1 February 2013
David Cameron, the UK prime minister and leader of the British Conservative and Liberal Democrats coalition, is on his maiden visit to West Africa, since elected to office in 2010.
He is in Liberia, where he is chairing a UN High-Level Panel meeting on poverty. He will also be speaking to President Helen Sirleaf Johnson and her government, which is also a loose coalition of once bitter enemies in the Liberian civil war.
David Cameron’s visit to West Africa is all the more accentuated by the war in Mali, where the British government has decided to send 300 non-combatant troops, to help train the Malian soldiers, as well as stabilise the country.
But high on his agenda in Liberia is the key message, which is of growing concern in Britain: corruption, impunity and lawlessness in the West African sub-region, with rising levels of poverty amid improved economic growth figures.
Speaking to reporters in the capital Monrovia, he said that the lack of law and order, corruption and poor access to justice are fuelling rising poverty in Africa.
Mr Cameron said: “Liberia is a country that was absolutely devastated by conflict and civil war. It is now recovering, but there is still desperate poverty.
“I think it is very important we keep a focus on eradicating extreme poverty. Here in Liberia, one in 10 children do not make it to the age of five.
“But I also think it is important we look at those things that keep countries poor; conflict, corruption, lack of justice, lack of the rule of law. These things matter as well as money.”
Britain is the largest single aid donor in West Africa, providing support for education, health, economic and public sector reforms.
In several countries such as Sierra Leone, the British government, through its overseas development agency – DFID, is investing millions of dollars on the provision of clean water and electricity, as well as sanitation and public health.
But on the eve of David Cameron’s coalition government taking office in 2010, a damning Report by the British Parliamentary Audit Committee, said that corruption by public officials in countries like Sierra Leone was unacceptable.
David Cameron promised to clean up the overseas aid infrastructure and change the rules governing the transfer and management of aid in developing countries.
In particular, he promised to introduce a more stringent appraisal and impact evaluation policy, based on the need to achieve value-for-money in the way British aid is spent.
Critics say that very little change in the management of aid has been achieved in West Africa.
Far too much spending is either wasted or misappropriated by corrupt officials, amid rising poverty.
Most of the countries in sub-sahara Africa are among the poorest nations in the world, with average adult mortality of less than 50 years, and less than 40% adult literacy.
Fewer than 40% of people in the sub-continent have access to clean drinking water and much needed sanitation facilities.
David Cameron is hoping that his visit to Liberia and his chairmanship of the UN High-Level Panel on Poverty, will not only highlight the UK government’s call for serious and concerted action in West Africa, but will reinforce the immediate need to curb corruption and impunity.
Both Liberia and Sierra Leone have until recently been designated as failed states, following a decade of civil war, which destroyed most of their economic and civil infrastructures.
Billions of dollars have been spent by the international community in the last ten years, in rebuilding the two nations, especially democratic and judicial reforms.
But it seems there are some things that money cannot change overnight: corruption, impunity and lawlessness.
There is little doubt though, that as much of Africa goes through the full cycle of ‘generational culture change’ – driven by improved literacy, access to information technology, and globalisation, investments in economic and judicial reforms must continue, in order to reinforce and sustain that change.
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