Why Africa Matters: My Father’s Despatch of 1991

My father was a diplomat.  When he left his last post in Africa (as High Commissioner to Nigeria) to become High Commissioner to Australia, he sent a message to the then Foreign Secretary reflecting on a career spent mainly in Africa. (These messages from Ambassadors are known in Foreign-Office-speak as a despatch).

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, he has been able to obtain a copy of this despatch, and he has published it online. At the time, it was regarded as controversial and radical.  Circulation within the Foreign Office was limited.

Perhaps my judgement is clouded by filial loyalty, but today it strikes me as forward-looking and far sighted.  He wrote:

Such grotesque disparities in the human condition are an inevitable source of conflict and instability. It is a century since British people ceased to be willing to tolerate massive inequality of wealth and income within their own society.  The time has surely come when we should tackle an even more offensive situation in the global village.

My father made a compelling case in 1991 for doing more to ensure that Africa shares in the benefits of globalisation and rising prosperity. As he predicted, the need has become greater the longer we have neglected the challenge.

I’m proud to follow in his footsteps in demanding change; but dismayed that I have to do so. If only they had listened then we might not have to be making the same case today.

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and