Blair asks African leaders to improve their governance

By Robert Asketill

By Robert Asketill

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has appealed to African nations to improve their governance to take advantage of a mass of “footloose capital” from private investors.

Addressing The Times CEO Summit Africa of business leaders, investors and politicians at the Savoy Hotel in London Monday, Mr Blair expressed hope about a new generation of leaders on the continent. He said that governance is the “biggest obstacle” to development on the continent. “As I discovered myself, the hard part is not having the vision, but making the reality,” said Mr Blair, addressing a conference at the Savoy hotel in London of business leaders, investors and politicians including Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. “It requires a completely different skill set, mindset and organizational capital. It is what opposition never teaches you and, if you aren’t careful, government never gives you time for.”

Mr Blair outlined seven factors key for Africa to harness rapid economic growth, including infrastructure, foreign investment, education and tourism. He expressed optimism about a new attitude from African leaders who have “impatience” about looking back to colonial legacies and an “urgent desire” to focus on the future. But in a reference to his own period in office, he said that there was an irony of being a government leader: “You begin at your most popular and least capable, and end at your least popular and most capable.”

He began his speech by talking about how he recently watched the documentary about the late Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna with his wife, Cherie. He talked of how there was a time when people claimed that Brazil had no future, but at least it had a great racing driver. He suggested that attitudes about Africa were likely to change just as dramatically.

Mr Blair, who founded an Africa Governance initiative after leaving Downing Street, singled out leaders in Sierra Leone and Liberia for praise: “Take simple things like the lights being on in Freetown and Monrovia delivered by presidents Koroma and Johnson-Sirleaf.” On Nigeria he said he would be much more positive if the country improved its energy infrastructure: “If Nigeria was to sort out just its power sector, I would immediately become several times more optimistic.”

Alluding to a crackdown by the US Department of Justice using the foreign corrupt practices act, Mr Blair said that top priority for African governments should be “predictable rules” for foreign investors. “We know, in the past, there have been contracts with questionable circumstances coming in,” he said. “But particularly with new rules in the US and elsewhere, investors need to know things are solid, that they aren’t going to be changed by new laws or changes of government.”

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