Tony Blair, speaking today at the Commission for Africa, has challenged world leaders to help end the suffering in that blighted continent.
“There can be no excuse, no defence, no justification for the plight of millions of our fellow beings in Africa today. There should be nothing that stands in our way of changing it. That is the simple message from the report published today.”
Well, indeed. Who could argue with the facts? It is indeed a ”stain on our conscience” as Blair (or was it Gordon Brown?) said some time ago. The life expectancy in Mozambique is 38. Only 12% of roads in Ethiopia are paved. 100 million children have no schooling. Much of the continent is ravaged by HIV/AIDS. Four million children will die this year before reaching the age of 5. The statistics are truly mind boggling. So what can we do to help? Its all very well politicians talking about giving more aid, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface. Surely it would be better to give Africa a level playing field? Because despite all the talk of the world being a global market (remember: we are no longer citizens, we are consumers) where all countries should surrender their controls to the beauty of free trade, there still exist arbitrary and expensive guarantee systems like the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
For those of you who don’t know, the CAP is the ludicrous, Kafkaesque mechanism that subsidises European farmers. It ensures that a certain level of output is maintained, regardless of whether or not that particular amount of output is required. The CAP was designed to guarantee that enough food is produced in Europe and (more importantly to the architects of this antiquated scheme) ensure a good standard of living for agricultural workers. Sounds fair enough doesn’t it? Well, no. For a start it costs £30 billion (about $57 billion) a year to maintain. To put this in context, the total annual EU budget is £60 billion. Another grisly consequence is that it results in (indeed, encourages) over production because farmers are paid to meet certain quotas. So what happens to all this excess? It gets exported to places like, yes, Africa, where local farmers cannot possibly compete with such low prices. Inevitably African producers go bankrupt and the cycle of poverty and despair is exasperated. Who benefits from this deal? France, principally. They are the main sponsors and, unsurprisingly, the most resistant to change. Spain, Ireland and Germany also block reform. Chief proponents of change are the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands.
So for the politicians discussing ways to help Africa in a permanent way, there is an immediate solution staring them in the face: kill the CAP and instead give the £30 billion as development aid. This would be better than a thousand Live Aids or Comic Relief days. Sure it will piss off some French farmers, but they’re French – they’re going to be pissed off about something whatever happens. Make them compete like everyone else. I’ve never understood why agriculture should be singled out for government assistance anyway. Let’s stop flooding the third world with our cheap surplus produce and give them a chance to compete. Perhaps then parts of Africa might actually have sustainable economies and all the benefits that come with it. In addition, we won’t have to rely on Red Nose Day every two years which, in the grand scheme of things, is no more effective at solving Africa’s problems than me pissing into a volcano to cool it down.