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Tony Blair and the Commission for Africa: a fig leaf for Iraq or a moral imperative?

2009 February 17
by Paul Vallely

New Labour and the New World Order

Tony Blair’s decision to set up the Commission for Africa received a mixed response when it was announced in 2004. Development activists took him at his word. This was, after all, the man who at the Labour Party conference in 2001 had described Africa as ‘a scar on the conscience of the world’. They applauded the idea. But others dismissed it as a piece of political spin designed to offer some degree of appeasement to those on the Left who had been critical of his policy on Iraq.

The scepticism was understandable. Labour had achieved, after all, a mixed record on the implementation of what its first Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, had in 1997, twelve days after coming into office, described as a foreign policy with “an ethical dimension”  which would “put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy”.

On the plus side, in the early years, there had been Britain’s intervention in Kosovo to end the massacre of Albanian Muslims by Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic. And Blair had also sent troops into Sierra Leone in 2000 to prevent rebels from overturning the democratically-elected government. There had been a ban on the use and manufacture of anti-personnel landmines, as there was later to be on the use of cluster bombs. Labour had increased support for human rights lobby groups. And training for foreign troops by the British Army had been re-shaped to include concern for human rights and the need for civilian accountability of the military.  It had taken the overseas aid ministry out of the Foreign Office to separate aid from foreign policy and focus it on reducing poverty.

On the debit side, New Labour had refused to allow the extradition of Chile’s former dictator, General Pinochet, when he turned up in the UK. It had approved a controversial £28m military air traffic control system to the poverty-stricken, debt-ridden government of Tanzania. And Cook had controversially approved the delivery of nine British Aerospace Hawk jets to Indonesia, despite fears by human rights campaigners that they would be used for internal repression in East Timor.  That, more than anything, underscored the central ambiguity at the heart of Labour policy. While Cook had talked about the “ethical dimension”, the Labour manifesto had stated: “We support a strong UK defence industry, which is a strategic part of our industrial base as well as our defence effort”. In those days Britain was the world’s second biggest arms exporter (Russia and France have since overtaken the UK) with arms exports worth £5 billion a year providing jobs for 150,000 people. Arms went to other unsavoury regimes too – China, Colombia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe – and some 50 per cent of the turnover of the Export Credit Guarantee Department[1] went to support arms sales.

This dichotomy reflected something than ran deep through Tony Blair’s political personality. He was driven by two impulses, which were in tension and sometimes, perhaps, in contradiction. He had a strong sense of moral commitment. Yet he was the quintessential political pragmatist. His establishment of the Commission for Africa reflected both those motivating characteristics.

It was set up at the behest of a celebrity figure. Bob Geldof late in 2003 visited Ethiopia, where famine was threatened on the scale of  the great drought of 1984 and 1985 which prompted the Live Aid concerts which had raised more than $100 million for Africa. Geldof despaired that all his work of two decades before had come to naught. From Addis Ababa he rang Downing St. Tony Blair took the call, patched through to Evian in France, where the prime minister was attending a summit of the world’s eight most powerful nations, the G8.

“It’s happening again,” Geldof exploded.

“Calm down,” said the prime minister, “and tell me what the problem is.”

“I can’t calm down,” said Geldof. “Twenty years after Live Aid and things are no better. In some ways they’re getting worse. What happened to all the early warning systems we put in? What happened to the improvements in EU aid – they’re double-counting again. None of it is working. And there are all these new forces of the globalized economy at play which nobody properly understands. Africa is fucked.”

“Come and see me when you get back,” said Blair[2].

Geldof did.


Charity and Justice

The charitable impulse which had driven Live Aid, Geldof had concluded, had not been enough; what was needed was structural change. Not charity but justice became his slogan. A Marshall Plan for Africa was required if the continent were ever to stand on its own feet.  It was time to take another look at Africa in the same way that the Brandt Commission had looked at the relationship between the North and the South 25 years earlier. Blair – and Brown to whom Geldof also talked – agreed. They set up the Commission. I was party to much of the detail after Geldof  insisted that I was brought into the process. I had been The Times correspondent in Ethiopia, and later across Africa, during the great famine of 1985 which had inspired Geldof to launch first Band Aid and then Live Aid. After the concert I had accompanied Geldof on a journey across Africa – through Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Ethiopia – to decide how the money raised by Live Aid should be spent. Geldof and I worked together on various development issues over the two decades that followed. When the Commission was agreed upon Geldof insisted that I joined the team to bring the skills of a professional writer to bear on the Commission’s final report to ensure that it was accessible to the widest possible readership.

From the outset it was clear that both sides of Blair’s political character were in evidence here.  He saw a moral imperative that something had to be done about the plight of the world’s poorest people in the world’s most neglected continent.  The depth of Blair’s sense of that was incontestable. In 1997, before he became prime minister, being aid minister had about as much kudos in British politics as being put in charge of Northern Ireland. It was the job no-one really wanted. Britain’s aid budget had been cut and cut, year after year under the Conservatives. Blair changed all that. He brought the aid minister into the Cabinet. He commissioned the first White Paper on development for quarter of a century with the title “Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor”.  Blair steadily increased the budget for overseas development. Today British aid is nearly three times what it was ten years ago. In Blair’s final year as prime minister it increased by 13 per cent to £5.4 billion for 2007/08. Raising the priority of the world’s poor was one of the consistent commitments of Blair’s time in office.

But there was in all that a political pragmatist at work. In his introduction to that White Paper he spelled out the twin drivers of his vision: world poverty was “the greatest moral challenge facing our generation”, he wrote, but addressing it was “also in the UK’s national interest” since “many of the problems which affect us – war and conflict, international crime and the trade in illicit drugs, and the spread of health pandemics like HIV/AIDS – are caused or exacerbated by poverty”. Tony Blair knew that Live Aid had in its day attracted the biggest audience the world had ever seen and it had raised more for charity than any other single event in world history. Geldof had a power which could not be ignored, and which could perhaps be harnessed. Blair knew that intuitively because he, like Gordon Brown, was a child of the Live Aid generation. He had been among the one and a half billion people watching Live Aid that day – an event which Gordon Brown has described as the single most important public event in the lives of two generations. Blair shared his generation’s attitude to celebrity; in private with Geldof he, not the fading pop musician, was the one who was star-struck. The same was true of George Bush; put him alongside Bono and it was the world’s most powerful politician who was the one wanting a photo to be taken of them together.


Broad-brush morality

In February 2004 Blair announced a Commission for Africa made up of 17 Commissioners, a majority of them African, from the worlds of government, business and the development sector. They included two prime ministers, a president, two finance ministers, representatives of key G8 countries and China, and key movers in Africa’s private sector[3]. Blair saw it as a vehicle with which to put Africa (along with climate change) at the top of the agenda for Britain’s simultaneous presidencies of the G8 and the EU in 2005 . But it was a moral agenda, without any clear idea initially of how this might best be done, what specific outcomes should be sought or whether recommendations should be addressed primarily to African leaders or the rest of the international community. There were no Terms of Reference. Its modus operandi remained undecided.  Indeed, so much so that some Western governments were wary that it was a Trojan Horse designed to push them into commitments they might not welcome – and, by contrast, governments within Africa feared it might be another attempt to impose an external agenda on the continent, undermining the mechanisms and strategies Africans had set up for themselves – the African Union, NEPAD, and Africa Peer Review Mechanism.

Fears that this was to be a Western-imposed agenda rather than one springing from the analysis of Africans were compounded when senior officials in Commission’s London-based secretariat early on drew up a set of “Emerging Conclusions” which were circulated to Commissioners.  The Commissioners promptly batted them back with the rejoinder that they would come to their own conclusions, and not before they had done a lot more listening to Africans.

Blair was surprisingly relaxed about this demonstration of independence on the part of the Commission’s members. Nor was he fazed by a number of counter-intuitive suggestions made by its members. He was content to accommodate the fairly radical demand of the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, that the Commission should reject the received orthodoxy in international trade negotiations that every concession made by rich countries had to be matched in some way by a quid pro quo from developing nations. Geldof backed that insisting “the idea that we have to get something out of any negotiations in which we give something to Africa is morally repugnant. Moreover it doesn’t grow out of any serious economic need so much as out of political ideology[4]”. But neither did Blair demur at the insistence of the South African finance minister, Trevor Manuel, that Africa could not efficiently cope with the amounts of cash that would flow from Bob Geldof’s initial idea that global aid to Africa should be quadrupled;  Africa did not have the “absorptive capacity” – the planners, technicians, engineers or civil servants – to spend such amounts efficiently.

Geldof, reluctantly, also came to accept that truly massive transfers of aid were not realistic, though he argued for a medium-term building of the capacity which would permit far greater increases in aid in the future. His main concern, he told Blair privately after the second meeting of the Commission in Addis Ababa, was that  the paradox that “if we come up with something very radical you won’t be able to sell it in the G8, but if we don’t produce something radical I won’t be able to sell it? to the public in the G8 countries where people intuitively feel that we have to do something big and different if we are to get Africa out of its nightmare[5]”. There were, Geldof suggested “a few touchstones of radicalism which for me are a minimum baseline”. The first was Meles Zenawi’s idea about non-reciprocal liberalisation on market access, discussed above,. “The idea that we have to get something out of any negotiations in which we give something to Africa is morally repugnant. Moreover it doesn’t grow out of any serious economic need so much as out of political ideology.” A second touchstone was the need for the Commission to include capacity-building as a major component in its recommendations:  arguments about absorptive capacity were “all too often an easy excuse for doing nothing. The truth is that people only start creating capacity once there is money on the table. . .  an aggressive ‘[anti-]corruption and capacity’ fund should be a key ‘big idea’ component.” And a third touchstone was reform of the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions which often had become impediments rather than instruments as far as Africa is concerned.

Blair’s handwritten reply was revealing for the way in which it intermingled a sense of moral purpose with an eye for the necessary political manoeuvrings. He agreed with Geldof’s analysis that the dilemma was “how to get measures realistic enough to pass G8 leaders; but visionary enough to inspire the outside world[6]” and then set out a tactical plan for achieving that.  It was essential to accept, he argued, that G8 governments should be given the room to manoeuvre on how the increases in aid and debt cancellations should be achieved: individual rich nations had to be allowed to “find their own way” on this. He wanted the Commission to push hardest on trade where it would be tough for G8 leaders publicly to resist basic moral arguments about the need for equity and fair dealing in granting poor nations access to G8 markets.  The third essential, he insisted, was to get “real buy-in from African leaders”. Overall what was needed was “to put together a sufficient package that even where there is resistance on individual items , or a feeling that it doesn’t go far enough, the sum of the parts is significant enough[7]”. Blair’s end in all this was visionary, but his tactics were those of realpolitik. It was a characteristic combination.


Public and private religion

Many political commentators have mocked Blair, suggesting that his “religion” is either detached and deeply privatized or else that he is hypocritical or self-deluded. In part that grows out of a misconception popular among secularists, and perhaps best summed up in the parody of Blair as an evangelical charismatic who hears the voice of God in his ear, presumably whispering: “Invade Iraq”.  This is to misunderstand what it means to be religious in the Catholic tradition, to which Tony Blair eventually converted, but which had shaped his religious worldview for several decades. That tradition is altogether more intellectual and psychologically grounded. It is a way of “doing God[8]” which is more assimilated and internalized. Blair’s Christianity was about being part of a community and a shared moral tradition which, through regular exposure to the gospel, shaped the kind of person he was, informing and moulding his conscience and informing his moral worldview – against which background he made decisions based on the evidence as he saw it, the advice of others and his own political judgements. Everything Blair has said about his faith presupposed this, though he was too hesitant to launch into such explanations for fear that “doing religion” would inevitably be misconstrued by his political critics and opponents.

Privately he was less coy. Just before his first 1997 landslide election victory Blair wrote to Cardinal Hume. The letter, which has never been published[9], was warm in tone and acknowledged the common agenda between his vision for New Labour and the social teaching of the Catholic church which lay at the heart of the bishops’ document entitled The Common Good.

The pillars of Catholic Social Teaching are the concepts of the common good – “the sum total of those conditions of social living, whereby human beings are enabled more fully and more readily to achieve their own perfection[10]”;  of solidarity –  “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all[11]”; and of subsidiarity – the idea that the state should not take over what individuals or groups can do or that decisions should be taken at the lowest level possible which is compatible with good government. Together they constitute the combination of rights and responsibilities so characteristic of Blairism.

These principles could be seen at work in a variety of Blair’s domestic policies and philosophies:  from stakeholding and devolution, to the minimum wage and statutory holidays, from the human rights act and civil partnerships to family tax credits, lifelong learning, and Sure Start nurseries, from paternity leave and the increase in maternity pay to getting lone mothers back to work and welfare reform[12]. His sense of social justice went wider than a mere sense of entitlement.  A similar moral balance informed his views on foreign policy.

It was pretty clear from anyone up close to Blair in dealing with the Commission for Africa that he was motivated by something beyond the usual considerations of daily politics. “I fear my own conscience on Africa,” he said at the launch of the Commission’s Africa report in March 2005. “I fear the judgement of future generations, where history properly calculates the gravity of the suffering.  I fear them asking: but how could wealthy people, so aware of such suffering, so capable of acting, simply turn away to busy themselves with other things?”

He was emotionally engaged; that much was clear when, in Addis Ababa, in a room with barely half a dozen people present Geldof introduced him to Birhan Woldu, the young woman whose image as a child, at the brink of death, had been the single most memorable image in the original Live Aid concert – and who was 20 years on a successful agricultural studies graduate.

And there was about him in private a fire and a vision that burst out of narrow political self-interest. Indeed sometimes it ran counter to usual political considerations. Blair knew that his continued lobbying of his fellow G8 leaders on Africa was irritating them. At one point the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder– in a desperate attempt to find some common ground with George Bush, with whom relations were still icy after Germany’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq – said  privately to Bush: “Blair is being a real pain in the arse about this Africa stuff, isn’t he?” To which Bush replied: “Yeah, I wish he’d give it a rest[13]”.

It is to Tony Blair’s credit that he never did give it a rest, not even when he was preoccupied by winning the Olympics for Britain (the announcement of which was made by the International Olympic Committee on the very morning of the first day of the Gleneagles summit) or responding to terrorist bombers on the streets of London – forcing Blair to quit the summit to fly to London and address the crisis. He kept going back to the business of getting a better deal for Africa.

Bombs and a blueprint

The London bombings had a mixed impact on the outcome of the Gleneagles summit. British negotiators at Gleneagles felt the suicide bombings in London in which 52 people died and 700 were injured, disposed other G8 leaders to give Blair the package he wanted on aid as an act of solidarity against the terrorist bombers. But the crisis took Blair away from Gleneagles on the day when trade was to be discussed, wiping away the prospect of a significant reduction in rich country farm subsidies, to which George Bush and Jacques Chirac were edging, but which, in Blair’s absence, was scuppered by the EU President, Jose Manuel Barroso. It is hard to say whether a deal on export subsidies was lost; some insiders at Gleneagles suspected Chirac of gamesmanship, but others felt that Blair might truly have secured some real progress had he not been called away.

But the Commission report had established an effective blueprint on which Gleneagles significantly delivered, prompting the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to describe it as “the greatest summit for Africa ever” though critics in some aid agencies suggested that it had fallen far short of what was required. Certainly Blair did not succeed in everything he tried for. On debt he had a great success;  $ 41.9 billion has been written off in 19 of the poorest countries[14]. And the release of money which had been set aside to service those debts has meant that health care is now free in Zambia, roads are being built for farmers in Ghana, Nigeria has three million more children into school , and much more. On aid, the picture was more mixed. Gleneagles promised to double aid to Africa by 2010. By the time Blair left office his G8 colleagues had delivered only 10 percent of that. And though that has brought some successes: the number of people receiving Aids treatment in Africa, for example, has increased ten-fold, it is still well-short of what was promised because other rich nations – most particularly Germany, Canada and Italy – have not paid up as Britain has.  On trade, the area he privately felt the rich world was most morally remiss, a deal eluded him almost entirely.

“It is in the nature of politics that you do not achieve absolutely everything you want to achieve,” he said at the press conference at the end of the Gleneagles Summit in July 2005, “but nonetheless I believe we have made very substantial progress indeed. . . . All of this does not change the world tomorrow, it is a beginning, not an end.”

Interestingly Geldof underwent a parallel experience in terms of compromise.  He had to learn how limited was the room for political manoeuvre – with the French on the question of farm subsidies, with the Germans who said they would keep their promises on aid but then tried to knock down all the mechanisms proposed to raise it – from the International Finance Facility which Gordon Brown had devised to finance the Commission package to the French proposal to add a levy to tickets for air travel.

Blair’s role in all this was revealing. It was Gordon Brown who led on the substantial deal on debt cancellation; Brown, for whom Africa is a visceral moral issue, had spent over a year manoeuvring his fellow finance ministers into a deal to cancel multilateral debt to the continent’s poorest nations. And it was Hilary Benn, a Development Secretary utterly in command of his brief, who kept across the detail of the development issues[15]. But it was Blair who set the parameters of the Commission’s considerable achievement by his choice of commissioners – and the balance of interests between the radical and the politically achievable, the African and the Western assumptions brought to the process. He was prescient in his appointment of a Chinese member of the commission, at a time when the massive impact of Chinese investment on Africa – and their determination to pursue a very different path from the good governance conditionality that had characterized Western approach in Africa – had not become generally understood.  But Blair, who was a consummate chairman in the Commission sessions, stayed out of the final processes of internal negotiation within the Commission, between the activist viewpoint pressed by Geldof, the Washington-consensus embodied by President Chirac’s representative, Michel Camdessus[16], and the unexpected (to many) perspectives of the African members on issues including culture, absorptive capacity  and the primary importance of peace and security as a prerequisite for development[17]. In all that Blair allowed the Commission the autonomy to find as it saw fit. He and his staff did not interfere in the drafting process of the Commission’s report.

Perhaps most significantly Blair happily endorsed the Commission’s decision to replace the old paradigm of aid conditionality with a model based on partnership – by which it meant not a narrow set of specific contracts between African governments and rich nations, which risks becoming adversarial and unpredictable, but one based on solidarity and mutual respect. The basic pact at its heart was that Africa had to do the right thing, not because donor nations told it to but because there was a growing realisation on the continent that Africa could not keep avoiding the tough decisions. Similarly the West had to do the right thing – stopping hindering Africa’s development, and starting to help that development far more effectively – not as its half of the bargain for Africa’s compliance but because it was self-evidently right to do so. Doing the right thing for its own sake was good theology as well as better politics.

But what perhaps most surprised those involved in the Commission was that, at the launch of the report, Tony Blair declared that he supported the report in its entirety, and would make it British government policy, with the objective of making it G8 policy too. He took a risk in doing that. Other G8 leaders, it became clear, were not so enthusiastic. The Canadians and Americans insisted that their constitutions forbade them from front-loading aid in the way the Commissioners wanted.  Interestingly when Bono privately tried to twist the arm of the US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice on this by telling her that during U2’s US tour he would get 10,000 fans a night to call the White House, she simply replied: “We can take the calls”.  That was when Geldof finally decided to launch Live 8 – “something so fucking big,” he said, “that even they can’t ignore it”.

In the event the threat was enough. As soon as the Live 8 concerts were announced things began to change. In the pre-summit “sherpa” meetings there was a sudden shift in attitudes. The German and American sherpas – in whose countries there had been a huge amount of media coverage and pressure – suddenly began to talk about things that weren’t on their agenda before.  Within weeks the European Union agreed a virtual doubling of  its combined aid by 2010. And the month after the G7 finance ministers agreed a deal to cancel $40 billion of poor countries’ debts. In Richard Curtis’s film production offices in Notting Hill, from which Live 8 was organized, Geldof got calls from Paul Wolfowitz – the one-time architect of the war in Iraq, and then newly-arrived at the World Bank – telling him what to push George Bush on. (On Aids and education, an area in which the US president was already being prodded by his wife Laura, who had undertaken a tour of Africa and developed a special concern for girls’ education; one of President Bush’s daughters had been working privately as a volunteering with young AIDS sufferers at a Cape Town children’s hospital). Bush made the concessions at the last minute in Scotland.

Some critics suggested that this was all gamesmanship and that the G8 leaders made no more concessions at Gleneagles than they would have intended all along. But the size of the Make Poverty History and Live 8 campaigns mattered. Those who saw the politicians up close, realized they were scared by the size of the global anti-poverty lobby. More than three billion people watched Live 8 – half the population of the world. Geldof and Bono took to Blair and Bush a briefcase containing 38 million names in the biggest petition ever assembled. The intense political pressure on the world’s leaders bore real fruit – and Blair colluded in that. He allowed the report of the Africa Commission to be far more radical than many people had expected. And he secured at Gleneagles far more than any political realist could have hoped for. The world’s politicians have still not yet delivered all that they promised. By the time Blair left office his G8 colleagues had paid out on just 10 per cent of their Gleneagles pledges.  Even so, add that to the $41.9 billion delivered in debt cancellation and it was a significant step forward. Between them the Commission for Africa, Make Poverty History and Live 8 has already produced 400 times more for poor Africans than Live Aid did two decades earlier. If the promises to raise annual global aid flows by $25 billion a year are kept that would be the equivalent of five Live Aid concerts every week.

Purpose and pragmatism – an activist agenda

That achievement says a lot about the balance between idealism and political pragmatism in Tony Blair. As a prime minister he was, above all else, an activist. He was a man with a sense that he had a duty to intervene to try to rectify wrong where he found it. After years of the Douglas Hurd do-nothing school of foreign policy, which led Britain to walk away from ethnic cleansing in  Bosnia and turn its back on genocide in Rwanda, this was a significant shift.

Posterity may well determine that he was right about Kosovo but wrong about Iraq. But what is clear is that he drew on the same combination of moral purpose and political pragmatism in making decisions on both, and on so much else. He made an unashamedly moral case for Africa at Gleneagles – but he also deployed arguments about poverty creating a breeding ground for terrorism designed to win George Bush over to the Gleneagles deal. As on climate change, where Britain was early on the international leader in pressing for collective world action, he mixed arguments about self-interest (and new business opportunity with carbon capture technologies) with high-minded admonitions about our stewardship of the planet for future generations. Blair saw no conflict in this. Rather he believed that the interplay of moral imperatives and national self-interest was a creative one, creating an unanswerable case for action.

A common criticism of Blair was that he developed an “autopilot foreign policy” which tied Britain to the coat-tails of the United States. But those close to Blair know that what drove him is not a merely a sense of strategic alliance (though that was important) but one of right and wrong. Where the two clashed – as with Iraq where Blair knew that war would be domestically damaging – he allowed his moral vision to dominate.  And where things are wrong, Blair instinctively felt, Britain had the responsibility to ride in on a white charger and save the day. The world will be a lot quieter without him. But it may not necessarily be a better place.

Paul Vallely, Associate Editor of The Independent, was seconded to the Commission for Africa and was co-author of its final report. He worked with Bob Geldof and Bono in lobbying the G8 ahead of the Gleneagles summit.


From the book: Re-Moralising Britain: 10 Years Of New Labour: Faith, Morals & Governance


1 These guarantee that if a foreign country defaults on paying for British goods the government will recompense the exporter.

2 Private conversation with Geldof

3  The members were:

    * Tony Blair (Chair) – Prime Minister (United Kingdom)

    * Fola Adeola – Chairman of the FATE Foundation (Nigeria)

    * K. Y. Amoako – Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, (Ghana)

    * Nancy Kassebaum Baker – former Senator (United States)

    * Hilary Benn – Secretary of State for International Development (United Kingdom)

    * Gordon Brown – Chancellor of the Exchequer (United Kingdom)

    * Michel Camdessus – former managing director of the IMF (France)

    * Bob Geldof – musician and founder of Live Aid (Ireland)

    * Ralph Goodale – Finance Minister (Canada)

    * Ji Peiding – Member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and its Foreign Affairs Committee (China)

    * William S. Kalema – Chairman of the Board of the Uganda Investment Authority (Uganda)

    * Trevor Manuel – Minister of Finance (South Africa)

    * Benjamin Mkapa – President of Tanzania

    * Linah Mohohlo – Governor of the Bank of Botswana

    * Tidjane Thiam – Group Strategy and Development Director Aviva PLC, (Côte d’Ivoire)

    * Anna Tibaijuka – Director of UN HABITAT and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (Tanzania)

    * Meles Zenawi – Prime Minister of Ethiopia

[4] Private letter to Blair,  14 October 2005 Do you need permission to cite this? No, I wrote the letter for Geldof.  Is the private letter in the public domain, so to speak? No.

[5] ibid

[6] Unpublished letter from Blair to Geldof, 25 October 2005

[7] ibid

[8] Blair’s director of strategy Alastair Campbell in 2003 famously interrupted an interview with David Margolick of Vanity Fair to prevent the Prime Minister from answering a question about his  religious faith. “We don’t do God,” Campbell interjected.

[9] private conversation with a senior bishop

[10] Mater et Magistra (1961) Pope John XXIII

[11] Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), Pope John Paul II

[12] for a fuller discussion of the philosophical basis of this approach see my “Towards a New Politics: Catholic Social teaching in a Pluralist Society” in The New Politics: Catholic Social Teaching for the 21st century, ed Paul Vallely, SCM, 1998

[13] private conversation with a senior colleague of Gerhard Schroeder

[14] When  fully implemented the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative will provide over $50 billion worth of debt relief

[15] Though when it came to the detail on aid in the Gleneagles deals it was Blair and Brown’s special advisers, Justin Forsyth and Shriti Vadera, along with the British sherpa, Sir Douglas Jay, the head of the British Diplomatic Service, who made the running. Even so the triumvirate of Blair, Brown and Benn may turn out to have been something of a golden age for development issues in recent British politics.

[16] Camdessus was formerly the managing director  of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF)

[17] There was much wrangling about the detail with Commissioners, particularly the African ones, demanding detailed changes right until the 11th hour and beyond. Indeed 24 hours after the document was supposed to be at the printers, to meet the deadline for the launch, there was a stand-off between Geldof and Camdessus on three key issues. Geldof demanded that the Commission must insist that poor countries should no longer be forced to liberalise their markets in return for aid or debt relief; eventually Camdessus conceded the point. Geldof also insisted that it was not enough for the Commission to say that ways must be found to allow poor people to participate in economic growth; it was important, too, to assert that the impact of policies designed to increased growth should not negatively affect the poorest. He won in that too. Where Camdessus prevailed was in insisting on debt relief rather than full debt cancellation (the latter means writing of the entire debt, interest and capital, whereas relief merely means writing off interest payments, in this case for a 10 year period). In the event this was overturned by the Bush administration at Gleneagles in favour of the more radical cancellation option.

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