THERE are any number of influential people in the world who think that Africa is a basket case and a lost cause. But this is a counsel of despair. Surely, if we have learnt anything in the past half century since the end of the Second World War, it is that we live in an interdependent world and that John Donne was four centuries before his time when he wrote, ”Any man's death diminshes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” The African bell is tolling and Tony Blair is right to want to get action on assistance for the continent while he simultaneously leads the G8 group of indusrialised nations and the Council of the European Union in the second half of this year. The report of the Commission on Africa which he set up last year has been published to muted praise. It sets out clearly the worrying facts about Africa's inability to keep up with the social and economic progress being made in other parts of the Third World but its solutions are for the most part “more of the same”. Much more: a doubling of development aid, debt relief across the board and improved international trading conditions for African countries, especially in Europe and North America.

The problem that Mr Blair will have in getting the US and Europe to double assistance is that Africa already receives more aid per head than any other region but does much less with it. The question is whether the right kind of aid is being provided; for instance, does Africa need more capital-intensive “trickle down” investment or more targetted “bottom-up” help to small farmers and entrepreneurs. Also how do the Commission's proposals fit into other aid projects such as the US's Millennium Fund?


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