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My African call is uplifting people's lives

By | September 12th 2010

BARONESS LYNDA CHALKER has been a member of the Lower and Upper Houses of the UK Parliament for over 30 years. She now dedicates her time and energy to charity especially in Africa. She spoke to NJOKI KARUOYA

I have been involved with Africa for 30 years. Starting from the big picture, I think investors are looking to benefit from investing here. There is still anxiety about corruption, counterfeit goods, lawlessness, drivers—you need to see the matatu drivers in Nairobi to know that.

There has been anxiety as to whether African countries can develop good institutions but many have outstanding examples like in Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and so on—you actually see change coming.

I am a trustee of the investment climate facility based in Dar es Salaam, African Matters. Our objective is to improve the conditions for investing in Africa. We are in 16 different countries and have more than 30 projects.

I am pleased with the developments of the East African Community (EAC). I had an opportunity to do a little behind the scenes on that.

I was the minister in the British Government who took the legislation for Britain’s entry into the European Common Market through the House of Commons and also the House of Lords so I know the complexities of legislation.

So EAC has many opportunities and Kenya now has a new Minister in charge, Prof Hellen Sambili. Kenya has a committed attitude and so do the other four countries in the EAC.

Greater trade

One of the reasons for having the EAC is to get greater trade moving in Africa; but we also need to trade with India, the Middle East and so on.

We have to bring investment to Africa to get some of the infrastructure improved. I am delighted to see the construction of roads, which has been long overdue. I also see some signs that people want to do things the right way.

You had a very active Transparency International that has grown. I believe it will grow further for the benefit of business. There is a generational change. I don’t think the youth are prepared to put up with poor governance.

In African Matters, we help to show the opportunities for investments, work with governments to help them know and approach companies. I chair the Nigerian Investment Council. I also sit on the Investment Round Table in Tanzania and Uganda. I used to sit on the NSE here, so I have always been concerned with trying to bring investment in and lift opportunities.

I have learnt a lot in dealing with matters in Africa, but first deal with facts and make sure you present things as they really are. I believe that for a country to be successful, governance has to be transparent.

During my stint at the World Bank, my duty was to understand the politics and how to bring investments to Africa.

I also chair a Malaria prevention programme, which is a public private partnership to bring drugs forward and save people. We produced the first ever children’s medicine in more than 40,000 doses in Africa last year—It has been a great step forward.

Mosquito nets

The first thing is preventing people from getting Malaria meaning bed nets and a lot of cautious planning and spraying to areas that suffer outbreaks.

The coalition Government in Britain is doing well and is constantly challenged, as few believe it is succeeding. I think our coalition trust each other more than yours.

My greatest challenge is to help the countries in the EAC become more investor friendly because there are many old-fashioned red tapes that have to be changed. That is why we started the Investment Climate Facility for Africa.

I started the Chalker Foundation following a huge need to train medical personnel for Africa in Africa to stay in Africa. Unfortunately money was made available for high-level medical interventions but not community medicine. You can prevent illnesses if you have good village level diagnostics where you detect a child’s ailment early.

I have always believed in the prevention of illnesses rather than the cure. Early intervention means having people in the villages that have the power to decide the need to go to a clinic or if it is serious be taken to a hospital.

Preventing illnesses was the major theme behind The Chalker Foundation. We have trained health workers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda. We have also worked with Amref. The need for doctors and other health workers is huge.

We fund projects and they must train medical professionals to stay and work in that country. We (with Amref) are doing some work with an eye hospital in Ghana training ophthalmic workers. Most of our work looks small but really makes a difference in the community. We get recommendations from a wide circle of friends across Africa.

I would like to congratulate the people of Kenya, the President and Prime Minister for what to me is a job well done. The challenge now is to implement the new Constitution before the 2012 elections. I have had a quick look at the Constitution but haven’t had enough time to study it, I will read and digest it.

Intellectual property

I like a lot of its aspects like the section that deals with human rights, intellectual property and the relationship of the individual and the State. They turn a valuable page for Kenya. Ten to 12 years back, it was unthinkable to put some of the phrases into the Constitution. Moving forward is not just about giving people rights but responsibilities too.

I think things are improving in Kenya but corruption is still rampant. I don’t think most people understand that counterfeit goods aggravate people’s suffering. When trademarks are stolen, those counterfeits coming into the country do not pay dues to the Kenya Revenue Authority.

 It may not matter to you when you buy counterfeit plastic but you are putting the legitimate manufacturers out of business. It has been one of the biggest tragedies for Kenya because it is splashed in televisions across the world. It has therefore taken long to convince people that one can do business in Kenya.

 It also destroys people’s confidence in the system. It is interesting that parents prefer to send their children to school out of the country because the system here is not good.

The 2008 post-poll chaos was a serious blot but I think Kenya will recover since you now have a good Constitution, but as I said earlier, it has to be enacted properly and reasonably fast.

Ordinary Kenyans can help in good governance by not giving bribes and making sure poor governance does not go unchallenged.

I think your governance is not as good as it ought to be, but it has improved. I see better governance in businesses than they used to be although they are struggling.

To improve efficiency, the Government needs to get out of areas it does not need to be in, like the sugar industry where it is considering privatisation. There is no need for some of these concepts, which have gone out of fashion in countries like Asia. Unless African countries get rid of restrictive practices, you will not compete on a more global scale.

There were concerns on what happened in Kenya in 2008, but with the new constitution, you will have a smaller Cabinet, with professionals leading the Government departments.

Another good thing that ought to be developed in Kenya is community trust. After watching keenly how Constituency Development Funds are being spent by MPs, I hope the counties with their governors will encourage wise spending. Kenya gets support from other governments but at times there are curious things that happen. Kenya should understand its obligations to the rest of the world just as we have understood our obligations.

Respect law

I worked for Ian Mclaud who was the last Colonial Secretary in Kenya and who presided over the legislation that got rid of the colonial era and I learnt the differences between Kenya and other countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

People should respect the way the law is written and see what is in their best interest.

I believe in some excerpts of Tony Blair’s recently published memoirs that Gordon Brown is partly to blame for the Labour Party losing the recent elections.

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