Tony Blair talks to the Sun on Make Poverty History and the work of AGI in Sierra Leone

13th July 2010

The following op-ed appeared in The Sun newspaper on Tuesday 13th July 2010 under the headline: Tony Blair: I'm so proud of help Britain's given Africa.

Five years ago people around the world fought to help Make Poverty History across Africa, with the Live 8 concerts a focal point for the campaign.

Now, as the football World Cup in South Africa finishes, millions are looking to see what changes have been achieved and how much further there is to go.

Here, former PM Tony Blair, who pledged then to double aid to the most needy, reveals the changes seen by one of Africa's poorest nations. In 2005, Britain led the way in ensuring that future generations across the whole of Africa would benefit from the aid and debt relief.

Commitments were made at the Gleneagles G8 summit that year to one day make poverty history.

Five years on, the money that has been delivered has saved millions of people who otherwise would have perished. But aid on its own is not enough.

To get rid of poverty forever, countries across Africa need to build up their economies, and governments need to build up their capability so that they can stand on their own two feet and eliminate poverty.

In the past, one of the countries that has suffered from some of the worst health outcomes in the world is Sierra Leone. It is a nation where a tragic past has left deep poverty. But it is a country that, for me, symbolises the direction of travel of Africa more broadly.

For the first time in the country's history, Sierra Leone is now offering completely free healthcare to its pregnant mothers, breastfeeding mothers and all children under five - all as a result of British aid.

As Prime Minister, my first major interaction with Sierra Leone was when it was going through a tragic civil war. Britain stepped in and helped the government there to end it. We can all feel immense pride for the action of our brave Armed Forces.

Today, with the country's President Koroma now in charge, Sierra Leone is looking toward a brighter and more prosperous future, and I am proud to be working with him and playing my part.

Alongside the advice I give, I have a team of expert advisers who work at the very centre of government - it's called the Africa Governance Initiative, a charity that works with some of Africa's most talented and visionary leaders to make government better.

They are a mixture of incredibly talented people who have worked in our civil service here in Britain as well as for some of the world's most successful businesses.

They use their expertise to help Sierra Leone deliver on its priorities whether in health, electricity or agriculture, working with the dedicated Sierra Leoneans seeking to make their country a better place.

I'm incredibly proud that members of our team assisted President Koroma and the UK Department for International Development to take the steps that will make a huge difference not just to the lives of women and children, but to their families, friends and communities.

Until a few years ago, Sierra Leone's capital was almost literally in darkness, but the government can proudly say that they made the lights go on for the people of Freetown and connected them up to the national grid.

All remarkable accomplishments.

Ever since my father, who taught in the capital Freetown as a young man, spoke of his love for the country and the warmth of its people, I've felt a strong connection with Sierra Leone.

I feel privileged to witness these achievements and work with the people of a faraway country I heard about as a young boy; to experience that warmth and generosity that my father spoke of many years ago.

But we also see a determined people with an exceptional President leading them to a bright future. It gives me hope for Sierra Leone and hope for a prosperous Africa in our lifetime.


Photography: Eduardo Fonseca Arraes