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Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, with her wide and distinguished international experience, for this timely opportunity to discuss the report of the Africa Commission. The noble Baroness introduced a wide range of issues, but as time is limited, I shall cover just two aspects of the Africa Commission's report: the improvement of skills, and benefits of trade. I recognise that debt relief and immediate financial support for developing countries are the issues very much in the news at the moment, but I believe that it is only through improving skills and widening trade that we will achieve a long-term solution.

For solutions to be sustained there needs to be, as the report puts it, investment in people. In the UK, there is now a particular emphasis on improving the skills of our workforce and investing in science and technology. We now have record investment in those areas, and what is right for the UK must also be right for Africa.

In the past the emphasis of our development aid, and indeed multilateral aid, has been on primary education and basic skills. As your Lordships will know, one of the millennium development goals was universal primary education by 2015. However, the report makes the important point that, and I quote:

Those are the skilled professionals whose training will provide the long-term solutions to Africa's poverty. They will contribute to the health and stability of their countries. Such an approach provides both challenges and opportunities for us. For example, skilled professionals from Africa come to the UK to gain experience in our health service; but if they remain in the UK, are we not depriving their home countries of much-needed skills?
 
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In the higher education sector—I declare an interest as chief executive of Universities UK—it benefits the UK to have academics working in our universities from all around the world, including from Africa. But we must be aware of our responsibilities not to denude developing countries of their intellectual capital.

We should not stop African professionals coming to the UK to gain experience or to improve their skills. But, as well as this, there should be opportunities and incentives for professionals to choose to stay and work in Africa, and for professionals from the UK to develop their skills in Africa. Investment is needed to facilitate exchanges to do that between UK and African institutions.

It is that exchange which will provide the opportunities. We must not forget that there are many ways in which professionals in the UK can learn from Africa, as well as vice versa. For example, the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the Association of African Universities have worked in partnership to develop an agenda for action which is commended in the Commission for Africa's report. The Commonwealth Scholarship Commission is also supporting African students who are now studying for UK qualifications through distance learning, in partnership with a developing country institution. I would encourage Ministers to bear the need for such partnerships in mind when we are developing our own skills agenda in the UK.

The other aspect essential for a long-term solution is trade. I sometimes worry when I hear the denunciation of free trade. Africa's difficulties have not been caused by globalisation; it could be argued they have been caused by a lack of globalisation. African counties need more investment by industry in order to improve their infrastructure and provide capital for employees to work with. The point can be illustrated by comparing the situation in Africa with that in Asia. According to the OECD, between 1973 and 1998, growth in GDP per head ground to a halt in Africa, whereas in Asia it grew by 3.5 per cent. In large part, that was because Asian countries were able to take advantage of free trade.

In contrast, the markets for African agricultural produce have been limited by trade barriers, and subsidies have given farmers in the developed world an unfair advantage. Reform of the common agricultural policy—so much in the news at the moment—would not only improve the finances of the European Union, but give African farmers an opportunity to trade their way out of poverty. While we must be careful that removing trade barriers does not undermine African producers, free trade can be a powerful force for development.

As with improving skills, widening trade would be of benefit to all parties. Trading is not a zero sum game. Improving trade in Africa benefits the rest of the world. As African countries specialise and increase production, they will be able to sell to the rest of the world, and to purchase the goods in which other countries specialise. Everyone wins.
 
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It is through investing in skills and widening trade that we will ensure a sustainable and improving future for Africa. The strength of the report of the Commission for Africa lies in its recognition of that. I hope that the Government will not lose sight of that fact while continuing their excellent work in tackling the immediate issues of debt relief and poverty.

6.39 pm

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for introducing today's debate. I rise to give a broad welcome to the report of the Commission for Africa and to congratulate its authors on a readable, comprehensive and authoritative piece of work.

In particular, I welcome the report's emphasis on the need for a new relationship between the international donor community and faith-based organisations. In the words of the report:

Where there are fragile or failing states, the report also notes that,

I also welcome the fact that this report comes not only from Africa experts but from Africans. Of the 16 commissioners, half are African. That goes some way to redressing a balance that for far too long has seen Africa as the problem that we have to sort out. Our more grumpy and cynical colleagues sometimes call it "the Geldof syndrome".

Chapter 3 of the report begins with the timely warning that any ideas or actions not premised on the culture of Africa simply will not work. As I read this report, it insists that any outcomes need to be African-led, culturally relevant and efficiently delivered. Only then can we be confident that this is not a new, albeit benign, form of cultural imperialism. Therefore, the challenge for faith-based organisations and for the donor community is how we engage with African leaders in a way that models genuine equality and that is free from paternalism.

I suggest that in this report there are not only elements of economics and anthropology but—this may come as a surprise—a certain amount of implicit theology. There is an underlying assumption that the universe has, in Gordon Brown's words, "a moral trajectory". Evil in its various manifestations—poverty, violence, corruption and so on—can easily undermine the common good and reinforce the terror that stalks and consumes the innocent by their millions. The report does not shut its eyes to that, but faces it effectively, at least as effectively as any report can. It is optimistic that good can triumph, and it points to genuine spiritual growth where people are liberated from economic and social poverty. The indigenous faith-based communities—which are generally either Christian or Muslim—are often best
 
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placed to be conduits of aid. They have established and respected networks that are often more trusted than those set up by NGOs or state authorities.

However, despite that welcome acknowledgement of the religious dimension, I have three reservations and I would value some reassurance on those. First, all the language about new relationships with faith-based organisations seems somewhat disconnected from the recommendations themselves. There seems to be little clarity about who is taking the report forward into DfID and the FCO. How are faith-based organisations to be involved in that process? In particular, will the well-established Christian mission agencies be enabled to contribute their unique expertise?

Secondly, if faith-based organisations are to be used as conduits for new development funding, how will they be helped to set up the structures necessary for the proper application of such funding? Small faith-based organisations usually have excellent contacts on the ground but have limited capacity to monitor and appraise large new projects.

Thirdly, will faith-based organisations remain free to continue those aspects of their work that go beyond the offering of aid? How, for example, would the core activities of most Christian mission agencies—such as evangelism and theological education—be viewed? How are those to be integrated into the way in which development goals are to be met?

I believe that there is much goodwill on all sides. The rhetoric is good. Let us make sure that the reality is even better.

6.45 pm


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