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Foreign Policy Centre

Ideas for a fairer world

Articles and Briefings

The Missing Policy Link

By Lucy Ahad. Source: Whitehall & Westminster World March 2005

2005 has been officially declared the year of Africa. Tony Blair has stated and restated his determination to use the UK's double presidencies of the EU and of the G8, two of the international organisations with the most development clout, to push Africa's plight up the international agenda. He has signalled intent by charging a high-level Commission for Africa, on which he sits along with chancellor Gordon Brown, to come up with "fresh" thinking on how to solve the continent's many challenges.

So far, security has been at the very bottom of the list, eclipsed by aid and debt relief. The UK government kicked off the year with a diplomatic offensive to build support for Gordon Brown's International Finance Facility, an ambitious proposal to double the amount of aid through the creation of special bonds allowing African countries to borrow against future aid receipts – what has been dubbed a new "Marshall Plan for Africa".

In a landmark six-day visit of the continent, Brown spoke out on poverty and AIDS and appealed for international assistance. Yet his passion did not dispel all scepticism. Critics have been quick to point out that the original Marshall Plan or European Recovery Program initiated by the US after the second world war provided funding to reconstruct Europe. While the continent had been physically devastated by conflict, its human and institutional capital – the basic blocks of development – was largely intact.

By contrast, many African countries today face the far more daunting task of building these from scratch. Financial aid alone will not enable African nations to train the doctors, teachers and managers needed to power their growth; and pretending otherwise is likely to breed disillusionment.

An even more obvious gap is that, unlike Europe in 1948, Africa is still at war. Three wars and fourteen "violent conflicts" are currently unfolding in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank regional brief, and a further ten countries are at a "high risk" at seeing the outbreak or resumption of conflict. Today approximately 15 million Africans are internally displaced as a result of conflict, while around 4.5 million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. An astonishing one in five sub-Saharan Africans live in communities directly affected by armed conflict. But despite the profound repercussions for economic development, dealing with conflict has barely figured so far on the UK agenda.

This is all the more astonishing given how cruelly the crisis in Darfur last year exposed the shortcomings in the international community's ability to deal with threats to security and human rights on the African continent. Despite early and repeated warnings that the attacks of government-supported militias on villages in the Sudanese province of Darfur amounted to genocide, the international reaction was painfully slow – perhaps with the exception of the US.

As Dr Greg Austin, research director of the Foreign Policy Centre, points out in a recent FPC publication on Darfur, the lessons from Rwanda have not yet been learnt. There is only a narrow window for halting the chain of violence once unleashed; and there are still no effective legal and institutional mechanisms that enable or require the international community to take action to do so. Other conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Ivory Coast have also tested the strength of the international commitment to African security and justice.

But security may prove the sine qua non of the UK's plan for Africa. The UK government is unlikely to win international and domestic support for a Marshall-style effort unless people are reasonably convinced that it will not be jeopardised by apathy and indecision in the face of devastating conflict. Drumming up enthusiasm for the "Year of Africa" after the "Year of Genocide" will be no mean feat. Tony Blair was visibly rattled when, during a press conference in January on his plan for more aid to Africa, he was asked why he had allowed 50,000 to die in Darfur since pledging to take action six months previously. The "fresh thinking" that the Prime Minister has correctly identified as lacking in the world's approach to Africa must clearly embrace security as well as aid.

A bold complement to the new "Marshall Plan" for economic development is the creation of a "NATO for Africa" in parallel to guarantee its security – a bold idea put forward by Richard Gowan of the Foreign Policy Centre in "Effective Multilateralism: Europe, Regional Security and a Revitalised UN". He argues that a promising new partner for the international community in general and Europe in particular has emerged in the shape of the African Union (AU). Just as NATO allowed the US to provide an effective security guarantee to European nations against Soviet invasion while giving them the status of equal partners, so the EU could create a new partnership with the African Union to deal with security threats together without the charge of colonialism.

The EU has already provided 250 million euros to the African Peace Facility, funding AU peacekeeping operations in Burundi and Sudan. There are admittedly many obstacles to such a plan – namely, African diplomats have repeatedly voiced their fears that Europe will use such an agreement to "subcontract" danger and potential loss of life to their African partners. But the new European "battle groups" finally given the go-ahead last year hold the key to a promising new formula for a genuine partnership, meriting further consideration at least. This would involve high-tech European troops to help stabilise the initial crisis, and act as a precursor to a larger AU peacekeeping force that would confer regional legitimacy on the mission.

Generalising on the scale of a continent is dangerous, as is seeking to rank scourges like disease, famine and war dispassionately. Clearly, development priorities in Africa differ from country to country, and security will not always come first. For instance, although 2,297,600 people lost their lives through the armed conflicts active in Africa between 1990 and 2004, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, UN AIDS reports that the same number (2,200,000) died from AIDS in the sub-Saharan region in 2004 alone.

But security needs at least to be one among equals. Just as HIV/AIDS has broader implications for development than purely in terms of lives lost, because of its effects on health, productivity and education, so is conflict a particularly pernicious problem, both wide-ranging and diffuse. People who fear for their lives are not best placed to acquire vital skills, create jobs and drive forward their community's economic development.

Preventing, resolving and dealing with the repercussions of conflict must be at the heart of any comprehensive development strategy. Uganda offers perhaps the best illustration of the indivisibility of development from security. Although Uganda is acclaimed as one of Africa's "success stories", having reduced the rate of HIV/AIDS infection and sustained average annual growth of 6.7 percent in real GDP terms since 1995, its government is still struggling to resolve a bloody 18-year conflict waged against rebels on its northern borders.

It seems unlikely that the Commission for Africa's long-anticipated report will rectify the current security-shaped hole in policy innovation. While the panel brings together an impressive array of experts and politicians, their expertise lies mainly in development and wealth creation – the focus of their consultations so far. Security is the missing link in the UK initiative on Africa. To prevent this jeopardising a plan so central to Tony Blair's premiership, it must be brought to the fore of the debate.