Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who is also founder of the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) calls for a new approach to a new Africa

Tony Blair at Stanford University

Tony Blair, recently spoke at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, highlighting the remarkable progress made by African economies, a trend which has been supported by increasingly dynamic political leadership. You can find the transcript of his speech below. You can find out more about the event itself here.

Africa, for me, is an endless source of fascination, inspiration and challenge: I am fascinated by its possibilities, inspired by its spirit and challenged by the immensity of its problems which ache for solutions.

10 years ago when I addressed the World’s Sustainable Development Summit in Johannesburg, I was more daunted by the challenge. I focused on my commitment to bringing aid to Africa, leading to the doubling of aid agreed at the 2005 Gleneagles summit and the cancellation of debt. 10 years on, I am much more optimistic for Africa.

The pace of change now in Africa is dizzying. Its population is set to double by the mid 21st Century. 70% of Africans are under the age of 30. In the last 10 years, 6 of the world’s fastest growing economies were African and FDI has grown six fold. Consumer spending is set to rise 80% by 2020 and the middle class to go to 100 Million from 60 Million in 3 years.

The number of democracies in Sub-Saharan Africa has risen from 3 to 23 in 20 years. Deaths from Malaria, HIV/ AIDS and Measles have reduced dramatically saving hundreds and thousands of lives. All good news, and much of it the result of the increase in aid which it is crucial to maintain.

The challenge, of course, is still huge: only 1 in 4 Africans have access to electricity – and in countries like Malawi the figure goes down to less than 1 in 10; a continent rich in agricultural resources is a net food importer; still almost 1 million human beings die every year from preventable diseases, mostly, women and young children.

But, today optimism is not based on hope but experience. Today, my focus is not only on what we can give; but how we can partner. Today, for me, governance – the capacity of African nations to make effective changes in the lives of their people – alongside maintaining our aid commitment, is the new approach.

This is what US and European policy should have at its centre. This new approach is what I would call muscular soft power diplomacy. It is using our technical expertise, intellectual capital and experience of what works in government in partnership with African leaders so that African nations can accelerate their development, replace aid with investment and be masters of their own destiny. This partnership should empower the new generation of politicians, business people and civic society organisers to create sustainable political, economic and social growth: sustainable, because they are doing it with our help, not waiting for us to do it for them.

One thing that I notice from all the different parts of the world I see – from the Middle East to the Far East and from South America to Sub Saharan Africa – is that the real distinguishing feature of successful emerging nations today is the quality of their governance.

For years governance was the poor relation of foreign policy: some transparency initiatives here; some training days for civil servants there. It was basically “the eyes glaze over” part of overseas aid.

In fact – because of the way technology and capital are now so easily exportable and importable – governance is now the cornerstone of development.

By governance, I don’t mean simply honest government. Of course, corruption is a massive issue and transparent and accountable Government an essential pre-condition for a viable future. But it isn’t enough. Good Government isn’t just honest. It also has to be effective. It has to know how to get things done.

Vision papers – most of them with grand titles of 2020 this or 2030 that – are abundant in Africa. The hard part though is not the “what” but the “how”. It is about deciding priorities; creating a plan of implementation; and then actually doing the damn thing, analysing, adjusting and adapting as you go.

It is the same outside Africa. But it is in Africa we could make the biggest difference. I want to give you five illustrations of this and then a suggestion.

First, the initial step is often providing capacity around the key decision maker, namely the President. This is something we focus on at AGI. Sometimes that can be very basic things like the organisation of an efficient front office – scheduling, proper planning, analyzing how time is used, which people are seen, how the business of government is organised, communications and media strategy. When countries have emerged from prolonged periods of insecurity and conflict, the basic apparatus of Government can be missing. We have to help supply it. This is especially true in the process of prioritisation. Show me a leader with 100 priorities and I will show you someone who will achieve nothing. Choose 3 or 4 and make them do-able, and something may happen.

Second, the clearest necessities for most African nations today are usually around infrastructure – energy, electricity, and roads. Because of technology, notably the internet, power is now the vital pre-requisite. Getting the lights on and getting online combined with the explosion in mobile telephony, opens up a country’s potential in a way nothing else can. In Nigeria, as the current Government rightly recognises, solving the power problem is at least half the answer. But all over Africa, there is a desperate need for megawatts of electricity that would be considered almost trivial in our countries yet can transform these countries. When the Presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia gave reliable electricity to Freetown and Monrovia, the effect was two-fold: people could work, study and live better; and they could see politics working. Again, we have expertise and experience in this area and it matters far more than small scale projects that may be very worthy in themselves but, don’t get a nation on its feet.

Third, Africa urgently requires quality foreign investments and private sector growth. Yes they have grown these past years. But, still today only 20 African companies have revenues of over $3 billion. 60% of the world’s uncultivated land is in Africa and many African countries have great commodities the world needs, but too often they are exploited without contributing to the countries’ overall development. But it’s clear to me that good FDI doesn’t happen by chance. Neither does the encouragement of an indigenous business sector. Governance and proper systems of attracting and utilizing that investment matter enormously. But, here again, we find capacity in Africa often so low. Countries need the capability to understand their own opportunities; market them; judge the quality of investors; negotiate with them; nurture their own industry and create synergies between the intellectual and management capital that is coming in; and the native businesses already there. In all of these areas help is needed; and in related fields. For example, the rule of law, predictable judicial outcomes for business contractors, is of the essence. Many countries don’t have such systems. We can help provide the expertise to make this possible.

Fourth, they have an obvious requirement for education and healthcare. What we in the West often do from the outside is to put some money into discrete educational or health projects, mainly local, usually very visible in bricks and mortar or books and medicine. These are genuinely desirable and change people’s lives. And they play well to constituencies back home who want to see their tax dollar put to good use overseas. However, they don’t transform. Yet these nations, as they develop and their middle class (defined in Africa as income of over $3000 PA) want better services, need systemic change. They need to harness the best lessons on education and healthcare reform from around the world. They shouldn’t replicate our system. Actually, they should leap frog many of the constraints and limitations which the legacy of our systems have created. Just in the simple but revolutionary use of technology alone they can advance multiple times faster. We have that technology. We have the knowledge of what has worked and what hasn’t. We can supply the expertise and the support to countries to make that transformation.

Finally, countries don’t prosper only through strong and effective government or a thriving private sector. They need social capital. They need civic institutions of pride and purpose. They need community organizations; basic law and order; free and responsible media and the development of art and culture. In our part of the world, we try to do this, not always well, naturally; but where we fail we try to learn. We can use this knowledge, we can help build these institutions

So that is my agenda for a new approach. It means a new partnership between developing and developed nations, not a dependency. It means also a new partnership between our traditional Government agencies of development and aid, the “new donors” in China, India, and Brazil, the philanthropic sector, and the private sector. So the new approach is not just North/South but within the North and within the South.

No discussion of Africa is adequate today without the mention of China. China’s investment in Africa has gone from roughly $6bn in 2000 to over $110bn in 2011. China will put more into infrastructure in Africa this year than the World Bank. Some see this as a threat. I understand the concerns around transparency. But I see it as a spur. Many African nations welcome the speed of Chinese investment and their “get it done” attitude. But, they also want to balance their new friendships. They need us to be smarter, faster and more innovative to allow them to do so.

Building effective systems of delivery so that more lives are changed for the better more quickly, is what we can do. So my suggestion is this. There is a new crop of great new development leaders in Government – like your own Raj Shah, but I think too of those in the Nordic countries, Europe, Canada, Australia and even the UK. There is a wave of new philanthropists – people like Bill Gates and of course many here today, like Bob and Dottie King. There is a new sense of corporate responsibility amongst the major investors who see the opportunities of Africa but know the best business is done by people who believe in caring as well as capital. And then there are you, the students in the audience: young people from all over the world clever enough to get into Stanford, compassionate enough to come and listen to a speech about a continent several thousand miles away.

We need to work together. We need to create new streams of capacity, expertise, funding and delivery that become effective agents of change. We have to join what is in our minds to what is in our hearts. Africa is waiting. But it’s also moving. We need to be a part of that move, celebrating it and participating in it. That’s what we can do… let’s go and do it!

Tony Blair, Founder and Patron of the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative

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