What Gordon didn’t say about Africa (but Gowan did)

by | Sep 25, 2008

Gordon Brown is getting a good write-up for his speech to the UN on Africa and development.  It’s short, sharp and effective.  Here’s the essential extract:

In the museum in Rwanda, which commemorates the thousands killed as the world looked on and looked the other way, there is a picture of a young boy who was tortured to death and the plaque reads:

Name: David
Age: 10
Favourite Sport: Football
Enjoyed making people laugh
Dream of becoming a doctor
Last words: the United Nations will come for us.

But we never did. Even as he died, that child believed the best of us. In reality, our promises meant to him nothing at all.

Today, facing famine, we promised we, the United Nations of the world, will come to help, but the hungry are dying while we wait. Facing poverty, we promise that we will come to help, but poor are dying while we wait. Facing betrayal of the Millennium Development Goals, we say again we will come, but many continue to die while we wait. And I believe our greatest enemy is not war or inequality or any single ideology or a financial crisis; it is too much indifference. Indifference in the face of sole-destroying poverty, indifference in the face of catastrophic threats to our planet.

A powerful point. But you can’t just wish away “war or inequality or any single ideology or a financial crisis”. As I’ve argued here before, differences over how to handle conflict and ideological tensions are increasingly complicating Europe’s relations with Africa. Brown’s focus today was development, but what about issues like Darfur (that’d be in the war file), the ICC indictment of Bashir and Zimbabwe (revealing deep ideological tensions)? The PM didn’t mention these – wisely – but they are fouling up the West’s relations with Africa pretty badly. And they aren’t about indifference, but real political differences over who governs Africa and how.

This is a theme that I discuss in a guest post over on the iR2P blog, where I argue that a Euro-African alliance that flourished around issues like the Responsibility to Protect a few years ago is withering.  We can’t just keep on blaming ourselves for indifference towards Africa, although we have to remain wary of it.  We need to explore the real political obstacles to continued Western engagement there.


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