Following Prime Minister Theresa May’s pledge to invest US$ 5 million in Africa, Britain should now be thinking about how to grow, expand, and diversify its investment in Africa and the Commonwealth. And Now rather than later is the time for the United Kingdom to act.
By Sir Richard Ottaway, UK MP and Ambassador.
Brexit has made it seem as though the world of politics is lived day to day, even hour to hour. At present, it is hard to see or think beyond March of next year. Yet if there is one lesson I have learned throughout my political career, it is that short-term strategy is only ever effective if it is underpinned by long-term planning. If the UK is to place itself in a position of economic strength post-Brexit, then its success will be reliant upon making its geopolitical world bigger, not smaller. Key to this will be strengthening our ties with – and increasing investment – in emerging markets within the Commonwealth.
There is much discussion about what the future UK-EU trade relationship will look like, and even more speculation about how our trading relationships with the US, Australia, Canada and India will take shape. However, the often overlooked, but I believe, the more strategically and geopolitically prudent investment is in Africa. This of course is something that the UK Government and the Prime Minister are aware of. Theresa May’s recent trip to Africa highlighted her ambition for this part of the world to become a key future economic and trading partner, announcing £4 billion (US$5.1 billion) of UK investment, with the hope of private investment matching this amount over time.
It is therefore no coincidence that HRH Prince Harry visited Zambia this week; a vibrant, democratically-stable, environmentally-aware nation, and one of the main success stories of post-colonialism. Prince Harry had a packed agenda, which included visiting the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, a reception to celebrate UK-Zambia relations, and an event commemorating World War I and World War II Zambian veterans. The visit highlighted the deep and fruitful connection that the UK and Zambia have shared over the last hundred years.
However, whilst this is a positive step, we should also consider that since French president Emmanuelle Macron came into office, he has made nine separate trips to Africa visiting 11 countries, whilst Theresa May has made just one trip to the continent visiting just three nations. This statistic highlights the fact that Britain needs to be doing far more to reinvigorate its ties with this part of the world. Of course, Mrs May has had a full and complicated domestic and international agenda since her tenure at Number 10 began, but we cannot afford to take our eyes off the long-term prize.