The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, recently made a three-country stop of Africa in her first visit to the continent. The visit was designed to, among other things, boost Africa-UK relations and reassure the continent of the UK’s commitment to sustaining the enduring relationship that it has nurtured over the years with Africa. In this exclusive interview with African Leadership Magazine’s Ken Giami and Arvy Nahar, the UK Minister of Africa at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and DFID, Honorable Harriett Baldwin, talks about key outcomes of this visit and the future of Africa-UK relations. Excerpts:
1. Prime Minister Theresa May recently made her first visit to Africa as Prime Minister, in an effort to boost Post-Brexit Fortunes for the UK and deepen Africa-UK relations. How would you describe the outcome of this visit?
It was great that the prime minister was able to visit Africa during the month of August this year and she went to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. In Kenya, she was the first UK prime minister to visit that country in thirty years, and it was wonderful that she was able to go. In South Africa, she made a very important speech which I recommend that you read in great detail. But the key point, I think, for your readership with that speech was that she was saying we’ve got these very strong bilateral relationships, and we really want to strengthen those relationships and make sure it works for our mutual benefits, through our aspirations, as the UK, to be the largest G7 investor in African Economies. We are already the second largest G7 investor and we have made the commitment that in the next 4 years, we would be investing, of our own CDC money 2.5 Billion Pounds in African businesses. The real importance of that is around the recognition that we need extensive job creation in the African economies, and it’s going to be through leveraging on private sector investments. We have all signed up to the sustainable development goals (SDGs), that as a world, we can achieve this together. So it was, I thought, a very powerful visit and she loved it. As you could see from her dancing she loved it and really appreciated the strength and the warmth of the relations that we enjoy between the UK and so many countries in Africa. I am hoping that I can encourage her to come again. I am also delighted that she was able to announce in her speech that we are going to hold a big UK government African Investment Summit next year here in London. The city of London is essentially a key part of what the UK has to offer to these mutually beneficial partnerships because there is 8 trillion pounds worth of investment that is managed out of London. If you could just shift 1% of that towards inward investment into African economies, you can just imagine the nature of impact that would have. And with the meeting point here between the world’s greatest investment opportunities and the world’s investors, we think we can play a really important convening role by having this big investment summit next year.
2. You recently returned from East Africa yourself, where you also made some very passionate calls. What in your view are the key issues for leadership in that region, going forward?
East Africa is at an absolutely crucial moment in history because we have had real progress in terms of the South Sudan peace agreement. Also, in the six months that Dr. Abiy Ahmed has been the prime minister of Ethiopia, we have seen him really able to change some important things like the relationship with Eritrea and to resolve that long standing frozen conflict so that the people of Ethiopia and the people of Eritrea can begin to connect once again. This is an important and pivotal time for peace for East Africa. I also went to Uganda to speak to President Museveni who is playing a key role in terms of the peace discussions. Earlier in the summer, I was in Khartoum to speak to the Foreign Minister of Sudan about their role in the peace process. When I was in Kenya, I was also able to speak to the foreign minister about the important role that Kenya plays, and Ethiopia as well. So those four countries are really the crucial countries as far as this peace process is concerned. The UK plays a role, not only as a permanent member of the Security Council, but also as a part of this troika, with the US, and Norway, in terms of engagements with the South Sudanese Peace process. We so passionately want to see this peace process successful and we want to play a constructive role in terms of encouraging the peace process. We have a very strong humanitarian commitment to South Sudan. This is the world’s youngest country, and we want to see it move beyond the terrible conflict, that has scared the first seven years, in to a peaceful future for the people of South Sudan. We will also play a role as a members of the Security Council in making sure that people that could potentially be spoilers to the peace process realize that there is a downside for them. So it’s a moment to be seized for East Africa. I was also in Somalia, and there is still a lot to do, and the prime minister announced extra funding for AMISOM, when she was in Kenya. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that the country has also advanced a long way, and so we need to make sure that we continue to encourage that progress and play a constructive role as we possibly can, as steadfast friends of the people of Somalia, where we have a strong contribution to make on the humanitarian side as well as funding for AMISOM. I was encouraged by the leadership that has been shown particularly from Ethiopia but also by the Foreign Minister of South Sudan and President Museveni in terms of trying to sort out these long-standing difficult conflicts, and find an African solution, nevertheless one in which the UK can play a constructive part in ensuring peace for the people of these often very troubled countries.
3. Some analysts have argued that the reasons for these trips have been to promote the UK government’s interests and not necessarily in the interest of the continent. How would you react to this?
Well, I think that the UK’s interest is for a healthier, safer and more prosperous world. We all live on one planet and we are making significant contributions to tackling climate change worldwide. We are making significant contributions to the humanitarian needs of people who are often refugees. We are also making a significant contribution to the United Nations Peace Keeping. So we are a significant contributor to all of these different areas and we have deep friendships with these countries. And of course, we were fortunate earlier in the year to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and it was the biggest event we have hosted here in the UK. What we saw during this event was this alignment of countries that want to move forward in terms of some of these issues, whether it’s clean oceans, jobs for young people, among other important issues. So you will see that these are mutually beneficial links and partnerships. Yes, the UK is the champion of free trade because we think that it is through free trading relationships that the world can become prosperous, but we would always, also, be on the side of the very poorest, offering humanitarian assistance to refugees and also very importantly, focusing on how we as a world can end extreme poverty. As you know, that is what the sustainable development goals are about. I believe the UK can play a positive role, not just as a government but in terms of crowding in private sector investments. And so I would sincerely believe that these are the aspirations of our people right across our planet.
4. Some Africans have received the news of BREXIT with mixed feelings, not knowing what to expect. What does BREXIT portends for the continent?
The UK has made this political decision to leave the construct of the European Union and as you know we are in on-going negotiations. We are probably at sort of the negotiating part of the negotiations so to speak at the moment. But in that, In the White paper that we’ve published, we have tried to make very clear to our friends across the world that firstly, Global Britain is thoroughly engaged in the world. We are not stepping back from the world; we are stepping out into the world. We are the only G20 country that has written into statute the 0.7% for Overseas Development Assistance, which is in the laws of this country. We also meet the 2% NATO target in terms of defense spending. We are on the Security Council as a permanent member, and we have an important engaged role to play in making the world safer, more peaceful, more prosperous and healthier place. The offer that we have put on the table to our friends in Europe is that we want to continue to work with them in terms of funding 15% of the EU development assistance, as an example, and we have put the offer on the table to continue doing that. We want to have a voice in it and make sure that UK NGOs are able to bid for it. So we hope we can successfully negotiate that. Secondly, In terms of trading arrangements, the political commitment that we have made is that where there is an European Economic Partnership Arrangement, EPA, in place already, we would seek to copy that across and use that as a platform for improving trade relations. A lot of countries in Africa already have the very best access to European markets, and we want to make sure that that very best access continues, and where we can improve that access we can do that. So there should be no deterioration – that’s the political commitment, and it should be a platform for further improvements in terms of our trade relations. I appreciate that it does mean that for some countries in Africa, we are going to have to do a bit of paperwork to make sure that those EPAs are refereed. As the Prime Minister announced in South Africa, that has not been achieved in 6 countries in the southern area, and we are committed to making that happen and use that as a foundation for even better trading relationships going forward. We have agreed to roll over the Southern Africa EPA (SACU+M).
5. Some African leaders have at different times maintained that what Africa needs is more trade and not aid. What’s your take on this and how can the UK support this aspiration?
Obviously, we respect the fact that there are 54 countries, which means 54 different economic development paths of economic development. So where as In South Sudan for instance, we would be focusing on what we would be doing to respond to the humanitarian crisis and the peace-building process; In Ghana, in response to what the president of Ghana has said – the country wants to go beyond aid to more of inward investments, we do that. In fact, a UK company in Ghana called Blue Skies is the single biggest private-sector employer of labour in Ghana already. In fact, they are so fantastic, that if you go into some of the supermarkets in the UK, you could buy some of their produce, which is flown fresh from Ghana into the UK. So I think we want to partner along those aspirations and find ways through which the UK companies can benefit from these opportunities that inward investments brings to both sides. We are a very welcoming country for inward investment. I did an interview on this in Ghana, and I said I would like to see companies from Ghana invest in the UK, creating opportunities for employment and trade. We are one of the most open economies in the world. We love to have FDI into the country. It is a two-way process, and we would hope that exports and imports would increase on both sides and we would have an even stronger bilateral economic relationship than we do now. I have just mentioned these examples, as we are working with countries based on peculiarities and needs. I do like the work that our team is doing, representing the UK in-country across Africa. As you may have heard, we are opening new embassies, outposts and high commissions. We are opening one High Commission in Lesotho and ensuring we have complete coverage and presence in all the Commonwealth countries. We have announced Mauritania this year, Niger, Chad and we are boosting Mali. There will be more. We would have the biggest diplomatic footprints of any EU country by the time we are done with this. So, it is a very great relationship that Global Britain has with so many countries, and Africa, and it is my job to build and strengthen them.
6. What does the future for UK-Africa Relations look like, going forward?
Well, I think I have the best job because clearly, this is a very exciting time, not only in terms of the renewed and increased presence of the UK within Africa, but we have very strong and enduring friendships with many African countries and also because it is a very interesting time for the UK. As you were raising earlier, we would be leaving the European Union and people don’t always appreciate the fact that behind the EU fund is the UKs 15%; behind the World Bank fund, we are putting 20%; and we are the 3rd biggest funders of the United Nations. Obviously, we fund a lot of peacekeepers as well. So I hope that the future presents a time where we can deepen those relationships, deepen those economic ties and pursue the direction of making the world a safer place for the future generation, much healthier and more prosperous for future generations. So for the 21st century, we can really look ahead, working together as the world, on these major challenges and also major opportunities for our children and grandchildren.