Unfulfilled promises, a questionable business deal, not a saint, says Mshale’s Swallehe Msuya.
His full name is Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, popularly know as Tony Blair. The former British prime minister is handsome, youthful (born in 1953), charismatic and a skillful communicator. Blair is a tough debater on issues, not much of a team-guy, nonetheless capable of winning crowds to his cause by persuasive reasoning.
As the leader of his party for ten years, Blair set a new record for his country as the Labor Party’s longest-serving prime minister, emerging victorious in three consecutive general elections: 1997, 2001 and 2005. During his reign, Blair was able to remodel his “New Labor Party” toward the center of British politics, away from “collective policies” to “pro-market policies”.
His greatest achievement in office was the Good Friday Northern Ireland Peace Agreement that ended 30 years of hostility between Irish Catholics and English Protestants (Anglican Church, the official religion of England). The Irish Republican Army under Jerry Adams had been “a thorn in the flesh” of British politics for three decades, and Blair stopped short of calling this army a terrorist group!
Tony Blair in addressing domestic policies of Britain is credited to have implemented redistributive income policies, introduced a minimum wage, significant constitutional reforms, and signed treaties integrating Britain more closely to the European Union. He was also tough on crime and introduced anti-terrorism and identity card legislation.
His critics at home blamed him for “his tendency to spin information” to achieve his personal agenda of self-actualization, and eroding civil liberties through increased police powers of arrest and DNA recording as he sought to appear uncompromising on crime perpetrators.
Gay communities in Britain will remember him for promoting their civil liberties through the enactment of the Civil Partnership Act of 2004.
Africa will remember Blair for – perhaps symbolically only – bringing to the attention of the G8, the continent’s plight of poverty and the struggle to defeat epidemics of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. The group consisting of the world’s highly industrialized nations pledged to give to Africa 0.07 percent of their Gross National Product annually, but Blair left office before that promise was fulfilled.
Africa’s long cry for a leveled playing field in agricultural exports with its Western trading partners fell on Blair’s deaf ears. African farmers could hardly compete with heavily subsidized farmers from the industrialized countries including Britain. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni once accused Britain of exploiting his country’s coffee farmers who received less than a dollar for a kilo of coffee while that same kilo fetched three dollars in Britain!
As a former colonial power in Africa, Britain under Blair did not honor pledges his predecessors gave at the Lancaster Conference that ended Ian Smith’s plunder of Zimbabwe and left the controversial “land question” unattended. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was unhappy about this inaction from the sympathizers of rebel Ian Smith. By Britain’s refusal to contribute to the compensation fund for settler farmers, it led to the chaos that exists in Zimbabwe today.
Mugabe had no choice but take the bull by its horns through land redistribution to the indigenous people, thus angering Tony Blair and his Western allies. Their devilish attempt to strangle Zimbabwe economically is now in force.
Blair’s orchestrated need for regime change in Zimbabwe raised more questions than answers. The collective economic blockade that Zimbabwe is suffering is actually punishing the poor – not the intended Mugabe!
Blair, upon departing from No.10 Downing Street, had another job offer waiting for him – Middle East Envoy by the Quartet powers of the United Nations, European Union, U.S.A and Russia. People have been wondering if he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth!
Is Blair capable of delivering in his new role in the Middle East, given his past history? His past record of near-blind loyalty to President George W. Bush on the Iraq war is questionable.
More importantly, his tacit approval of Bush’s use in Iraq of soldiers of fortune, mercenaries euphemistically known as “private contractors” and who are not answerable to anyone, casts a doubt on his own moral standing. With his position of being pro-Israel in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict and during the entire six decade saga of the Israel-Palestine conflict, he will have to be Superman to succeed.
Serious political observers of the Middle-East quagmire see Blair’s new job as a long rope with which he is likely to hang himself. He is bound to disappear into the deep dungeons of political dust to appease the gods as a sacrificial lamb from the beneficiaries of the deadly war.
Africa’s political icon, Nelson Mandela, is on record to have described Blair as “the U.S. Foreign Minister.” Some in the Western press have described him as “Bush’s poodle.”
Perhaps the most befitting description of Blair is that given by Kendall Myers, a senior analyst at the State Department who is quoted as having said that he felt a little ashamed of Bush’s treatment of Blair. Myers added that Blair’s attempts to influence U.S. foreign policy were typically ignored by the Bush administration.
“It was a done deal from the beginning, it was a one-sided relationship that was entered into with open eyes….There was nothing, no pay back, no sense of reciprocity.”
All told, it is hard for one to decide whether Blair is a man to love or hate. I think it is fair to conclude that he had both admirers and people who held a low opinion of him especially during his last few years in office.
Those who did not like him said he posed as if he were “President” paying little attention to the views of his Cabinet or the House of Commons while listening too much to George W. Bush.
Tanzanian taxpayers will remember Blair as the British Prime Minister who in 2001 colluded with Barclays Bank and BAE Systems, a British defense contractor, to sell Tanzania a useless air traffic control system worth £28 million. Clare Short, the British secretary for international development, accused Blair for engaging in a “scandalous squalid deal” despite expert advice from “most informed, respected and qualified observers and a divided British Cabinet, to license this ugly transaction” Short described the deal as “a move that was hostile to the interests of Tanzania.”
Although I won’t miss Tony Blair’s policies toward Africa, I shall forever miss the witty verbal heavyweight bullfighter whose debates generated great drama and excitement in the House of Commons.
Swallehe Msuya’s journalism career spans more than 30 years, working in various print and electronic media in his home country of Tanzania. He also worked for Tanzania Ministry of Industry and Trade as Principal Industrial Economist. He currently resides in the United States.