Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Aid to Trade

As the G8 leaders get together again two years after their pledge to fight world poverty it is time to reflect on whether western governments have even started to meet their ambitions.

This morning I was listening to a debate on the Today Program between Bill Nighy, who had just returned from Tanzania and Professor Paul Collier the Director for African Studies at Oxford.

They agreed that aid is key but only part of the solution, aid helps prevent people from dying today but we also need to help people to help themselves, to help them set up sustainable economies. Trade Policy, governance (ie preventing corruption) and security were described as the "Big 3" problems that we in the west need to help.

12 years ago, after the fall of apartheid, I led the first financing of a South African company by the international banking community. Getting money out of banks then for African companies was like pulling teeth - but we did raise £100 million for Eskom, the electricity company. The money was earmarked to spend on bringing electricity to the townships to enable people to start to set up their own small businesses. Over a decade later this company is the 7th largest electricity producer in the world, but it still has problems meeting demand in the winter and there is still terrible poverty even in parts of South Africa let alone the continent.

I am ashamed that, like many, I don't know much about aid, trade and life in some of our poorer countries today. That is why I'm delighted to be travelling to Rwanda this summer with a group of other Conservative MPs and party members who want to learn more. I will be helping to build a pre-school at an orphanage.

The trip is entirely self funded - when I went to get my jabs at the clinic today I was asked if I needed a receipt .... what for? this is a voluntary project. I don't expect the taxpayer or a worthy charity to pick up the bill for me. I will give my time and come back with invaluable experience that I hope to be able to share.

I would also like to travel out with a back pack of kit for the pre-school to help it become more than just a building. If any reader would like to make a donation towards toys, games, books and balls then please do contact me.

1 comment:

Rachel Joyce said...

I heard this one on the radio as well. Trade is just so much more important than aid in the end. And so is the promotion of democracy and fundamental economic must do's such as rights of ownership.
We are just not doing enough here - and it won't cost us money. Trade works to benefit both sides. For a start we should be ending the EU CAP trade-blocks.
Hopefully you will post on Rwanda - will be fascinating. Good for you that you are going.
Best of luck with the interviews etc in Gilligham - I applied as well but didn't get shortlisted.