31 janvier 2023

Future of UK-Africa relations seems bleak under Liz Truss as political myopia rules

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Liz Truss is the new prime minister of Britain. The outlook must be rather bleak for African leaders who are wondering what the next government would imply for relations between the UK and Africa.

For the previous two (post-Brexit Conservative) prime ministers, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, British politics have been firmly inward-looking. There are minimal indications of change. There is little chance that African concerns will move up the political agenda when I consider how the UK's connections with African nations have changed over the past three decades. There is also little likelihood of an active Africa policy before the next general election, whether at a continental or regional level.

Election day must occur before January 2025, however it will probably happen sooner

It is doubtful that aid levels will increase. Furthermore, it is unlikely that UK assistance will be returned to a separate government agency. Additionally, it is unlikely that British politicians will look past their country's and Europe's issues. As a result, Africa is likely to be discussed in high-level British politics only when it serves the government's specific self-interest.

However, the continent will still be impacted by UK policies. Many vulnerable African governments would suffer serious consequences if agreements to address the climate catastrophe are abandoned and assistance budgets are further slashed. Sadly, there won't be much opportunity for them to respond with their voices being heard.

Changing the focus
In comparison to Franco-African relations, the official political, economic, and military ties between Africa and the UK are not as tight—some could even argue too close. But in the past, the political discourse in the UK has focused far more on Africa.

The Labour government's establishment of an independent assistance ministry, the Department for International Development, in 1997 provided a crucial framework for forging connections.

Bringing up African politics and concerns within the UK administration was also important. Close relations were developed because Gordon Brown, the finance minister from 2007 to 2010, and Tony Blair, the prime minister from 1997 to 2007, were both interested in the possibilities and development of Africa. Links with the voices of civil society were also strengthened thanks to the Department for International Development.

Little changed after the Conservatives took office in 2010 (at first as a coalition). In fact, the Department for International Development was extended as a result of the rise in aid spending to 0.7% of gross domestic product, or an increase of £1 billion. At the time, financial cuts to other departments with a domestic focus were significant.

Persistent interests
Andrew Mitchell, the first conservative minister of international development (2010–2012), had a history of involvement with Africa. He formed tight connections with important figures, such as Paul Kagame of Rwanda. Along with others, he also kept up tight contacts with the Ethiopian administration. The interest in Africa by former British Prime Minister David Cameron (2010–2016) was a clear indicator of his goals for a prominent position for the UK internationally.

However, after the Brexit vote in 2016, Africa has lost its tenuous but real position in UK political discourse. Many seasoned employees who were maintaining the connections with African political and civil society leaders left their jobs as a result of the Department for International Development being dismantled and merged into a new Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office in 2020.

It also eliminated a crucial friend for Africa in UK discussions. Recent negotiations in Africa have centered on sending some migrants to Rwanda, which is hardly the foundation of a close alliance. And it's difficult to picture prior administrations doing what the most current Conservative administration has done, which is to keep mute about the Ethiopia situation.

Truss gives little chances for transformation
Truss served as the foreign, Commonwealth, and development office minister prior to being elevated to the position of prime minister. She shown no enthusiasm for social progress, anti-poverty initiatives, or building relationships based on respect and open communication. In reality, in my opinion, she helped slant UK aid toward British economic and diplomatic self-interest.

In her capacity as minister, she did not travel to Africa

It is accurate to say that agreements with Mozambique and the Southern African Customs Union were inked in 2019. They don't, however, provide much comfort in the absence of a strong and fresh friendship.

The internal inflation and cost of living issue, a potential new dispute with the UK's European Union neighbors (one of the UK government's own design), and the situation in Ukraine will, more crucially, be the focus of UK politics and the future prime minister. China and the pursuit of trade agreements with other countries will be the next items on the agenda.

It's doubtful that Africa-related concerns and policies will occupy much of Britain's attention span.

African-American ministers
Given that the majority of top offices of state will be governed by ministers with African descent for the first time, there is a case to be made that African problems could find favor inside the administration. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will be led by Kwazi Kwarteng, whose parents immigrated from Ghana in the 1960s and who has written a (mildly critical) book on the history of the British empire; the new chancellor, James Cleverly, has a Sierra Leonean mother; and the parents of the new Home Office minister, Suella Braverman, immigrated to Britain from Kenya and Mauritius.

Never before have so many people with direct ties to Africa occupied so many of the top positions

But in my opinion, it's doubtful that this will actually change anything. None of the ministers has a particularly good track record of promoting tighter or more substantial connections with the continent. All three have joined the Conservative Party cultural wars, which view criticism of a proud British history as treacherous wokery, notwithstanding Kwarteng's critique of the legacy of British colonial domination.

Threat ahead
There is a genuine risk that Britain will implement laws that deliberately hurt African nations. The likelihood of increasing UK assistance to past levels is vanishingly tiny, which implies that some of the most needy populations in the world would lose access to crucial social welfare programs.

Efforts to lessen the effects of the climate emergency will be undermined by calls for greater investment in the production of fossil fuels and the potential for breaking pledges about reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in response to the energy price issue.

African leaders and civil society organizations expecting for fresh ties as a result of a new broom are likely to be dissatisfied. Global involvement will continue to be portrayed as something that is only to be done when it helps the UK, continuing Britain's political blindness and navel-gazing. Strong and intimate ties between Africa and the rest of the world will probably have to wait till there is a new administration and the Department for International Development is reconstituted.



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