Last week, James Duddridge MP led a Backbench Business Debate on “The UK’s Relationship with Africa”. In his opening speech James spoke of the compelling “Africa Rising” story – the IMF estimates that over the next decade, seven of the ten fastest growing economies will be African countries, six already are. With copious natural resources and a leapfrogging of technology, there is vast potential across the continent, but it is critical to “ensure the opportunities presented by the African growth story benefit African citizens.”
After giving way to Chi Onwurah, who emphasised the need to focus as much on trade as on aid in our relationship with Africa, Mr Duddridge went to speak of the importance of a joined-up government approach. He gave the example of the UK treasury’s work on revenue collection in Africa – “not as sexy as feeding the millions, but makes it possible to build long-term, stable economies that can free themselves from aid dependency.”
James also spoke of the need for governance and economic development issues to be at the centre of the “golden thread” approach to the post-2015 development framework, so that we can create the conditions that enable open economies and open societies to thrive.
High Level Prosperity Partnerships were praised as a model to expand on and the potential for UKTI to play a greater role “in countries where trade can help Africa to grow out of poverty” was also raised by Henry Bellingham. Mr Bellingham said how pleased he was to see both the FCO and DFID becoming more proactive towards trade and especially DFID’s burgeoning use of the private sector to help improve the business environment in developing countries – “about all else DFID understands that the best way to relieve poverty is through trade. That is about creating wealth, empowering people and improving their circumstance.”
Martin Horwood also praised the government’s recent emphasis on development as a broader issue going beyond aid to trade and investment, with particular focus on private sector growth – SMEs are often the engines of growth in African economies just as they are in the UK.
Hugh Bayley emphasised the need for a regional approach both in terms of security and aid allocation – a transnational approach that would promote growth. We should be working with regional African organisations, allocating a proportion of British aid regionally, so that money, though continuing to be spent by national governments, could be spent on transnational projects, such as roads and infrastructure, trade promotion, training and security. This issue of security as a hindrance to trade and sustainable growth was also raised by Meg Hillier with specific reference to Nigeria. The importance of good governance in creating an environment that supports and encourages trade and investment was another major theme, raised by Sir Alan Haselhurst.
Sir Tony Baldry spoke of the importance of increased investment in and improvements to Africa’s infrastructure as major drivers in its recent growth, but emphasised that massive gaps still remain between the infrastructure Africa has and the infrastructure it needs. He also spoke of his disappointment that there has been little or no movement towards an agreement on the Doha development agenda for the removal of agricultural subsidies, or more significant trade agreements between the EU and African countries.
Richard Fuller warned of the need to ensure that aid money is spent effectively to “support Africans with what they want”. He applauded the government’s move to double the amount of the development budget spent on economic development by 2015-16, but asked what was being done specifically to encourage competitive markets.
Shadow Minister, Ian Lucas, summed up by saying “stability is best achieved where countries can achieve economic progress that is balanced with stable consensual government based on democratic valued.” He also emphasised the need to tackle the problem of visas as poor access is currently inhibiting trade both within Africa as well as globally.
In his response, Mark Simmonds, Africa Minister spoke of the shift from aid to a focus on private sector investment driving economic growth, creating jobs and thereby alleviating poverty – the UK’s relationship with Africa is changing to reflect that. As well as opening 6 new embassies, the UK has added more than 20 prosperity experts to its African network to develop the business environment. He emphasised that the FCO is working closely with DFID and MoD as one team to support African economic growth.