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Tony Blair: "Farewell Africa"
by Amin George Forji
2007-06-14 10:33:26
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After June 27, Tony Blair will no longer be Prime Minister of Britain, following his intention to step down on that day, after a decade of stewardship. Despite having less than a month in office, which many would have imagined he would use that time in concentrating on domestic issues, he is rather apparently bent in dedicating those last days in straightening his African legacy.

Accompanied by his wife, Mr. Blair spent the whole of week travelling to African countries that were most strategic to his foreign policy, notably Sierra Leone, Libya and South Africa, to bid them farewell.

Mr. Blair’s reputation may have been damaged in many corners of the world because of his role in the war in Iraq, but in the above countries, he is more than a hero. They see him as someone who used his diplomatic skills to bring their nations out of international isolation.

When Blair took office in 1997, one of his very first success in foreign policy was his intervention in the war-torn Sierra Leone, following his deployment of British troops to quell the trouble in that country, which had been held hostage by brutal rebels called the Revolutionary United Front, fighting with the support of the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor; and who had specialized in cutting limbs, kidnapping and adopting young boys and girls to their movement.

Many pundits who considered Mr. Blair’s African trip a fancy tour say the main purpose behind it was to cement what he-Blair would like to be remembered for, the so-called African legacy. He apparently corroborated this belief at every of his stops, especially with regard to his intervention in Sierra Leone. Speaking on Thursday at the University of Pretoria in South Africa for instance, Blair remarked:

"When I visited five years ago, Sierra Leone was a failed state, emerging from horrific conflict which saw 60,000 killed; 10,000 child soldiers; a quarter million women and girls raped; others brutally maimed, hands cut off -- a war fuelled by the fight for diamonds and other commodities. We all felt despair at the wickedness that a small group of people could inflict on their compatriots," Blair lamented.

"Visiting again, I was again struck by the beauty of Sierra Leone and also its enormous potential of human, mineral and agricultural resources, among the richest in Africa." Blair continued with a smile.

Libya is another country that Mr. Blair helped bring back to international spotlight from the cold, after years of isolation, following it’s involvement in the Lockerbie bombings. The isolation of Libya was made worst after it was revealed that its leader, Colonel Gaddafi, was actively building a nuclear arsenal. Instead of taking the hard stance that most western countries had taken on Libya, the Blair’s government decided to coax the Libyan leader behind closed doors to denunciate the program in exchange for international rehabilitation. Colonel Gaddafi surprised the entire world, by doing just that in 2003, and one year later in March 2004, Blair himself visited Tripoli, to symbolize the new entente.

And Mr. Blair did not travel to Libya on his farewell trip empty handed. While there, he announced a new 900-million-dollar contract that will return Britain’s largest oil firm, British Petroleum (BP), to Libya. But he was also quick to point out the shift in relations for the better: "A few years back Britain and Libya could never have had this relationship," Blair remarked. "This is a change of benefit to Libya and Britain and the wider region,"

Blair has also over the years used South Africa as a springboard to speak to the government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, widely accused of human rights abuses and economic stagnation. While in South Africa, Mr. Blair surprisingly endorsed Mr. Mbeki’s controversial "quiet diplomacy" policy towards Zimbabwe hat has contributed in letting Mr Mugabe do whatever he wants. Blair justified that endorsement as just one way of letting African countries handle some of the major crises the continent by themselves. "The solution ultimately will come from this part of Africa. We'll have to support the process Mbeki has put in motion," Blair declared.

But Mr. Blair’s journey was far from being limited to the countries he visited. Far from that, he was using the visit to campaign for the wider African cause, especially as the G8 begin their annual meeting in Germany next week. Mr. Blair who used his hosting right two years ago in 2005 to place Africa top on the agenda of that summit in the Gleneagles, is hoping that his trip would help trigger these leaders to return to the subject. During that summit, the G8 leaders pledged to make poverty history by doubling aid to Africa by giving at least $25bn extra per year for that continent. But those pledges have largely been nothing more than just lip service, even as the next G8 summit opens underway in Germany next week.

At a press conference in Johannesburg, Blair expressed the following hope: "What is important is that next week in Heiligendamm - at the German G8 - we re-commit to what was agreed at Gleneagles, and we step up to the plate, both in terms of aid, in terms of help, in terms of fighting the killer diseases and in issues like conflict resolution and peacekeeping,"

Mr. Blair was also using the farewell visit to urge the international community to do more to quench the massacres in Darfur, Sudan. He observed that many of African prolonged crises are as a result of failure to intervene. He cited he example of Rwanda that the failure of the international community to intervene amounted to the genocide with devastating circumstances.

"No conflict demonstrates the need for action more than Darfur: 200,000 dead; four million dependent on food aid; 2.1 million displaced persons within Sudan -- but also over 230,000 refugees (who) have fled into Chad, joining 140,000 internally displaced Chadians, and almost 50,000 refugees from CAR (Central African Republic) fleeing the fighting in their own country," Blair remarked.

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