Blair in Africa: Clutching at straws?

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British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, embarked on a five day shuttle diplomacy tour of four West African states - Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone - during the first week of February. It was, he declared, to further the healing of 'the scar on the world's conscience' and lend his support to the New Partnership for African Development.

The British press and public opinion were divided. Many questioned Blair's agenda; after all, as he left Britain's shores the country was reeling with public sector problems - a health service in crisis, the transport sector struggling with under-investment and potential labour conflicts, and a severe teacher shortage in state schools. Why, the PM's critics asked, is he not at home trying to sort out his domestic agenda?

As one commentator put it: "Just as Robert Mugabe was nicknamed 'Marco Polo' by Zimbabweans (because he was forever on overseas...

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