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May 18, 2012

Tony Blair urges Stanford students to help out in Africa

The former prime minister of Great Britain said that much-needed economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot go forward without improvements in governance.

By Dan Stober

Tony Blair spoke in Cemex Auditorium at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, after an introduction by Garth Saloner, the dean of the business school. (Photo: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service)

To help Africa, help its leaders learn to govern. That was the message from Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Great Britain, who spoke at Stanford on Thursday.

In Africa and elsewhere, he said, "The real distinguishing feature of successful emerging nations today is the quality of their governance."

Technology and capital can be readily imported by growing countries, he said, but good governance is not so easy.

"Good government isn't just honest," he told an audience of mostly students. "It also has to be effective. It has to know how to get things done."

Africa's problems – including disease, hunger, lack of electricity and political instability – won't be solved without development, and governance is the cornerstone of development, said Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007.

Blair is now the founder and patron of the African Governance Initiative, which works in Liberia, Guinea, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

While "vision papers" written by aid groups trying to help out in Sub-Saharan Africa circulate with little effect, Blair said, his organization focuses on the practical aspects of governing: time management, front office organization and – as former President Bill Clinton advised him – scheduling.

The clearest necessities for most African nations today involve infrastructure including energy, electricity and roads. In many countries, Blair said, the key question is "How do we get the lights on in the capital city?"

Blair spoke in Cemex Auditorium at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, after an introduction by Garth Saloner, the dean of the business school.

The speech was sponsored by the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law; Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies; Center for African Studies; Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society; Stanford Association for International Development; Associated Students of Stanford University; and Stanford Speakers Bureau.

Blair said his organization does not go into countries with corrupt leadership; development relies on predictable rules, skilled workers and "no suitcases of money."

He saluted the students in the audience for being "clever enough to get into Stanford, compassionate enough to come and listen to a speech about a continent several thousand miles away."

"You're a great repository of the open mind," he said. "And we need that."

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Contact

Dan Stober, Stanford News Service: (650) 721-6965, dstober@stanford.edu

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