Lord Peter Mandelson, the ex-EU Trade commissioner, told a summit on Africa in London that European charities opposed his attempts to re-negotiate trade agreements that would afford Africa more commercial opportunities.
“When I tried to re-negotiate EU’s trade rules, which were expiring [and] were not delivering on economic development, who were the people trying to silence me? he posed. “It was the European NGOs. It was shocking!”
The former UK Secretary of State for Business spoke at this week’s The Times Africa CEO Africa Summit held at the Savoy Hotel, the second annual such conference organised by the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper.
Lord Mandelson did not offer specifics of the NGOs or provide details of their disapproval. His revelations, however, will lend credence to complaints by governments on the continent, including lately in Kampala, that Western charities have other unfriendly agenda.
Mr James Harding, editor of The Times, said the newspaper aims to raise awareness about Africa’s potential as a lucrative investment destination, and not a basket case of conflict, corruption and communal violence.
The story of real opportunities in Africa, he said, was being missed by western media.
Uganda was represented at the conference by Standard Chartered Bank managing director Lamin Manjang, Quality Chemicals chief executive Emmanuel Katongole and Patrick Bitature, board chairman for Uganda Investment Authority.
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now runs the Africa Governance Initiative, said the continent is “on the move; the changes clear, obstacles known but surmountable”.
He challenged African leaders to set clear and ambitious programmes with accompanying governance systems to deliver on the plans, while rich nations should adopt new ways of engaging with the continent.
Mr Blair told the summit that the biggest obstacle to Africa’s progress was its governance, particularly the leaders not getting things done after identifying the problem.
He said: “It isn’t about now knowing what to do; but doing it. In its proper sense, governance is fundamental. The hard part is not having the vision, but making it a reality.”
The former premier outlined functional transportation and communication infrastructure, effective governments, intellectual knowledge combined with foreign direct investments, investment in education and expanded intra-Africa trade as ingredients necessary to spur the continent’s growth.