11 February 2002

West Africa: Blair Flies Out After 3-Day Successful Trip

Back home he has been declared a "wanted fugitive" by the hard-hitting British media, but Rt. Hon. Tony Blair is certainly making the news for the right reasons.

On a four-nation tour of West Africa to flesh out a recovery plan for Africa, leading protagonist of the initiative, Blair dropped the rhetoric of the past, offering concrete support for the developmental goals of the continent.

For the three days his maiden visit to Ghana lasted and on every platform he addressed, Parliament, a durbar at the Okyehene's palace, Cocoa Research Institute at Tafo in the Eastern region he didn't mince words: "The time to build Africa is now," he declared.

The approach would involve helping to build capacity and also to place less emphasis on aid and assistance and more emphasis on trade and capacity building "since aid and assistance are not enough to make any significant impact in the life of the people."

More assent, though would be placed on good governance. Prime Minister Rt.

Hon. Tony Blair said while the world would robustly fight corruption and bad governance, it would also encourage and support countries like Ghana that have charted a path towards democracy.

Blair's trip is seen as part of a global campaign pioneered by the G-8 countries ahead of it's conference in Calgary, Canada to economically empower Africans to play a more assertive role in this era of globalization.

He gave his audience, which included President John Agyekum Kufuor, Ministers of State, Parliamentarians, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin and several dignitaries a lot to chew on.

"Corruption and undemocratic governance would always act as a hindrance to investment flows into the continent and invariably hamper its development."

At the Okyehene's palace where a royal welcome was rolled out to Prime Minister Blair, his entourage and a high-powered government team led by President Kufuor, Blair restated his commitment to address the imbalances in world trade and also to work create access for African products in European markets.

Sounding the appeal earlier, both Osagyefo Amoatia and Nana Akufo-Addo, MP for Abuakwa reiterated the need for Africa to be supported in the areas of trade, health, education and the environment to facilitate its development.

In a very stirring address to Members of Parliament (MPs), Blair tacitly defended his country's support for Ghana's economic reform programme including the contentious Highly Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC).

Amidst shouting of 'hear' 'hear' by mostly the majority MPs, he assured the House that after February when the Decision Point will be reached the fruits of the HIPC therapy would be reaped by the masses of Ghanaians who are hardest hit.

The PM showered praises on the nation's democratic credentials describing Ghana as the beacon in a continent ravaged by political instability and civil unrest. Britain, he affirmed, would continue with its annual £60m commitment to Ghana in development assistance.

In a politically savvy tone, Blair admonished the West against what he called imbalanced trade agreement, which constantly put the developing countries at a very weak bargaining position in the international global market.

He called on the European Union (EU) "to practice what it preaches" by opening it's markets to goods and services from African countries.

The Premier also waded into corruption and mismanagement issues in respect of the proceeds of donor aid, which to him is reason why Africans remain impoverished in spite of annual inflows of several billion dollars in bilateral and multilateral aid.

He however appealed to the developed world to rise to address the inequities in global trade so as to alleviate poverty among the world's poor warning that neglect of this issue could lead to disastrous consequences.

He also advised African leaders to build a strong military force on regional and sub-regional levels that could be rapidly deployed for conflict resolution and also to prevent potentially corrupt leaders from annexing power arbitrarily.

He was gratified with Ghana's contribution in the peacekeeping operation in Sierra-Leone.

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