Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is no stranger to Africa and its political and economic dispensation, during and since his premiership. Think of the Zimbabwe land reform saga, Britain's record in Sierra Leone's civil war, or the formation of the Commission for Africa which helped form the basis of the Gleneagles G8 summit that prompted the writing off of some of Africa's foreign debt burden. And indeed, his "passion" for Africa did not end with his 10-year reign as Britain's prime minister 4 years ago. He tells New African's Regina Jane Jere and Omar Ben Yedder in this interview: "Africa is a source of fascination for me ... there is a different atmosphere in and around Africa and about Africa today which is very exciting." And to that end, he has set up the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), a charity that focuses on helping African governments "to build effective systems in their capacity to govern, thereby helping to reduce poverty through improved governance". He explains how in this interview.
New African: Your stand on Africa is well documented, but two of your quotes are particularly memorable: "Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world" and "No responsible leader can turn their back on Africa". Do you still hold to this premise and does it inform the concept behind the Africa Governance Initiative (AIG)?
Tony Blair: Yes partly, [I do]. I mean, Africa is a source of fascination for me. Its problems still mean that so many people die needlessly through conflict, famine and disease. On the other hand I do believe that Africa is embarking on a new era. There is a new generation of leadership, a new sense of hope and optimism and a new feeling within Africa, which I think is very exciting.
However, Africa's destiny lies in Africa's hands, which I think is the single most important thing. This is and was what I always wanted to see from the process of the Commission for Africa and Gleneagles where the idea was to replace paternalism by partnership and I think that is happening. But, I think the challenges are still enormous. We only have to look at deaths from malaria and HIV/Aids and conflict that is still grotesque in many senses. But on the other hand, I think there is a different atmosphere in and around Africa and about Africa today which is very exciting, and for me [too]. I guess the AGI is a continuation post-office, of what I started when I was in office.
To clarify, the AGI is an offshoot from the Commission for Africa, except that you are now working on this project in an unofficial capacity?
Yes, because at the heart of the Commission for Africa was this idea that it wasn't about a donor/recipient relationship but it was about a partnership. And that partnership was about African governments also taking responsibility and my view is that, yes, aid is vital for Africa but governance is the challenge. If African countries are well and effectively governed, their natural resources and the talent of their people will take them there.
I always say to countries in which I work today, which at the moment are Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia, that our challenge is to wave goodbye to the donor community. I mean, that's what we want. So yes, this is very much about the concepts that were developed when I was Prime Minister; now we are implementing them. In some ways, now I have got the time, I think I can probably have a bigger impact on what's happening in Africa than I could when I was the Prime Minister.
The AGI's focus at the moment is on three countries, which are all in a way post-conflict. Will you be...