Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in Africa on a three-nation trip that will take him to Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone. He was in Abuja Nigeria on Saturday to lend support to interfaith initiatives focused on delivering the Millennium Development Goal to tackle deaths from malaria.
“What we are trying to do in Nigeria is to bring the faiths together in tackling malaria,” Blair said in a VOA exclusive interview from Abuja at a training workshop sponsored by his Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
The workshop held in Nigeria's administrative capital focused on the use of bed nets to help prevent contracting malaria which is a mosquito-borne disease.
“What we will do is to try to use the infrastructure of the faith community - Christians and Muslim – to bring people together in order that the bed nets and medicines can be distributed to people,” Blair said.
He said that this will be both to tackle malaria that kills hundreds of thousands of people every year in Africa and also be a big symbol of religious and interfaith coexistence.
The Inter-faith Malaria Initiative was organized by the Nigeria Inter-faith Action Association with funding support from Federal Government, World Bank, Centre for Inter-faith Action on Global Poverty and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
Blair said from Nigeria he will travel to Liberia and Sierra Leone where another of his charities– The Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative- is dealing with governance. “What a lot of African countries need is help and support in building capacities for governance.”
The most difficult thing in any government, he said, is to translate a good idea into practical delivery.
The former prime minister emphasized the importance of promoting understanding between different faiths. “What I believe is the 20th century was a century dominated by conflict and ideology. I think those have been largely resolved. I think the 21st century runs the risk of being dominated by battles of religious ideology and the purpose of my foundation is to make sure that we avoid these.”
He said even if globalization pushes people together through mass media, through travel, and immigration, there is need to prevent faith becoming a bunch of identity and opposition to someone with a different faith and getting people living and working together in peaceful co-existence.
Education is a major part of getting proper governance, he said, “and we are involved in getting capacity for healthcare, education and promotion of the private sector but what can actually happen is that these conflicts about religion can sometimes get in the way of development.”
Mr. Blair said the ultimate solution to many problems in Africa is good governance. “There are many countries across Africa that are changing governments peacefully and with a proper democratic functioning system.”
He called on leaders in Africa to abide by their democratic systems and democratic results saying, “Actually there is a political afterlife that is fulfilling and purposeful.”