FORMER first minister Jack McConnell is to follow in the footsteps of ex-leaders around the world by setting up a foundation in his name to aid impoverished countries.
The McConnell International Foundation is expected to be given charitable status this week, with the aim of assisting education and governance structures in developing countries and to promote peace in places suffering from the effects of conflict.
The foundation draws on similar organisations such as those run by former US president Bill Clinton and ex-prime minister Tony Blair who have also set up their own charities to promote development.
McConnell said the foundation was likely to be funded by donations which would be confirmed in coming months. The focuswould be on small nations in Africa which, he argued, often get overlooked
They include Malawi, which McConnell visited as first minister. He said the links between Scotland and Malawi were now seen internationally as a “beacon” of how two small countries could tie together and hoped to assist projects in other small sub-Saharan countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau.
The challenges in the west Africa area were highlighted on Friday after it emerged that seven UN peacekeepers had been killed in an ambush in Ivory Coast, on the border with Liberia. The soldiers had been deployed there to help end the country’s civil war in 2004, and had stayed to assist the country during its recent political crisis.
McConnell said one of the key aims of the new foundation would be to assist in such conflict-affected regions around the world, with the particular aim of leading young people away from the continuing spiral of violence.
“We want to move young people away from the bullet or the machete and towards work and service.” he said. “You can’t have reconciliation without basic services to give people a basic quality of life. You can’t have any of that without good governance in which people can trust.”
He added: “Development is hard, tackling poverty is difficult, but it is most difficult in countries where there has been conflict.”
He added: “Scars are harder to heal because of the lack of opportunities to move on. So where people are unemployed or have only basic access to vaccines or water or decent maternity services, these basic challenges of life lead young men in particular back towards violence and leave young girls in the most horrendous, hopeless situations.”
He said his own experiences in Scotland could be put to use in such areas.
“In Scotland, we designed pretty much from scratch a parliament and a government. I ended my time as first minister with a track record of achievement that I hope is useful to people elsewhere.”
He added: “I think my particular interest is in small countries. Countries that size that don’t get much shout internationally.”
The first project may be in Malawi to aid with education and assist in post-conflict governance building. The tiny central African nation, being ruled by new president Joyce Banda, has been praised internationally for improvements in its governance.
Banda said yesterday that Malawi would refuse to host an African Union summit if Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is present.
Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur during the brutal civil war in the country.
McConnell said that while his new organisation could not seek to meet demand for help it would “help put gaps in the gaps”. He said he had received offers of support from judges, former civil servants and other contacts in his search to build up the foundation.
An advisory board is likely to be set up in the coming months, with members coming from across the world to form a permanent staff.
McConnell will act as chair of the trustees of the new foundation, who also include Owen Kelly, the chief executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise; Lorna Jack, the chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland; and Susan Dalgety, Lord McConnell’s chief press officer during his time in office. The foundation is also backed by Ian McAteer, managing director of the creative agency Union, which has designed the foundation’s logo.
McConnell was first minister of Scotland from 2001 to 2007 and was at one stage earmarked for a job as the UK’s High Commissioner In Malawi. He left the Scottish Parliament at the 2011 election having been appointed to the House of Lords a year earlier.