Africa: Post-Conflict Stabilisation

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for securing this debate. The noble Lord is well versed in the complexity of the challenges facing this vast region of Africa. It includes two countries that are close to my heart: Kenya, the place of my birth, and Uganda, the country where I spent my formative years. We need to recognise how the continent of Africa has changed in recent years. As recently as 1989, 29 African countries were governed under a form of single-party constitution or military rule. By 1994, not a single one-party state remained, and by 1995, most countries in the continent had met the initial demand of multi-party democracy and embraced the idea of holding free, fair and competitive elections.

The road has not been easy, and some countries have faced truly significant challenges, but overall there is a recognised trend of improvement in governance and engagement. I support the use of the development aid budget to provide budgetary support for the African Union’s Peace Fund. The Secretary of State for International Development is correct to initiate a bilateral aid review to ensure that we are spending our resources in the most productive ways and ensuring that there is transparency, clear objectives and measurable success. We need to ensure that our international aid is used effectively through aid transparency and security. We need also to ensure that no part of any aid falls into the wrong hands. Can the Minister confirm that this is the position?

We cannot have an effective debate on developments in Africa without recognising the terrible poverty that exists. Twelve out of the 13 countries with the highest mortality ratio are to be found in Africa. Two-thirds of HIV-positive adults and 90 per cent of HIV-positive children live in Africa, and life expectancy levels are terribly low. Population growth in Africa is relatively high, and that poses challenges to tackling post-conflict scenarios. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region was formed by the United Nations and the African Union in 2008. The main objective of this body is to devise and implement a regional approach to conflict resolution and human rights abuses. The 2006 pact on security, stability and development came into force in 2008. The requirements of the pact include protecting displaced persons, punishing the perpetrators of war crimes, and ending impunity for those who exploit natural resources.

I made reference to the important work of the Kimberley process in my recent speech in your Lordships’ House on Zimbabwe. The progress made recently in forming the East African Community is broadly welcome. The EAC is a common market with the aim of promoting the free movement of labour, money and services in the region. This new economic initiative will increase cross-border employment and trade between Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has captured the world’s attention due to the unparalleled suffering of its citizens. Years of political and social unrest have left the DRC ravaged by horrendous levels of poverty. Approximately 5 million people are thought to have lost their lives since the beginning of hostilities in the early 1990s. This figure is truly shocking. The humanitarian crisis in the east of the country shows no signs of abating. In January this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council reported that approximately 2.1 million internally displaced persons are in the eastern DRC alone. I would be grateful if the Minister could inform your Lordships’ House what steps the Government will be taking to ensure that the repatriation of internally displaced persons and refugees is in compliance with international law? The UK is a large donor to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It can be strongly argued that we are not getting a diplomatic return for our funds as there have been limited signs of improvements in the region.

I recently attended a conference on the International Criminal Court in Kampala, Uganda. Uganda has achieved good economic growth and there has been relative peace and stability. Mr Museveni has been the President for more than 20 years and, to a large extent, his presidency has been good for the country. Uganda has made great social and economic progress. Some citizens, however, continue to voice concerns over the lack of transparency in the activities of policy-makers. Oil has now been discovered in Uganda and a production-sharing agreement has been signed between the Ugandan Government and the London Stock Exchange-registered company Tullow Oil. I hope that the oil does not result in practices of corruption and inner conflicts. The revenue can be utilised to deal with poverty, particularly in the north of the country. When I was in Uganda I met our high commissioner. We are a major donor to the country but, as I said previously, our donation should be used effectively.

I welcome the decision to renew the memorandum of understanding between the UK and the Rwandan Government in 2008. It is important for the international community to recognise the progress that has been made in Rwanda since the atrocities of 1994. For example, Rwanda recently earned 67th place in the World Bank Group’s Doing Business report. However, it is also vital to maintain a realistic view of the post-genocide activities of Rwanda, which will hold general elections in August this year.

In 2006, 13 years of civil war in Burundi came to an end. The decision by opposition parties to boycott the presidential election in Burundi on 28 June in protest at corruption and fraud at the local elections held in May is a cause for concern. I would be grateful if the Minister can inform your Lordships’ House as to what recent reports have been received from the Burundian Government. The international community, along with the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes, must place greater efforts on creating successful dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties.

The situation in Kenya offers more promise and we are correct to encourage and support the implementation of the national accord agreed by the Kenyan Government following the 2007-08 post-election violence. The promises of an improvement in the constitution to reduce the incentive for violence following “winner takes all” elections, minimising the opportunities for electoral fraud and deterring political violence are essential. I recognise the challenges that wider fraud has created, not least those which led to the suspension of education aid funding earlier in the year. I would welcome the Minister’s update on the Government’s current assessment of the situation.

Access to natural resources has always been an important factor in eastern and central Africa because of environmental threats, changing climate and the growing population. Access to water is one of the most pressing issues for the citizens in this region. The growing tensions over which countries should have access to water from the River Nile have caused friction between countries north and south of the river. This has resulted in the creation of the River Nile Basin co-operative agreement which has been signed by Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania. The DRC and Burundi are also expected to sign the agreement in the near future. International politics is littered with examples of how access to natural resources can lead to conflict. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to monitor this situation effectively?

I would not wish to draw my remarks to a close without reflecting on the role of China in providing investment into the region. The perspective of the Chinese Government is not always favourable to the democratic journey and I am concerned that this region, which is already grappling with the challenges of conflict resolution, should not be the victim of international economic exploitation. There is a strong case that China’s contribution to economic development in Africa is a positive cause for growth, as good trade relations are essential for developing countries, especially those that are seeking to come to terms with a post-conflict scenario. In essence, it is the apparent absence of moral politics that causes me much concern. I hope that the Minister can offer a helpful perspective on this issue.

East and central Africa have come a long way, but much still needs to be done. We should seek to facilitate that and support those countries that are coming to terms with the difficulties of recent decades.

Updated: 12/07/2010 — 10:00 AM