Tony Blair, the sheep
Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, runs a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee - the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. The institute took over the activities of its predecessor, the Africa Governance Initiative, whose web homepage screams, "Our mission is to make government work for the world's poorest people," in a neat, sans serif white font. A smiling black worker is front and center on the page, and in the background is a lush, green mountainside. Just below, the page puts the institute's mission into context by explaining that it supports effective governance in Africa, before giving examples of work previously done in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Rwanda. Tony Blair seems to be a sheep; a Messianic politician with the greater good of Africans at heart. If awards are anything to go by, Blair must be one of the foremost altruists of our time. In 2014 alone, he won the GQ Philanthropist of the year award and the Save the Children legacy award. In 2018, he won the Abraham Lincoln Leadership Prize for his leadership in the United Kingdom and "his post-governmental philanthropic work enhancing government effectiveness, particularly in Africa".
Blair's humanitarian interest in Africa dates back to the days he led the United Kingdom. At a Labour Conference in 2001, he argued that the world as a community should focus on Africa. Rita Abrahamsen of the University of Wales says in the speech he made at the conference, Blair portrayed the new world order as one in which the United Kingdom was always ready to defend human rights and democracy in Africa. However, Blair's involvement in Africa has been antithetical to his aspirational world order. It may glitter like good old, golden philanthropy but buried beneath the fake glitter is a rusty, rotten core of self-interest and a deep-seated imperial attitude to development.
Tony Blair, the wily fox
In 2014, The Telegraph reported that Tony Blair was carrying out some very opaque deals in Africa. The publication had obtained some emails sent between the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and the U.S. government. These emails revealed that Blair "was involved in attempting to secure business deals for wealthy clients in an African country that he also advised". He was accused of mixing philanthropy with monetary interest. Blair was also criticized for taking a role in Hailemariam Desalegn's Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch's Leslie Lefkow asked a poignant question: "How is he supporting governance in an authoritarian state that suppresses all independent criticism, where the police and security forces enjoy total impunity, and the ruling party won 99.6 percent of the seats in the last election?"
True to form, Tony Blair is now dining with Faure Gnassingbé, a ruthless Togolese despot, who has killed, arrested and brutalized his citizens to maintain his dynasty's vice grip on power. The Institute of Global Change says, "Since 2017, we have been working shoulder to shoulder with the Government of Togo to implement its development vision, and deliver sustainable jobs and livelihoods for its people."
At the beginning of June, Blair and his new friend, Gnassingbé were in London courting investors. Blair said of Togo, "I am absolutely enthusiastic about the country and its prospects. I see in Togo a government who is willing and able and an environment conducive to business. I hope you take this opportunity seriously, they are well worth the effort."
What Blair pretended to not see was a government also willing to use excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrarily arrest, harass and torture political opponents and common citizens. He was willfully blind to Togo's unfortunate human rights record and the state-sponsored terrorism. In the context of business, he even happily turned a blind eye to the child labor rife in the country. Ironically, in London, Gnassingbé got the chance to speak about the Jihadi threat in his country. These are threats from without, and indeed they need to be addressed but there is an elephant in the room: Gnassingbé himself. Dictators are no more than terrorists who captured the States they purport to lead.
The only way to honor Gnassingbé's victims is to remember and understand him as a despotic tyrant but Blair is clearly unbothered. His selective vision is the absolute opposite of his message on the Alliance of Democracies Foundation's stage where he spoke of reviving the spirit of democracy: explaining it, advocating it and insisting upon it. He even wrote a New York Times opinion about improving the state of modern democracy. Tony Blair is two-faced.
Trading African Lives For Profits
Blair is attempting to get global capital to fund the Gnassingbé machinery of state terror and it is quite unsurprising; imperialist capitalism has always put a premium on profiteering to the detriment of African lives. Blair sees an opportunity in the Togolese's suffering. Profits come before the people. Blair is the personification of neo-colonial self-interest in the 21st century. He looks and acts like he wants to help the common people. Instead, he is not helping but only sniffing the profits and going after them no matter the cost. In fact, his endorsement of dictators is tantamount to trading African lives for profits, a very colonial investment attitude.
Image Credit: Africa Times