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Speaking at the Stanford Graduate School of Business on Thursday 17 May, Mr Blair highlighted the remarkable progress made by African economies, a trend which has been supported by increasingly dynamic political leadership.
Highlighting the changes in the continent, which now boasts six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries and a rapidly expanding middle class, Blair called on the Stanford audience to “challenge their existing beliefs about Africa, visit the region’s countries and see what’s changed.”
As the G8 meets in Chicago, Mr Blair highlighted the huge impact of the commitments he spearheaded at the Gleneagles Summit in 2005: including doubling aid to Africa and dropping the debt for the world’s poorest countries.
Partly as a result of these changes, he said “Africa has seen the largest recent turnaround in poverty of any region, malaria rates have fallen by a fifth in the past decade, and rates of HIV-Aids have plummeted.
He went on to add that “the debt relief campaign has liberated African economies from the burden of indebtedness, allowing them to compete globally. Government funds that once went to service debt now go on public services. In Nigeria, a country of 170 million people, 70 per cent of whom live on less than $1.25 a day, the millions saved have been piled back into healthcare, with vaccination levels rising from 10 per cent to 65 per cent in places.”
But Mr Blair argued that the rapid change in Africa means aid alone is no longer enough. Support to Africa must now focus on building effective governance. He argued that the most critical challenge facing African governments today is good governance and the challenge of getting things done. He told the audience of business leaders, academia and development professionals that “the biggest challenge for many Governments – elsewhere as well as in Africa – is getting things done. It’s delivery; deciding priorities, creating mechanisms for achieving them and tracking the performance until the objective is actually achieved.”
The ultimate goal, he said, must be to “end aid dependency in Africa within a generation”. A goal he considers ambitious but achievable if the international community provides the right support to the new generation of African leaders.
Talking of US and EU engagement with Africa Mr Blair added that the key role “is using our technical expertise, intellectual capital and experience of what works in government in partnership with African leaders so that African Nations can accelerate their development.” Whilst acknowledging concerns over Chinese involvement in Africa, Mr Blair also underlined the huge opportunity it brings, especially in terms of providing the finance and capacity for large development projects. “Many African nations welcome the speed of Chinese investment and their “get it done” attitude. But, they also want to balance their new friendships. They need us to be smarter, faster and more innovative to allow them to do so.”