Mbeki salutes Blair for focus on Africa

British Prime Minister Tony Blair ensured that Africa was firmly on the agenda of the international community during his time in office, President Thabo Mbeki said on Friday.

The two leaders met at the Union Buildings in Pretoria as part of Blair’s farewell tour to Africa.

At a joint press conference after the meeting, Mbeki said Blair took a ”strong and bold” position on Africa.

”Now there isn’t anybody in the world who wouldn’t want to put the Africa issue on the agenda. And I say it’s thanks a lot, Prime Minister, to the position that you took,” Mbeki said.

Further progress on Africa at next week’s Group of Eight (G8) meeting of developed states in Germany would be a perfect farewell gift to Blair, Mbeki suggested.

Blair said: ”Next week’s G8 gives us an opportunity to take another big step forward in the process begun at Gleneagles on Africa and climate change.

”There has been a massive amount of money given to debt relief, there has been an increase in aid to Africa, but we need to do far more.”

That the two leaders, who were on a first name basis, enjoyed a special relation was clear from the smiles and easy body language following the meeting. Mbeki even said he hoped Blair ”would stay in touch”.

The one issue they did not always agree on was how to tackle the situation in Zimbabwe.

On Friday, however, Blair said Mbeki’s mediation efforts on behalf the Southern African Development Community should be given an opportunity to succeed.

”The solution is an African solution for Zimbabwe … we would do whatever we can to support the changes necessary to improve the lot of people in Zimbabwe,” Blair said.

”It’s not what I say or what anyone else says. It is what happens to the people of Zimbabwe and the solution ultimately, since nobody else is giving a solution, is a solution which comes from this region,” he said.

The two leaders would have their last discussion at an official luncheon hosted by Mbeki in honour Blair.

The Africa trip, which saw Blair also making a turn in Libya and Sierra Leone, is his last major tour before stepping down as prime minister next month. — Sapa

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