and there is a palpable rise in anger at the corruption of the political elite. Also, as Florence has shown, women are organising and demanding change at all levels of society and are a major force for beneficial change. At the same time society is urbanising fast. This is a world wide phenomenon but I have no doubt that the urban poor will not be as patient as the rural poor have been. Urbanisation, multi part elections and improved global communications will have their effect in Africa. The African diaspora adds to these forces for change.

  3. Nepad (The New Partnership for African Development) was a commitment by African leaders to serious reform and investment. It is east to be cynical about the record of some of these leaders, but the commitment to improved governance came out of Africa rather than from donor pressure and was a sign of change in the political leadership of the continent.

  4. The AU (African Union) with its increased powers, commitment to a parliamentary tier and its efforts in Darfur and elsewhere to end and prevent conflict, create hope of an African leadership that will be more active in resolving conflict and preventing coups. There is an important new energy in Africa on these issues.

  5. There have also been improvements in the development paradigm. In the past aid was too often used for Cold War purposes and it was also deployed in ways that undermined local capacity. On this I disagree with Fr Valerian and to some extent with Florence. Some support for good NGOs and a strengthening of the voice of civil society is a good thing but civil society in Africa must not become dependent on Western aid agencies and NGOs. It must be a genuine voice particularly for poor people. This is a major responsibility for the churches and faith groups who have more contact with poor people than any other institution as the World Bank study “Voices of the Poor” published in 2000 demonstrated. There was a famous Tanzanian study of the 90s which showed how aid can be well intentioned but destructive. The study showed that Tanzania had over 1000 aid projects, 2000 aid missions annually, good civil servants were poached by aid agencies, the finance Ministry using all its time accounting to aid agencies and the capacity of the Tanzanian state became ever weaker and the aid projects left no sustainable change. The new paradigm is long term partnership agreements to achieve the Millennium Development goals and based on Poverty Reduction Strategies which are drawn up with public participation. With this approach goes a willingness to commit large sums to education and health budgets if there is progress in cleaning up financial management and taxation systems. This is the relationship the UK has with Rwanda which is making remarkable progress and also with Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana. Others are moving in the same direction. It can be gender sensitive and doesn’t prevent funding being provide for some NGOs or for faith groups but it is the only way to get systemic change and deploy large quantities of aid well. This is the way to work with reforming states. It can support and speed up reforms in governance, in the numbers of children in school and the reach of health care systems. There is a real problem in NGOs trying to undermine this model because it does not put them in the driving seat. This must be resisted. This approach is not relevant in deeply corrupt states where the poorest and most oppressed people live. These are the most difficult places to work but efforts must be made to help where possible, to speak out against corruption and to encourage micro finance and other such projects that empower people to act for themselves. We also need to encourage more African led humanitarian action and not allow the continent to depend always on outside organisations to take the lead in responding to such emergencies. To achieve the goal of halving poverty by 2015 Africa needs 7% growth in every country every year between now and 2015. Some countries are achieving this. I understand the widespread impatience and suggestion that economic growth is bringing too little benefit to the poor. But economic growth is a necessary but not sufficient condition for reducing poverty. If the economy does not grow and populations continue to grow, people will get poorer. We must have growth which is sustainable and whose fruits are fairly distributed. I am convinced that the examples of success we already have will spread but because Nigeria contains one in five of all Africans, progress in Nigeria is imperative and the recent ousting of a great reforming finance Minister a great disappointment.

  6. Another cause for hope is the progress there has been on the ending of conflict. This may seem an odd thing to say given the failure of the international community to adequately support the AU mission in Darfur and the terrible situation there – which shames all of us and Europe in particular. But 10 years ago there were wars in Angola, Zaire/Congo, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burundi and Rwanda. There has been progress in all these places and important African leadership in many cases. The situation remains frail, but after Somalia and then Rwanda there was an unwillingness to consider UN missions in Africa. After success in Sierra Leone which came on top of important success in Mozambique, there has been a greater willingness to act which is important.

The final point I would like to make is that the challenge is great, the reasons for pessimism manifold but there are also important reasons for hope and they are coming out of Africa. It is in Europe’s self interest as well as its moral duty to respond but to do this we must change the discourse to a commitment to justice and respect from the current language of charity and pity. Too much of the NGO campaigning is simplistic and puts the voice of well meaning young Europeans above those of Africa. It is also often economically illiterate and suggests that Africa needs to develop behind high tariff barriers without foreign Direct Investment. I am not an economist but when we face the fact that Ghana and South Korea had the same GDP per head in 1968, we must reflect on the lessons. Inward investment and a huge investment in education, lifted up the Asian tigers. Inward investment and a huge investment in education drove Ireland’s economy forward so that it is now wealthier than its old colonial exploiter Britain. Africa is making progress in ending wars and driving regional economic integration which overcomes much of the destructive consequences of the colonial boundaries and creates larger markets for domestic business and to attract inward investment. There are also tighter controls on money laundering. This is important alongside the reforms that have been taking place in banking. 40% of Africa’s savings have traditionally left the continent which contrasts massively with Asia at 5%. This must change. Africa’s savings must be attracted to invest at home and thus help lift up the economy of the continent. Improved banking is crucial to this.

The failure of the Doha trade round, which promised fairer trade rules for developing countries is a serious setback. But there has been progress in improving Africa’s access to the European market under the Everything but Arms agreement and similar agreements with other regions. The problem of agricultural dumping remains serious with each European cow being subsidised at $3 per day and then milk powder and meat being exported to Africa at less than cost price and thus undermining Africa’s agriculture. But there are also promises of reduced subsidies. On trade we must work to win for Africa a further package of changes in trade rules. This requires attention to detail rather than generalised anti-WTO rhetoric.

What would be the equivalent for Africa of the inward investment in manufacturing assembly which lifted up the Asia tigers and is driving such massive progress in China? I suspect it should be partly agricultural processing for the European market together with call centres staffed by people with rich language skills that Africa has in such abundance and who live in the same time zone as Europe. Currently the move is to India. I see no reason why Africa should not attract more of that business and I understand it is beginning to do so. In agriculture, Africa’s coffee, cocoa, tea, cashew, fruits and other products leave the continent unprocessed. I understand that Germany for example is a major coffee exporter so that all the roasting and packaging jobs and value added takes place out of Africa. Even the fair trade chocolate bar is made in Europe. Only the slightly better price for the cocoa goes to Africa.

There is much to do and much that can be done. We must get beyond the rhetoric and attend to the detail. But I am hopeful despite the challenge because there are new forces at work in Africa, because Europe is changing, because it is in the interests of the people of both continents to change and because if we do not the future is bleak for all of us. My hope is that the challenge this involves will be part of a commitment to a new more equitable world order and a more sustainable and less consumerist way of life. Without such a change, we will all reap the whirlwind of climate change and growing environmental crisis.

Posted by

13 Comments

  1. very interesting post, i actually love this web site, carry on it

  2. I have interest in this, cheers.

  3. I love reading through and I believe this website got some genuinely utilitarian stuff on it! .

  4. I really enjoy examining on this page , it has got cool stuff .

  5. I truly enjoy looking through on this web site , it holds superb content .

  6. I am glad to be one of the visitors on this great website (:, appreciate it for posting .

  7. Enjoyed reading through this, very good stuff, thankyou .

  8. I truly enjoy looking through on this web site , it holds superb content .

  9. Enjoyed reading through this, very good stuff, thankyou .

  10. Just wanna input on few general things, The website layout is perfect, the articles is very superb : D.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.