ActionAid turns tables with an African Commission for Britain

Original Publication Date: 
22 February, 2005

On the eve of the final London-based meeting of the Commission for Africa (24 February), ActionAid is launching an African Commission for Britain, an alternative set of recommendations to those being discussed by presidents, prime ministers and high level opinion formers.

The Commission for Africa was convened to approve an 'action plan for a strong and prosperous Africa'. ActionAid's African Commission for Britain lists the actions that an all-African panel of campaigners believe Britain itself must take to be considered a true friend of the continent.

ActionAid's report starts with the premise that for Britain, the first step in supporting Africa must be to do no harm. The second is to move beyond talk to immediate action, and the third is that Africa must not be a junior partner in its own development.

Mrs Taaka Awori, County Director, ActionAid Ghana and chair of the African Commission for Britain said: "Too many initiatives start from the assumption that 'West knows best'. Donors apply conditions to force African governments into following 'sound' policies. Trade negotiations lock African countries into a free trade regime that rich countries don't follow themselves."

The UK has important ties with Africa, absorbing seven per cent of its exports and providing five cent of its aid, and the government has stressed its willingness to help Africa in 2005. Yet the report argues that too often UK policy and practice continues to severely hinder Africa's development.

Dumped exports from British farmers depress farm prices in Africa, putting poor farmers out of business. UK companies continue to violate basic rights and the environment, and collude in African corruption. The UK is still forcing unsuccessful and discredited development policies on African countries including unfair trade rules and privatisation of essential services. Arms exports fuel widespread conflict. UK carbon emissions contribute to climate change.


In 2003 there was conflict in 14 African countries. Ten had bought arms from the UK.


British banks are holding US$1.3bn that has been looted from Nigeria by the Abacha family. The UK government has not co-operated with Nigerian efforts to recover this looted wealth.


Over two million Ghanaians lack access to clean, piped water. Yet the UK, the fourth largest shareholder in both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, supported the World Bank when it made water privatisation in Ghana a condition of aid.

Unfair trade

Britain and its EU partners are pushing for free-trade deals, which could destroy African livelihoods and harm the poor. Ghana's tomato canning industry has been decimated following tariff cuts forced by the EU. Export dumping is an integral part of UK agriculture. British sugar subsidies mean it is sold at 40 per cent of production cost, leaving African countries unable to compete.


The report concludes that the UK government is right in its belief that
2005 could be a breakthrough year for Africa, and that it should continue to put pressure on other G8 nations to deliver a new deal for the continent. However, pressure is not enough.

"There are key actions that Britain must take before it can truly be considered a friend of Africa," said Awori. "These include doubling its aid, cancelling unpayable debts and contributing a fair sum to the fight against Africa's Aids epidemic."

ActionAid's commissioners recognise that change in Africa is urgently needed. Governments must become more accountable and less corrupt.
Conflicts must end. Education, health and other basic services must improve and be made more widely available. But some of the greatest obstacles to change lie outside the region.

The British government must change its current method of dealing with Africa particularly around the issues of aid, trade and debt, climate change, corporate accountability, corruption, conflict and HIV and Aids.
And to be effective, development strategies should be led by Africa, with reform supported by Britain.

The UK does not have all the answers. Its priority should be to help, rather than hinder, African efforts to promote development.