Commission for Africa

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The Commission for Africa (CfA), was launched in February 2004 by Tony Blair, to 'take a fresh look at Africa’s past and present and the international community’s role in its development path'. Unfortunately for Africa, the CfA sees multinational corporations as Africa's only salvation. Its plan is to invest massive amounts of G8 and African money in public-private partnerships to build the infrastructure that will eventually turn Africa into a single free market economy, a major international trading partner and a new growth site for foreign investment.

'Business has an enormous interest if $25bn per year is to flow into Africa...clearly, that will unleash enormous potential and business opportunities on the continent'.[1] As Haiko Alfeld, director of the Africa World Economic Forum illustrates, business is clearly thrilled by the outcome of Blair's Commission for Africa. The CfA totally ignored the strong and unambiguous critiques of forced trade liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation in Africa made by the UK Development NGOs in formal submissions.[2]

The Commission for Africa does concede that 'oil, diamonds, timber and other high-value commodities all fuel Africa’s conflicts'.[3] However, it mainly points the blame at the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Companies, for not providing 'clear enough guidance on what companies should do in these situations',[4] rather than at the corporations themselves. Rather than regulating or even dismantling these corporations, the CfA will allow them to continue plundering at will, apparently satisfied by their 'corporate social responsibility' (CSR) policies and promises to be more transparent.

The reports recommendations are not surprising, however, if one only looks at how closely corporations have been consulted in developing the CfA report. Business is arriving at the G8 summit more organised than it has ever been, and instead of generating uproar, corporate integration into the shaping of international policy has become obvious, seamless, normal.

David Miller writes[5]:

On the launch of the Commission for Africa Report, the centrepiece of the government’s policy for the G8, the BBC listed eight findings requiring action by the West. They included doubling or trebling aid, forgiving debt, spend more on HIV/AIDS, fund African universities, remove trade barriers to African exports in the West. [6] Not much there to disagree with. But, in the report itself, a different picture emerges. Journalists need only read the summaries of the various chapters to get a clue about the real agenda. For example goals for economic growth in Africa are said in Chapter 7 to be possible 'only if the obstacles of… a discouraging investment climate are overcome'. This involves 'public and private sector working together to identify the obstacles to a favourable investment climate'.[7] What this means is more liberalisation and privatisation and more opportunities for western corporations to exploit African resources and labour. 'Investments in infrastructure and the enabling climate for the private sector are at the top of the agenda' says the summary of the next chapter.[8] These passages are available for all to see but are commonly suppressed in the mainstream media (including the allegedly left leaning papers the Guardian [9] and the Independent[10]). They provide a clue to the real agenda of the government, which is to spearhead neoliberal reform in Africa.
Also closely involved with the work of the Commission for Africa is Business Action for Africa (BAA) a coalition of over 250 senior business representatives. BAA met with the Commission for Africa prior to finalising their report in February 2005. This followed a 'programme of formal consultations between the CFA and the private sector in Africa, Europe and North America'.[11] This was accomplished through the 'Business Contact Group' established in July 2004 at a meeting chaired by Niall Fitzgerald of Reuters and Gordon Brown. Its programme was managed by the 'private sector Advisor' to the Commission for Africa, an employee of Shell, and input in the US and Canada was ensured through business lobby groups the Corporate Council on Africa and the Canadian Council on Africa, both representing trans-national capital.[12]
The corporations involved can barely contain their excitement. The 'outlook' of the business community is a 'positive one' says one of the CFA commissioners. 'It believes Africa is the next frontier for investment'. James Smith, the UK chair of Shell, which co-hosted the meeting noted that progress 'requires that the private sector has a bigger role'.[13] The chair of the Commonwealth Business Council, the business lobby group co-hosting the meeting, read out the concluding statement. Dr Mohan Kaul affirmed that 'getting the conditions right for doing business in Africa is the biggest single investment for the future well-being of its citizens'. A 'vibrant and successful private sector… is required' he noted.[14]
Amongst their duties in this adventure corporations 'should' sign 'leading codes of good social and environmental conduct'. The one apparent crumb of comfort is that 'Corporate governance principles should clearly identify and punish malpractice'. But this is a mirage as there is no requirement to sign and the codes noted (such as the UN global compact and the Global Reporting Initiative) are all voluntary and do not have any provisions or appetite for 'punishing' corporate wrongdoing.[15] This is their unifying and defining characteristic. Unsurprisingly, therefore we find that the corporations sponsoring the BAA conference are amongst the worst currently engaged in the exploitation of Africa including Shell (oil), Anglo American (mining), Rio Tinto (mining), De Beers (diamonds), Diageo, SAB Miller (both Drinks industry, use vast quantities of water), GSK (pharmaceuticals), British American Tobacco, and Unilever, (food and consumer products). Also involved are the providers of capital who profiteer from exploitation such as Standard Chartered bank and the venture capital fund Capital for Development.[16]

Paul Cammack notes:

When Tony Blair launched his Commission for Africa, it was Bob Geldof’s inclusion that took the spotlight. But who were the nine Africans Blair picked to deliver his vision for the continent? A web of bankers, industrialists and political leaders with connections to the IMF and the World Bank, all committed to spreading the gospel of free market capitalism.
Benjamin Mkapa, president of Tanzania since 1994, has steered his country directly into the arms of the IMF and World Bank over the past decade. Former Marxist guerrilla leader Meles Zenawi has done the same as Ethiopia’s prime minister. Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s finance minister, is chair of the IMF/World Bank Development Committee, a vehicle for the dissemination of neoliberal reform around the developing world. He’ll probably have come across Ghana’s Kingsley Amoako, who went from the World Bank to head the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and Linah Mohohlo, Botswana Central Bank governor, who has represented African countries at the IMF.
Tidjiane Thiam, senior executive of global insurance giant Aviva, was nominated for the 1999 Davos ‘Dream Cabinet’; merchant banker Fola Adeola chairs FATE, a charitable foundation promoting entrepreneurship among the Nigerian youth; William Kalema, an industrialist and banker, is founder of the Private Sector Foundation and board chairman of the Development Finance Company of Uganda; and Anna Tibaijuka combines an active role in Tanzanian civil society forums with directorships in private companies dedicated to encouraging entrepreneurship and efficiency in the marketing of agricultural commodities.
Alongside Geldof, Blair, Brown and UK development minister Hilary Benn, the ‘African nine’ worked with former IMF managing director Michel Camdessus, Republican senator Nancy Baker and Canadian finance minister Ralph Goodale, who also represents Ireland and Caribbean countries at the IMF. The report was also heavily influenced by the commission’s secretariat. Chief writer was Paul Vallely, associate editor of the Independent who co-authored Geldof’s autobiography. He was assisted by the secretariat’s head, Myles Wickstead of DFID, and director of research, former World Bank chief economist Sir Nick Stern, who spent the 1990s steering eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union towards free market capitalism. As Yao Graham argues, the plan now is to make neoliberal reforms in Africa irreversible.[17]


Business Contact Group

Resoureces and notes



  1. 'African business to push British aid plan' Mail and Guardian online 31/5/05
  2. See submissions by Action Aid International; the UK NGO Trade Network and Oxfam and others.
  3. Our Common Interest: Report of the Commission for Africa (March 2005) english/11-03-05_cr_report.pdf
  4. Ibid.
  5. David Miller, The Brown Deception: Notes on the new Foreign Office minister Mark Malloch Brown and his new boss, Gordon Brown, Spinwatch, 1 July 2007
  6. BBC Online 'Africa Report at a glance' 11 March 2005,
  7. Summary Chapter 7, Commission for Africa Report.
  8. Summary Chapter 8, Commission for Africa Report.
  9. The Guardian's main report was subtitled 'on a report aiming to put an ailing continent on the road to recovery' hardly a balanced perspective. Ashley Seager and Charlotte Moore, the greatest tragedy of our time: how the world can help and why it must do so now' the Guardian, 11 March 2005.,15756,1435198,00.html
  10. The Independent's leader described the report as a 'call to action - it must not go unheeded', again not much of a critique there. The Independent, 11 March 2005. The Independent journalist Paul Vallely was seconded to the Commission for Africa for six months and was the principal author of the report. His account of the process gives no sign that he understands the role of capital, or neoliberalism in Africa. Paul Vallely ‘Africa Commission had to work out what was wrong and how to fix it’ The Independent, 11 March 2005
  11. Commission for Africa, 'Commission for Africa meets global business leaders', 23 February 2004, cfapn07/05
  12. Business Action for Africa, Statement Issued by Business contact Group on Commission for Africa Report, 11 March 2005,
  13. Commission for Africa, 'Commission for Africa meets global business leaders', 23 February 2004, cfapn07/05
  14. Commission for Africa, Business Action for Africa Conference, Concluding Statement, Delivered by Dr Mohan Kaul, CEO, Commmonwealth Business council, 5 April 2005.
  15. Concluding Statement, as above
  16. Concluding Statement, as above
  17. Paul Cammack Blair’s commissioners Red Pepper, July 2005