Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem reflects on Brown's trip

The Chancellor of the British Exchequer (that is
Finance Minister to you and I), Mr Gordon Brown, a man
popularly believed until recently, to be THE heir
apparent to Teflon Prime Minister, Blair, has been
visiting Africa this week taking in four countries
including Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South
Africa.  In his bag of Goodies is a set of proposals
that have been dubbed ‘Gordon’s Marshall Plan for

A former political ally and friendly rival to Blair
but now disgruntled by his friend’s unwillingness to
honour their gentlemanly deal to step aside and allow
Brown to take over as her majesty’s Chief Minister. He
is now believed to be striking out differently from
Blair to put his own stamp on both domestic and
international policy in preparation for his eventual
take over. Just as he has been doing inside Britain
his Safari in Africa is raising his stakes in the
rivalry for compassion about Africa in a year in which
Britain is heading both the G8 Club
of rich nations and their first cousins in the
European Union.

Blair has pledged to make Africa the centre piece of
his dual presidency but since both are not personal
mandates his putative successor is also juggling to
put his stamp on the agenda just in case the crown
falls on him before or after the British elections in
May despite the growing consensus among many analysts
suggesting that because he has waited too long for
the crown he may become yet anther ‘great PM’ Britain
never had.

To be fair Brown has been a long campaigner for
reforms of the International Monetary and financial
institutions to allow for greater debt relief and
tremendous increase in Aid to poorer countries in the

His friends and their allies in the British media are
calling his plan Marsha Plan after the famous post
second world war American General who master minded
the post war reconstruction of Europe. This is more
than  a bit hyperbolic. First Brown is no general.
Second, the Marshall plan was fully paid for by the US
treasury without needing the support of ay other
country as a price for keeping communism out of
Western Europe and Asia Pacific. Britain, a middle
ranking post imperial country has neither the
resources nor the clout to do the same for a vast and
diverse continent like Africa.

The whole British effort for this year is predicated
on the potential influence it may wield as a result of
the historical opportunity of being President of the
EU and Chair of the G8 countries during 2005. This
influence is being talked up but the reality is
different. There are a number of factors that will
impact in a humbling way on this accident of history.
One, this is an election year in Britain. It is safe
to assume that the governing Labour Party will win
another term but it is not certain what the
composition of that government will be. Thus the
unresolved Blair/Brown rivalry will limit British
influence. We wont know which of them will be able to
deliver on what deal! Two, Tony Blair has promised a
referendum on Europe to Britain’s Eurosceptic public
and political classes. The outcome is not altogether a
foregone conclusion. If you are a European leader why
should you listen to any sermon from Blair about
Africa or any other international issue when his
country have yet to decide if they are travelling
together with you on the Euro train? Three, Blair’s
Prime Ministership and his cringing hanging on to
Bush’s coat tails show that when the chips are down he
will follow Bush whatever the European consensus
therefore why should other European leaders trust him?
So British influence in Europe despite its Presidency
maybe be severely limited. Four, it is not only among
Europeans that Blair suffers a huge credibility
deficit. After Iraq not many people trust him in his
own party, cabinet and the country at large. And in
other regions of the world including the Africa where
he is applying his missionary zeal Blair ryhmes more
with Liar than trust. Five, apart from EU
consensus he needs also the support of his American
bosses and other G8 countries for his grand vision
since Britain is not able to unilaterally support a
Marshall plan for anybody. Again here the answer has
to be in the negative. His ‘shoulder to shoulder’
toadyism with Bush has not yielded any fundamental
influence on the neo-con provincial isolationists and
unilateralists in power in Washington. So where does
that leave Blair’s and Brown’s grand plans for Africa?
From where I am looking most of it will add to the
mountains of well meaning initiatives, grand
declarations, symbolic gestures but fall well behind
any fundamental sustainable action and the long term
engagement needed.
Does this mean that there is nothing Britain can do? I
am a political optimist therefore I always look at
political possibilities. Both Blair and Brown
have to abandon their missionary approach to Africa
and concentrate on what they can deliver as a
government and hope that their 'good' example can
catch on with other EU and G8 countries. They  also
need to listen and act on what Africans have decided
to do for themselves instead of bringing on new plans.
Africa does not need new promises but fulfilment of
old ones both those we made to ourselves and those
made to us by others.
I will suggest a number of indices of progress for
Tony Brown and Gordon Blair.  One, its good that Brown
is suggesting massive increase in Aid
budget for Africa but while this may appeal to the
liberal guilt of his western audience and the
compassion entrepreneurs in the huge Aid and
humanitarian industry it is not going to help Africa
in the long run. The other aspects of his plan
concerning reform of international trade and finance
and Third World debt must receive greater attention
and decisive. You can quadruple Aid but in the long
run it will be like putting water in a basket if
unequal trade and unfair financial dealings and debt
continue to trap the poor countries.
It is not debt relief that is needed but universal
debt cancellation. Let Britain lead by example then we
will know that it is serious.
Two, the demands of global trade and financial justice
is not just at the level of commodities and terms of
trade but should include labour access. After 5.00 pm
(when most offices close) Africans and especially West
Africans are in charge of the city of London because
they are the cleaners, security staff, etc. Your
traffic warden,  Car Park attendant, Minicab driver,
Security personel in stores in many areas of London
are more likely to be Africans these days.   Many of
them are highly qualified and professional people just
‘doing anything’ to make ends meet. Why can’t Britain
normalise their stay and let them compete on merit
with their skills and experience instead of banishing
them into the parallel economy of illegal immigrants,
permanent part-time students, over stayers, etc. Yet
in some countries the remittances from these workers
are even more than the total Aid into their countries
of origin.
IT is not just in the menial jobs that Africans are
excelling. Many hospitals will not function if African
Doctors, nurses, auxiliary staff, etc stopped working.
So who is aiding whom?
Three, and on this Britain can really inspire the rest
of the world and cause a fundamental shift in global
accountability. The city of London has been a major
beneficiary of stolen money and other assets looted
from Africa and other parts of the world by our
dictators and comprador elements, Western corporations
and all kinds of dubious business people aided and
abetted by local agents. If we can get
back these looted funds British taxpayers need
not be giving Aid to many African countries.
If either Blair or Britain or together they can both
deliver on these three points even critics and cynics
like myself will hire praise singers and roll out the
talking drums and be glad that I was wrong. But would