Central and East Africa

Mark made the following interventions in a debate about Central and East Africa:

Mark Field: I thank my hon. and learned Friend. It is a tale of woe that he is telling about Burundi. It is perhaps more within the British sphere of influence than Chad, which is part of the more Francophone part of Africa. He is imparting to the House his intimate knowledge of this particular area, but what about the solutions? Many of our fellow citizens will throw their hands in the air, thinking that this is a hopeless case and wondering what we are doing putting yet more money into general budgets for these sorts of nations. Although it is not a view with which I would agree, there is that sense of despair. Does my hon. and learned Friend have any idea how, slowly but surely, we can play our part, along with other UN partners, to ensure that we get a better state of affairs in Burundi and in the wider region?

Stephen Phillips: I am grateful for that intervention. A number of things could be done in the long term, some of which I shall come on to. Deterring the corruption that has been rife in Burundi is one of them. Having proper enforcement of the anti-corruption convention and, indeed, the African Union’s convention on preventing and combating corruption would assist not just in Burundi, but elsewhere. Specific things could be done immediately, too.

Mark Field: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I suspect that he would agree that the Government have got it right in this regard and that the new aid strategy is a definite step forward in trying to integrate security, intelligence and defence with what one might call the slightly more traditional aid and international development goals. Does he agree that we have got the balance right in ensuring that roughly 50% the Department’s budget goes into those fragile nation areas, rather than repeating what happened in the past, with un-earmarked amounts of money finding their way into more general budgets that could not be properly accounted for?

Stephen Doughty: Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman in principle. It is important that we focus on those fragile countries that are affected by conflict, but I would gently make two points. It is important to support Governments directly, albeit with important criteria attached. Unless we support the development of strong governmental systems—for example, in healthcare and education—we will not see the necessary consistency and co-ordination of approach involving the non-governmental and international organisations operating in the country. In this country, it was only through forming the national health service and a unified education system that we were able to make the necessary progress in our own history. So I would not want us to move completely away from providing Governments with support, but it is important that it should be properly scrutinised and accounted for.

It is also important that considerations such as human rights should be taken into account. I remember a particular example that the previous Labour Government were involved with, when the then President of Malawi was proposing to spend an awful lot of money on a presidential jet. It was made very clear that that was not acceptable, and the money was subsequently funnelled through alternative channels to ensure that it got to the people who needed it rather than being used for that sort of corruption.

Mark Field: It is probably fair to say that virtually everyone here in the Chamber tonight is a great supporter of the Government’s strategy of allocating 0.7% of GDP to international aid. However, we should also accept that there is probably a silent minority in the House, and a rather less silent majority in the country at large, who do not buy into that idea. Having a strategy along the lines of the one that the Government have put in place will therefore make it easier to sell the idea, not only in our own self-interest but in recognition of the fact that there is a dangerous and uncertain world out there, and that the security and defence aspects of our policy have an important part to play and need to be integrated into our entire development budget.

Stephen Doughty: I agree was the broad point that the hon. Gentleman is making. When I am speaking to my own constituents about these matters, I regularly make clear the links between what happens in those countries and what happens on our own streets. We have historic links with those countries, but there have also been tragic occurrences involving, for example, young men from my constituency trying to travel abroad to fight for al-Shabaab and an individual who had studied in Cardiff going to Nigeria to become involved with Boko Haram. What happens in those countries can have a direct and serious impact on what happens on own streets. It is always been clear to me that development is primarily a moral duty for us, but it is also in our common interest across the piece. It is in our common global interest and in the common national interest of this country, and I am never afraid to make that point.