African explorer David Livingstone set out in 1865, at the age of
52, on his final and famous journey to Africa. At roughly the same
age, almost a century and a half later, Gordon Brown, another Scot
with grand ideas, has travelled to the continent.
the British Chancellor of the Exchequer or Finance Minister, leaves
behind the alleged rifts between himself and Tony Blair for a fleeting
six day visit to Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. As
he grinds through his relentless schedule in Africa the tensions
with Blair, which will ultimately determine whether Brown will follow
him as British Prime Minister or not, may well seem a million miles
African mission is to put Africa at the centre of plans for the
G8, for which the UK holds the presidency this year.
however, Brown was last on the continent seven years ago for a short
stopover in Johannesburg. He can hardly claim to have a feel for
the place. This has not stopped him, though, from routinely arguing
for an aid injection and a debt relief strategy for Africa over
the last ten years.
a recent speech he called for a Marshall Plan for the developing
world. He has argued that at least $50-billion more a year in foreign
aid is needed, effectively doubling the current amount spent by
the rich countries on aid. His government, he says, is committed
to an ongoing process of debt relief. He has stated that insisting
on payment of debts by certain African countries is "unjust"
because "it offends human dignity" and is "morally
he has reiterated a commitment to the UN Millennium Development
Goals. These include the promises by wealthy nations to assist in
ensuring that by 2015:
child will be at school.
infant deaths will be prevented.
will be halved.
Brown is making the right noises as far as addressing poverty in
Africa is concerned.
course, in reality, the goals he talks about are a long way off.
He has confessed, for example, that in sub-Saharan Africa at present
progress, poverty would only be halved by 2150; a remarkable 135
years behind schedule.
visit to Africa will undoubtedly help bring home the reality of
some of the more desperate parts of the continent. Hopefully this
will strengthen his seeming resolve to meet his commitments.
to say there is no room for complacency. There are many lofty ideals
and pledges the world has failed to meet. Most affluent countries
are still not complying with the recommended level of 0,7% of GDP
for foreign aid, Britain included. There is no guarantee any of
the prosperous nations will follow through on the proposed plans
or alter their trade and debt practices.
is one of the reasons The Make Poverty History campaign was launched
in the UK on January 1, 2005. It is a coalition of UK-based charities,
unions, nongovernment organisations and celebrities, who have come
together to demand that well-off countries increase aid, improve
working conditions for the poor, cancel world debt, and use fair
trade practices. The coalition is part of the worldwide Global Call
to Action Against Poverty which plans to continue to robustly raise
the issue of poverty in 2005.
the stage is set once again for a showdown between the sweet-talking
governments and campaigners. Somewhere in the middle of this are
the African governments, many of whom will have to get their own
act together if they are to become genuine "partners"
in the new wave of development Brown promises. But that is another
the meantime, in the spirit of the new year, and in defiance of
the Tsunami tragedy that marked it, I feel I want to give Gordon
Brown the benefit of the doubt. I long for the day when there is
a good news story about the African continent.
right now, as Chancellor Brown, in his open-neck shirt and chinos
presses the flesh with dozens of expectant Africans, I am going
to cut him some slack. I want to see if he can put his money where
his mouth is.
is his big test. If he can deliver the goods, and survive the whiplash
smile of Tony Blair and dodge the political daggers in Britain poised
for his back, he may well be a British Prime Minister to be remembered.
he fails, unlike Dr Livingstone, I cannot imagine anyone with a
serious social conscience sending out a Henry Stanley-style search
party to rescue him from the political wilderness. Brown will either
ride on the wave of goodwill that is currently sweeping the UK,
or he will find his political career, like Livingstone's heart,
buried in Africa.
find out more about The Make Poverty History campaign visit http://www.makepovertyhistory.org/
Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis
of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its
relevance to South Africa on Polity, see http://www.polity.co.za/pol/opinion/brandon/.
"Look South" published by