UK still has no coherent strategy for engaging with Africa
The International Relations and Defence Committee has published its report on ‘The UK and Sub-Saharan Africa: prosperity, peace and development co-operation’.
The repot criticises the Government’s lack of a coherent strategy to its engagement with Africa saying the ‘strategic approach’ launched in 2018 does not live up to its name, and is just a collection of broad ideas with little clarity on how to put them into action. The Committee calls on the UK Government to develop a new approach to the countries of Africa and regional institutions such as the African Union, based on ‘genuine partnership’, including supporting reform of UN Security Council to give African nations a voice “commensurate with their size and importance”.
In August 2018 the then Prime Minister said the UK was “seeking to work more closely with the more than 50 nations of Africa to deliver our shared security and prosperity, and through this strengthening a global system that is capable of delivering lasting benefits for all”.
In 2015 the African Union outlined, in Agenda 2063, its strategy to achieve the Pan African vision of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.
In February 2019, the UK and the AU signed a pdf Joint Communiqué on the African Union-United Kingdom Partnership (258 KB) . This set out “a broad range of shared priorities in support of the African Union’s objectives for the continent.
The Committee’s inquiry focused on how the UK could best support the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the areas for co-operation set out in the 2019 AU-UK Joint Communiqué, and the UK’s engagement with African countries on economic development, peace and security, and governance and human rights.
Commenting on the report, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Chair of the Committee, said:
“Despite a significant fanfare when it was launched in 2018 the Government’s ‘new strategic approach’ to Africa has failed to live up to its name. It is time to press the reset button, and use the timing of the UK’s exit from the EU and the Integrated Review of foreign, defence, security and international development policy to develop an action plan for a new relationship based on genuine partnership.
“There are concrete steps the UK can take now to deliver that including supporting initiatives to improve African representation at the UN and in other international organisations, tackling unfair charges on money African diaspora communities in the UK send back to the continent, and using our exit from the EU to open up our domestic market to a new fairer trade relationship with African countries.
“We heard worrying evidence that the UK’s reputation in Sub-Saharan Africa has taken a real hit as a result of unfair visa policies and the ‘hostile environment’. We have a lot to do to overcome that damage and develop the kind of future relationship that is in the interests of both the UK and the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Conclusions and recommendations
Africa is of strategic and geopolitical significance to the UK. It is a region where the UK really can make a difference. To do so, the UK’s future relationship with the countries of Africa and their regional institutions needs to be based, as has not always been the case in the past, on a genuine partnership. Within such a framework there are important trade and investment opportunities.
The UK’s visa policies are damaging its reputation and the ability of international departments to build and strengthen relationships across Africa, and in some cases fall below the standards of basic human decency.
We are disappointed to conclude that the Government’s new ‘strategic approach’ to Africa falls short. It is not a strategy, but rather some broad ideas and themes, and there is little clarity on how the Government plans to put it into action... The Government should publish a clearly articulated list of its priorities for its engagement with Africa, and an action plan for meeting them, including ministerial and departmental responsibilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a negative and disproportionate impact on economies in Africa. Export markets have dried up, remittances have fallen, currencies have depreciated and the continent has experienced capital flight. Significant economic support from international partners will be needed to prevent the continent’s economic gains over the last two decades being reversed.
We regret the decision to merge the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development (DfID)... We request urgent confirmation that UK official development assistance (ODA) will continue to be administered with the promotion of the economic development and the welfare of developing countries as its main objective, in line with the definition of ODA agreed by the Organisation for Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee.
Leaving the EU provides an opportunity for the UK to re-cast its trade relationships with African countries and remedy some of the defects in the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements. We were surprised to hear that no detailed work had yet been done to identify ways in which the UK could offer better access to African exporters than was possible when the UK was in the EU.
Remittances from the UK to Sub-Saharan Africa are given too little profile in the narrative of the UK’s economic relationship with the region. Remittances from the UK exceed aid and charitable giving to Sub-Saharan Africa, and provide essential economic support... The Government should work to lower the cost of remitting money to the region, including the use of its powers over competition policy, consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals.
We welcome the UK’s increased attention to instability in the Sahel, and the Government’s decision to contribute UK troops to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. However, the Government’s wider strategy in the Sahel is unclear and the UK risks being unable to add value in a highly contested space. We would welcome further information from the Government on its objectives in the Sahel.
The Government must continue to afford significant importance to human rights in its relationships in Sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time as the UK pursues new economic opportunities and seeks to tackle security challenges, human rights remain critical.