African script of development

It used to be “aid fatigue’’ that made Africa’s unending suffering unfashionable in the G8 countries. Now it’s “misery fatigue’’. The very misery in Lebanon that should be strengthening the determination of all people with a conscience to redouble their concern for those in need appears, in fact, to be making suffering in Africa invisible. Again.

Naturally, there is only so much sympathy for the wretched of the earth to go round.

Another difficulty is the sheer size of Africa. It is the second largest continent in the world, with more than 50 nations — some of which are quite rich, while others are extremely poor. Without detailed knowledge of the differing conditions of life in these diverse countries, they can all be easily consigned to the same invisibility.

As I write, there are severe floods in two countries more usually associated with drought: Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. Hundreds of people have already died; thousands have been driven off their land; crops have been ruined and animals drowned.

At the same time, the impoverished governments of Ethiopia and Burkina Faso - like all those in Africa whose countries do not produce oil and gas — are battling to finance essential imports of oil, whose price has almost trebled in the past 12 months.

The crisis in Darfur is no nearer to a solution either.

As if the situation in these particular countries were not bad enough, on the global stage hopes have been dealt a death blow by the failure of the World Trade Organisation to reach any agreement at its Doha round of negotiations. The talks on easing trade tariffs and abolishing food subsidies in the rich countries had been going on for a good 20 years, until they were torpedoed last month. As the secretary general of the Commonwealth, Don McKinnon, recently asked: “Just how much longer do the victims of agricultural subsidies have to wait?’’

Everyone must come on board “locomotive Africa’’ this time - the aid agencies, the anti-debt campaigners, the youth and the student movements ... we need to hear even the relatively tired voices of the likes of Bob Geldof and Bono.

When you’ve been to Africa and seen people drinking dirty water, and burying the infants who die from it, the type of squabbles that split apart pro-Africa campaigners become quite obscene.

Unfortunately for Africa, Tony Blair, by his craven subservience to the US over Iraq and Lebanon, has written himself out of the good books of the very constituency in the G8 that could have helped him to attain the objectives set out in his Blair Commission report. But other westerners, who have more credibility than Blair, must seize the opportunity to rewrite the script, and leave Blair on the cutting room floor.

Make no mistake. Africans are a proud people and would like to be able to save themselves through their own efforts. But so long as the rich countries artificially limit Africans to benefiting from less than 3% of world trade — because the rich determine both the price at which Africans sell their raw materials and the price at which they buy finished goods from the rich countries — it will be quite simply impossible for Africans to pick themselves out of their economic rut.

We must not allow that truth to be hidden from the world by making Africa invisible again. —The Guardian