The Development of African Countries


Debate in the House of Lords

21st May 2003

For the full text of the debate, click here

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in advance of the G8 summit in Evian the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lea, for introducing this timely and well attended debate featuring so many singular contributions. This is also an opportunity to welcome the Minister to her new role as Secretary of State. I join other noble Lords in warmly welcoming her, not simply because of the personal achievement it represents, but also because I believe that it will bring focus into your Lordships’ House on development issues and ensure that they are centre stage as political questions. We are grateful also to her for that reason.

One recurrent theme throughout the debate has been the relationship not just between NePAD, but between development itself, and conflict. Without resolution of conflict it will be very difficult to ensure the success of NePAD and bring about development. On a day when we have learned that the number of deaths in the Congo has now reached a staggering 3 million over the past five years—a point referred to by my noble friend Lord Sandwich—I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to say something about the apparent failure of peacekeeping in the Congo and what more we can do to end that conflict.

Furthermore, I hope that she will reflect on the deteriorating situation in Dafur in western Sudan and the jeopardising of the Machakos peace process, what that represents and whether we can expect progress to be made. Many of us had hoped to hear by June that there would be progress and that we might see an end to conflict in Sudan, so enabling some development to take place.

The ending of the mandate of the special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan has created a vacuum in the human rights monitoring mechanism; it is one which many of us find very depressing. In the past few days a 14 year-old girl in Sudan, who is nine months’ pregnant, was sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip for alleged adultery. The Sudanese Government have not ratified and do not adhere to the convention against torture. We know that torture and violation of human rights have played their part in fomenting many conflicts in countries throughout the continent, such as Rwanda, during the past few years.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and other noble Lords referred to the situation in Zimbabwe. Last week, I and some other Members of your Lordships’ House had the opportunity to meet Archbishop Ncube of Bulawayo, an extraordinarily brave and courageous man who has won widespread admiration for the way in which, perhaps in the steps of Desmond Tutu, he has been prepared to speak out against oppression in all its forms, risking his own life in so doing. If Robert Mugabe insists in fomenting conflict, his people will not just continue to suffer. The situation will spiral down, as it has done in the Congo, Rwanda and Sudan. That will jeopardise many innocent lives, including those of children.

A few months ago, I was able to travel into southern Sudan with the SPLA and to spend some time in the neighbouring Turkana region in northern Kenya. I also visited the shanty town of Kibera, a sprawling slum close to Nairobi, which the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, from whom many of us were pleased to hear earlier, knows. It is said to be the biggest slum in sub-Saharan Africa.

In each of those situations, I was struck by the number of rootless, drifting young people, and by the challenge that they pose to development. It is their plight on which I wish briefly to touch today. With 1 million orphans, often living rootless and disaffected lives, and their number rising exponentially, who can doubt that that will be one of the most serious challenges that that continent, riven by so many crises, must face? Africa is awash with feral children, faring little better than vermin. They deserve to be at the top of NePAD’s agenda.

Orphaned children are the sharp end of the AIDS pandemic, but urban drift, civil war, a collapsing education system, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, referred in her excellent speech, human trafficking—an issue with which we have been dealing in the Sexual Offences Bill during the past week—and corruption are all playing their part.

In a report, Children on the Brink, several agencies including UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, spelt out the scale of that disaster. It states of 88 countries studied:

    “More than 13 million children currently under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to Aids, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, this number is expected to jump to more than 25 million”.

By 2010, in 12 African countries orphans will comprise 15 per cent of all children under the age of 15. There are already indications that that will not be the peak. In Zimbabwe, for instance, 17.6 per cent of children are already orphans, three-quarters left parentless by AIDS. In Kenya, HIV prevalence among pregnant women ranges from 3 per cent in Monsoriot to 31 per cent in Chulaimbo. Bishop Patrick Harrington, the Bishop of Lodwar, in Turkana, told me that the district medical officer reports 34 per cent of the population infected by the HIV/AIDS virus. One Kenyan simply said to me, “Kenya is dying”.The consequences of a vast, dislocated and embittered underclass of orphaned children, if it is not tackled properly and fundamentally, will be devastating for Africa. Tomorrow’s revolutionaries and tomorrow’s coups are already in the making in the festering slums to which children with no hope or prospects are migrating. Here is a fertile breeding ground for both Marxism and the radical fundamentalism of some religious groups.

Culturally disaffected young people will always create unrest, but the numbers in Africa are without precedent. The crisis of orphans is often just shooed away; I see no evidence that we have properly understood the scale of that catastrophe or to what it may lead.

The ravages of African civil war and tribal killings take their terrible toll. In southern Sudan, the vicious policies of the Sudanese Government have caused 2 million deaths and 4 million internally displaced people, including vast numbers of children. Development is impossible in places such as the Torit diocese, which I visited, which is being pounded into the ground. Auxilliary Bishop Akio Johnson showed me where bombs had showered down on schools and the shelters where children take refuge—”like foxes in holes”, he said. For most children, there is no education at all. There are just 20 secondary schools in an area the size of western Europe.

That must be the key question for NePAD to address. It is not just a question of people in parliaments such as this lecturing people in Africa. We must work in partnership with them and use our resources, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, to ensure that something is done to tackle the issues.