Last week, I returned from Cote d' Ivoire where I co-chaired a winter school on the Principles of a Free Society for young centre-right politicians from Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania and Uganda. The winter school was organised by the Conservative Party Westminster Foundation for Democracy programme, the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation, an organisation connected to the Swedish Moderata party and the Democratic Union of Africa (DUA).
The seminars were based on Principles for a Free Society, a short book written by British Academic Dr Nigel Ashford who now teaches at the Institute of Humane Studies at George Mason University in Washington DC. The book outlines the values that underpin a free, democratic and open society and includes chapters on Private Property, The Rule of Law, Free Enterprise and Justice.
During our discussions, I heard harrowing details of beatings, rape and other physical violence opposition politicians have had to endure from left-wing governments across the continent. Here were some incredibly bright and brave individuals who wanted to reverse the damage caused by dictators who post-independence had adopted Marxist policies as a backlash against colonisation.
Over the three days, I asked the participants for their views on what policies an incoming Conservative government should adopt towards developing countries. Their responses fell into the following categories:
- They want us to fight EU protectionism which harms farmers and African entrepreneurs trying to export to the EU.
- They would like to see the British government doing more to tackle our EU neighbours on their support of corrupt regimes.
- While aid is welcome for short-term disaster relief and to help the most vulnerable, they were suspicious of long term development aid. Some were even against foreign aid altogether – especially direct budgetary support – since they felt it helped to keep corrupt governments in power.
When I explained that there is a political consensus on increasing aid and that the Conservative Party is committed to increasing the international aid budget, they suggested that any aid should be focused on the following areas:
- Helping farmers to meet EU sanitary and phytosanitary standards, not in the form of government to government aid, which might eventually trickle down into building local laboratories after the government had taken its cut, but simply to send experts over to advise on how to meet these standards and to ensure compliance.
- Building infrastructure where the private sector will not provide the finance for roads and railways to facilitate the movement of people and goods.
- Developing robust legal systems, e.g. legal advice, training for lawyers and judges, legal staff, court recorders, documentation etc.
- Drawing up land & property registers which would allow citizens to register their properties and raise capital.
- Creating a system of mortgage finance to create property-owning democracies.
- Lending capital to entrepreneurs who are unable to access larger banks.
- Improving tax collection and government revenue systems in order to reduce reliance on import tariffs which often mean local citizens pay more for imported food and medicines.
- Training local politicians and civil servants for trade negotiations. They were critical of what they called “large Northern [hemisphere] NGOs” who often write the position papers of less developed countries and advocate protectionist policies, often against the interests of local entrepreneurs.
I could not promise that the Conservative Party would take on board all their advice, but I did come away more optimistic that there is a generation of young politicians across Africa who realise that the key to development is in their hands and who look to us not for hand-outs but for help in abandoning decades of aid dependency and the failed policies of previous political leaders.
I would be interested in hearing what others think so please do have your say in the comments section. Likewise if you know of any good projects building people-to-people links with poorer nations, please do get in touch. My favourite microfinance initiative is Kiva.org. Conservatives can join the Conservative Party Lenders group via its website.