May’s view of Africa is blinkered and damaging
Published by The Times (29th August, 2018)
Theresa May is making her first visit to Africa since entering Downing Street more than two years ago — and the first by a British prime minister since 2013. Contrast this with Emmanuel Macron, president of the other European power with major post-colonial ties to the continent, who took office almost a year later but has made nine trips to 11 countries.
So much for all those honeyed words in South Africa and all that guff about “global Britain”. For our prime minister, sadly, Africa is just a nice backdrop for her latest dance on Brexit and a bit more pandering to the Tory ultras.
The announcement of a trade deal with six African countries is welcome of course, but any idea that it helps dull the pain of Brexit is simply absurd. Even the three giants she is visiting — Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa — have a combined GDP dwarfed by the European Union. If Mrs May really wants to help, perhaps she should stop patronising and start listening to their people — especially the younger generations, so frustrated by dodgy leadership.
There are things she could do. First, ditch the damaging target to give away a fixed slice of national income and slash aid. Instead, like her predecessors, she pretends that propping up corrupt regimes, aiding repression, even assisting land grabbing is good for development. Our cash does not help but hinders democracy; just look at Uganda where we pump money into the pocket of an appalling despot who seized power in 1986, even as he quashes dissent and rips off refugees.
To quell unrest in her ranks, Mrs May says with pitiful desperation that her government’s £13 billion handout is in British interests; meanwhile, public services struggle at home. She claims that aid can help to thwart migration, but movement of people rises with prosperity. And she talks of a shift towards spending on boosting business in highly dynamic societies, although these programmes can be among the most nebulous of aid schemes that only help the sector’s fat cats.
There is more she could do. Clamp down on tax havens that launder so much stolen money from developing nations, and tackle our corrosive financial culture that helps hide the profits of pillage. Reform those vile immigration policies she imposed that deliberately drove up the cost and difficulty of visiting Britain. The legacy is all too often an official attitude of hostility, not welcome.
We can aid development and democracy in Africa. But instead of frittering away billions and spouting clichés, the solutions are to be found uncomfortably close to home — especially for Mrs May.