Socialist Worker

British arms sales fuel Africa's wars

by Paul Collins, ActionAid campaigner
Issue No. 1940

The UN Children’s Fund says one billion children live in poverty	(Pic: Roger Le Moyne

The UN Children’s Fund says one billion children live in poverty (Pic: Roger Le Moyne

British ministers’ claims that they are leading the global fight against poverty will ring hollow unless the government changes policies which harm rather than help developing countries.

This message came loud and clear this week from international development agency ActionAid as Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa held its last meeting in London.

The commission — including Ethiopian premier Meles Zenawi, South African finance minister Trevor Manuel and Sir Bob Geldof as members — will report next month.

Blair aims to win support for the commission’s proposals from other rich nations’ leaders when the UK chairs the G8 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland in July.

But African campaigners for ActionAid launched their own report which showed:

  • Ten out of 14 conflict-hit countries in Africa bought arms from Britain in 2003.
  • British banks are holding $1.3 billion looted from Nigeria by the Abacha family. The UK government has not co-operated with Nigerian efforts to recover this wealth.
  • Over two million Ghanaians lack access to clean, piped water. Yet the UK, the fourth largest shareholder in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, backed the Bank’s move to make water privatisation there a condition of aid.
  • Britain and its EU partners are pushing for free trade deals, which could destroy African livelihoods. Ghana’s tomato canning industry has been decimated following EU-forced tariff cuts.

ActionAid says the UK — which also holds the EU presidency from July — must reform negative Africa policies on issues like aid, trade, arms, corruption and privatisation.

We published another report — Heroes and Villains — on EU member states, which criticised Britain’s record. It said EU countries must spend 0.7 percent of national income on aid by 2010 to achieve the anti-poverty UN Millennium Development Goals. Yet among the nations that have set timetables to reach 0.7 percent, Britain’s target, 2013, is the furthest away.

A third of UK aid does not go to low income countries. And the UK has paid under a third of its pledged money to a key part of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) trust fund—only $29 million of $95 million.

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Sat 26 Feb 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1940
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