Lynne Featherstone and I are travelling to Mozambique and Ethiopia this week, which will be my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as Deputy Prime Minister. We will see the changing nature of our relationship with these African countries, as well as the UK’s international development programmes in action.
By working with Mozambique, Ethiopia and other developing countries, we are helping to create a world that is fairer, more prosperous and more secure.
This year the Coalition Government will meet our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on international development – an achievement that comes with much controversy but one I am proud to deliver.
One of our priorities for that funding is girls’ education. Women and girls continue to bear the brunt of poverty. Investing in them and giving them an education can massively change their lives, and significantly increase prosperity for the economy.
Girls who are educated are more likely to marry later. They are more likely to get themselves and their babies immunised against fatal diseases and girls with secondary education are three times less likely to be HIV positive. Moreover, Lynne and I are clear that educating girls and women is the single most effective thing we can do to break the cycle of poverty. That is why we are so pleased to be launching the Girls’ Education Challenge in Mozambique and Ethiopia, where it will help thousands of girls to get into education and vastly improve their earning power and quality of life after leaving school.
Much of Africa’s recent economic success – with growth as high as 7 per cent in Ethiopia – is from women. An extra year of primary school education boosts a girl’s eventual wages by 10 – 20 per cent. An extra year of secondary education can add 25 per cent. The case for investing in girls couldn’t be clearer.
Our trip is also a useful opportunity to raise the UK’s G8 agenda, as we hold the presidency this year.
In the past, the G8 has risked being seen as a bunch of wealthy countries, dispensing instructions, declarations and charity on the rest of the world.
But the world feels a very different place in 2013. Africa is showing global leadership – politically and economically. Seven of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa. New African entrepreneurs, new African businesses, and new African leaders are creating opportunities across the continent, from which the rest of the world should learn.
So our G8 Presidency will be very different. This year we will be looking at the G8’s own systems, to examine the impact they have around the world, and putting the G8’s own house in order, in a way that will also be beneficial to our international partners.
We’re concentrating our efforts in the G8 on the three Ts: tax, transparency and trade. Many of the difficulties that governments and tax-collecting agencies face in the developing world are increasingly becoming a dilemma for governments in the developed world.
For far too long, the developed world turned a blind eye to the way in which the tax revenues, which rightfully belonged to developing countries, would simply go walkabout as people in effect played cat and mouse with a different tax regime, and ran circles around the governments in the developing world. That is now starting to happen on a very, very large scale in the developed world as well.
We’ve seen recent outbursts of public anger where people feel that large multinational corporations and some individuals aren’t paying their fair share, not just according to the strict letter of the law but also the spirit.
We are therefore finding new, more effective ways to cooperate with our international partners to work on aggressive tax avoidance schemes across borders. We have to work together.
What we’re doing in the G8 this year is finally sharing an agenda which for far too long was an agenda which the developing world faced on its own, one the developed world too readily ignored. This problem is one of the world’s great levellers. Developed nations have better protections in place from this tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance but there are people and multi-nationals gaming all of our systems, seeking to play us all for fools. When developing nations lose revenues, their health and education systems are undermined, along with their stability, and that carries a global cost. Christian Aid has put the cost of those lost revenues at an estimated $160bn per year – competing with the amount the world spends on international aid.
So Lynne and I are pleased to be able to visit Mozambique and Ethiopia at the start of the UK’s G8 Presidency to drive forward this agenda. These are countries with which we share long historic ties and increasingly close commercial links. We have shared interests, increasingly shared values, and – I am sure – a shared future.
* Nick Clegg is the MP for Sheffield Hallam