November 1984. Reagan has just been elected, the first Apple Mac has gone on sale and Irish singer Bob Geldof is sitting in a Notting Hill recording studio with 36 of Britain and Ireland’s leading pop artists and musicians.
November 2012. America’s first black president has been re-elected, Apple have sold 3million iPads in one weekend and Bob Geldof is sitting in a room in with…well a room in Westminster packed full of Conservatives.
The topic is still Africa yet his message to Conservative Friends of International Development and ONE supporters is different. No longer one of crisis but one of opportunity. Over the ten years to 2010, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa. Ethiopia – the country that sparked the Band Aid appeals through Michael Beurk’s powerful reports sits fifth on the list with an annual average GDP growth rate over the period of 8.4%. As Bob quips when he sang the song “feed the world” he wasn’t talking directly to Africa but with 60% of the world’s remaining arable land that is exactly what the continent is intending to do.
Speaking with the conviction of 30 years campaigning he rolls off facts and figures with ease but it is when he is brimmed full of excitement and urgency that he really gets his point across: ‘Being in Africa now is like being the first ten investors in Facebook’. The penny drops. Africa will be the pivot continent in a world of competing regions. Don’t be late is the message.
To demonstrate the argument, fellow panellist and Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening MP, had that day been speaking at the Open Up! Conference on the importance of technology, innovation and open government in development. New technologies are making it easier for governments, business and society to collect data, share information, target resources and measure progress. Her commitment? To help 6 million of the world’s poorest people to benefit from innovative technology projects across Africa and Asia – providing the most marginalised with the power to hold their government to account and have access to the information to improve their lives.
There is a long way to go and some of the problems we saw in 1984 are still the same but the tools and solutions at our disposal are vastly different. DFID and the UK Government is ensuring Britain is there as part of the change.
Andrew Palmer is Co-founder & Deputy Chair of Conservative Friends of International Development. He is @andrewepalmer, as well as the Conservative Friends of International Development @cfidinfo