Show that the world cares

Mike Moore

One year ago, British Prime Minister Tony Blair established a top-level commission on Africa, calling the continent's problems a scar on the world's conscience. Recently, the commission - whose members include prime ministers, presidents, experts and even a saint (Sir Bob Geldof) - made public its findings. It is easy to discount reports because we have endured so many, but words and ideas do matter. The Brandt Report, for example, commissioned by the then German chancellor, Willy Brandt, created new phrases (now cliches) with great clarity. This is how we learned of the north-south divide, the Third World and the political objective of 0.7 per cent of government revenue in aid.

In 2000, at the UN headquarters in New York, 100 leaders solemnly agreed to what was grandly called the Millennium Goals, to halve poverty. It was hoped that these objectives could be reached within 15 years. At the present rate, it will take more than 100 years. Africa, over the past 25 years, is the only continent that has become poorer. Sub-Saharan Africa has 10 per cent of the global population, but two-thirds of the world's HIV-Aids sufferers. Corruption costs Africa nearly US$160 billion a year. Africa's debt has tripled over the past 25 years. It all makes for grim reading. But who is to blame, and what can be done?

There is enough blame for everyone to share; the large companies that accept bribery as a legitimate way to do business, and greedy politicians and bureaucrats who steal. I know something about this. I put together a group to do business in one African country. Business was good for everyone - and then I was asked to direct millions of dollars to various important people. I walked away. But Africa is changing. Now, there is a new organisation, the African Union, born out of the old liberation movement, and its cheerleader, the Organisation of African States. The New Partnership for Africa's Development is introducing a system of peer reviews and peer pressure to force change.

Half of Africa lives on less than US$1 a day. Some things have improved - growth is now a historically high 5 per cent, almost the target needed for sustainability. Dictatorships are on the decline; in the past five years two-thirds of sub-Saharan nations have had multi-party elections.

Mr Blair's report has firm recommendations: cancel all debt for the poorest countries; increase aid to Africa by 300 per cent; and a possible global tax on airline tickets. It proposes bold moves to open trade barriers to African exports (which would return up to five times more than all the aid put together), and new anti-corruption laws. Transparency by western banks to stop and trace money being paid to corrupt African leaders is on the agenda. It is also recommended that aid be reoriented towards infrastructure - US$20 billion a year for five years, rising to US$40 billion a year for the following five years.

African torment is equal to the effect of a tsunami every month. No wonder there are

1 million economic refugees in Libya alone waiting to escape to greener pastures. Over the past 15 years, more Africans have gone to the US than were shipped by force across the Atlantic during 200 years of slavery.

What is special about this report is that the majority of the commission members were Africans. They accept responsibility and realise that it is about good governance and open markets, which are buoyed by investment that is now welcome. Only a few years ago, some still opposed investment as a new form of colonialisation. Now the ball is in the court of the Group of Eight, the world's largest industrialised economies. They will meet, with Mr Blair as chairman, in July to consider these recommendations. If they fail to act, it will break the heart of the world.

Mike Moore is a former prime minister of New Zealand and was director-general of the World Trade Organisation