What Does Prime Minister Blair Hope to Accomplish in Africa?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," June 7, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Though it is important that we commit the resources to Africa that are necessary, it’s not just about resources. It’s also about debt, it’s about trade, it’s about making sure that we deal with these diseases, HIV-AIDS, malaria, TB, polio, that are killing so many people.


BRIT HUME, HOST: So why is Africa suddenly such a big deal for Tony Blair? And why is President Bush rushing to insist that it’s a big deal for him, too? For answers, we turn to Princeton Lyman, former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and to Nigeria, former assistant secretary of state, as well, who’s now an Africa policy specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Welcome to you, sir.


HUME: So what explains this sudden preoccupation, after a time when we’ve been so focused on Asia, with Africa, with Tony Blair, who’s going to host the G-8 Summit coming up soon?

LYMAN: Well, he said last year he was going to put a lot of focus on Africa. And I think it’s for several reasons. One, Africa is becoming more important to all of us. It’s energy output, oil and gas is doubling. It’s becoming a greater source of energy for us.

In fact, there’s competition with the Chinese and Indians for resources in Africa. But also, it’s a drag on the world economy not having entered into the global trade and investment area.

The Europeans feel it because the migration pressures from Africa hit them like they do from us for Latin America.

HUME: So the idea is, if you can get the African economies on their feet, you won’t have so many immigrants trying to get into your country, right?

LYMAN: Right. And you also open up opportunities for trade, and you make those resources safe, and you make sure that the resources in Africa are going to help the people who really need it.

HUME: Well, there are obviously all kinds of problems. And you heard Tony Blair enumerate some of the problems that have to do with disease and a host of other complications. The question that always arises is: Is money pumped in there the answer? What’s your view?

LYMAN: In part. There’s an opportunity. The African countries themselves are changing. They are more democratic. Most of them are now elected. They’ve pledged themselves to better economic policies. They are acting to take care of the conflicts with African troops that are, you know, in almost every conflict situation on the continent.

So it offers an opportunity to use those resources better. But countries are poor, and they can’t get their education, and health systems, and infrastructure up without a longer-term commitment of aid and opportunities for trade.

HUME: Right. Now, the question then is always aid vs. trade. To what extent are American trade policies hampering the efforts of African countries to move forward economically?

LYMAN: We and the European countries hamper the Africans by agricultural subsidies and tariffs to keep agriculture in Africa from being able to compete and have access to our markets.

HUME: Who is the worst offender, worse offender, U.S. or Europe?

LYMAN: Well, you’d have to say the Europeans are worse than us, but in certain crop areas like cotton.

HUME: Cotton?

LYMAN: We are hurting the poorest people in Africa. Because we keep the world prices so low that even the African countries can’t…

HUME: And we keep them low by subsidizing them?

LYMAN: We subsidize our cotton formers and therefore keep the world price down. And that hurts the African cotton farmers, because they can’t afford to subsidize their own farmers that way. And they’re just not able to make money.

The Europeans and we do it with sugar. We do the opposite. We subsidize our farmers here and keep the world prices up here, but also keep out sugar from developing countries.

HUME: So is Mr. Blair right to feel disappointed if, indeed, he does, with what the president has announced?

LYMAN: I think that one thing was very good in the press conference Tuesday. They seem to be coming together on how to solve the debt problem to the multilateral agencies. That’s been hanging there for a long time. They seem to be very close to a...


HUME: They seem to have roughly agreed on that.

LYMAN: Right.

HUME: Do they need the rest of these other countries to go along, the G-8?

LYMAN: Yes, they do, but I think, if they agree on the formula, that should happen.

HUME: How big a piece of it is the debt?

LYMAN: For the debt to the developing countries to the multilateral agencies, about $2 billion. So it’s not insignificant.

HUME: And that would — so it would be worth $2 billion worth of aid.

LYMAN: Yes, that’s right. And it means, well, you know, these countries haven’t really been able to pay that debt back. So you get that burden off their shoulders. Their paying interest on it...

HUME: And they’re not — they’re probably not going to pay it anyway.

LYMAN: And they are not going to be able to pay it off forever. It’s just paying interest now. But they then are committed to putting that money into education and health, and that’s good.

HUME: Ambassador Lyman, it’s always a pleasure to have you. Thanks for coming in.

LYMAN: Thank you.

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