7 February 2002

Africa: Blair's African Odyssey


The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, will arrive in Ghana this evening for a three-day visit despite growing criticism at home for neglecting sensitive domestic issues such as national health and public transport. The trip is seen as being yet more evidence of a Blairite foreign policy which has become increasingly pro-active since September 11th, and will attempt to highlight the difficulties that the African continent faces in eliminating poverty and conflict in an increasingly globalised world.

Like many of Mr. Blair's movements abroad since the war on terrorism began, the trip has been shrouded in secrecy, and the exact itinerary will still not be announced in advance. It is now understood, though, that his wife Cherie Blair will not be accompanying him on this trip as was previously believed.

Mr. Blair will arrive this evening, and will be taken from the airport to an official reception at Osu Castle in the capital. He will be in Ghana until Saturday, meeting President Kufour and other officials to discuss issues such as world trade and conflict prevention, as well as visiting the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) in Tafo. He will also stop at the Ghana Armed Forces Staff College in Teshie, where Ghanaian and British military officers have created one of the best centres for peacekeeping studies in the world in recent years

At home, however, Mr. Blair leaves behind a barrage of criticism from opposition figures. The sincerity of Mr. Blair's visit has been attacked by Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative Party Leader in the UK, as "designer diplomacy". He has accused the Prime Minister of being guilty of "grandstanding for the media", and has warned him against punching above his weight in international affairs.

"The problem is simple and fundamental it is that the Prime Minister seems to believe that there are no limits to what Britain, acting as part of an all-embracing coalition of the righteous, can and should do to make the world a better place."

Mr. Duncan Smith, formerly an officer in the army himself, noted that the problem known among senior military officials as 'over-stretch' would make continued deployment of British troops abroad, such as the new ISAF force in Afghanistan, increasingly difficult to achieve. "We cannot hope to do more in the world and yet spend less on it. That's called facing up to reality."

Mr. Blair responded by saying that it was impossible for Britain, as a substantial military, economic and political power, to ignore its foreign responsibilities in today's interdependent world. "Since September 11th it has become absolutely obvious to everybody that events in one part of the world can dramatically affect events in another part of the world. I think it's not just right, but essential, Britain plays its role on the international stage."

Mr. Blair and his government have been particularly active in world affairs since coming to power in 1995. British troops have been dispatched to East Timor, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan the past few years, adding to substantial and long-term troop deployments in Bosnia, the Gulf and Northern Ireland. Also, in economic affairs, the Department For International Development (DFID) created in 1995 has been given bigger and bigger budgets to achieve its target of halving global poverty by 2015. Clare Short, the Minister for International Development, has visited Ghana before to discuss the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) scheme, and is also expected to arrive tonight.

After Ghana, the West African tour will take in Senegal, Nigeria, and most likely Sierra Leone as well. Mr. Blair will be accompanied by a press entourage of well over thirty reporters and journalists, and is the first British Prime Minister to visit Ghana in thirty two years, the last being Harold Macmillan in January of 1960.

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