Stephen Lynch is Managing Director of Lynch Communications, a public affairs and PR consultancy. He was a Conservative Party Press Officer from 2015 to 2017.
In this new chapter for Britain – the road to peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations runs through Africa.
This continent contains 27 of the world’s 50 fastest-growing economies. The population is projected to double by 2050, when 1 in 4 consumers globally will be in Africa.
Walking around Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I’ve seen China’s investment at work – the construction of major roads along its coastlines. China is showing aggression and invention in seeking investment opportunities in diverse sectors, such as manufacturing, agriculture and mining.
The Chinese have built a 525km natural gas pipeline in the country, and are negotiating over a $10 billion new port and a special economic zone that aims to transform Tanzania into east Africa’s leading regional trade and transport hub.
At the UK-Africa Investment Summit last month the Prime Minister told the 13 assembled African leaders Britain wanted to become their “obvious partner of choice”, and aimed to become the largest G-7 investor in Africa within two years.
The continent is not without its challenges however – the World Bank and IMF both have warned that around 40% of its nations have alarming levels of debt.
Whether China is engaging in deliberate “debt-trap diplomacy” or not, the risk remains that the Belt and Road Initiative is loading unsustainable and potentially unserviceable debts onto less-developed countries.
At home, our government’s motives will be questioned, and it will be accused of holding post-colonial attitudes borne of guilt or arrogance. The British Empire historically has presented a blind spot for modern policymakers, who see only poverty and instability when they look to Africa. Although the recent summit did succeed in broadening discourse beyond familiar development issues, to infrastructure, clean energy and sustainable finance.
Labour says the aid budget is serving the needs of big business, instead of tackling global inequality, and that trade deals are not a panacea for ending poverty.
Global Britain is not a trite slogan, but a clear commitment to enhancing the UK’s global leadership and its investment and engagement in international relationships and agreements post EU withdrawal.
Conservative governments have looked to Africa and see friends, allies and partners in: ending violence against women and girls and giving them access to quality education; eradicating Ebola, malaria and other diseases to stop preventable deaths, as well as providing food security and clean water for millions.
At PMQs last month Boris Johnson contrasted his approach to international affairs with Labour’s leadership – taking “this country forward and outward into the world” versus isolating the UK and depriving us of our most crucial allies.
The PM told Jeremy Corbyn the government would continue to raise human rights issues “ever more vigorously and ever more energetically” from the increased leverage the UK gains from an independent, autonomous trade policy.
James Bloodworth skilfully described Corbyn’s foreign policy as sympathising and siding with “any movement who points an AK-47 in the direction of the West”. Indeed, the Shadow Home Secretary once said of Northern Ireland that “every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us”. Corbyn and his conspiratorial fellow travellers oppose British intervention in any circumstances, and hold America, Israel and / or the UK solely responsible for any global problem.
By contrast, the Tories’ 2019 manifesto succinctly said: “As Conservatives, we are immensely proud of the UK’s history and its standing in the world. Unlike those currently leading the Labour Party, we view our country as a force for good.”
The rumoured merger of the FCO and DFID, accentuated by last week’s reshuffle, provides an opportunity for the government to continue to do the right thing by those overseas, and the smart thing by its citizens here.
I’ve seen first-hand the good work that DFID – described by Angela Merkel as one of the UK’s “crown jewels” – and its social action projects can do.
Three years ago, I joined Conservative Friends of International Development (CFID) volunteers and Project Umubano founder Andrew Mitchell MP in training teachers in Rwanda in language and facilitation skills as their education system transitioned from French to an English curriculum. We delivered the programme to 700 school-based mentors – responsible for improving teaching methodologies in their respective schools. Our calculations showed our work would potentially go on to impact almost 16,000 teachers, and over 635,000 students!
CFID’s Project Urafiki in Tanzania in 2018 saw me spending the week with Jeremy Lefroy, Theo Clarke, Sir Desmond Swayne and others in training students in debating, public speaking and employability skills. Then-Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt joined us on the final day to judge which students excelled in presentation and persuasion.
Global Britain means an influential, powerful actor on the world stage. Playing leading, instrumental roles in shaping the Sustainable Development Goals. Championing the Paris Agreement on climate change (an issue disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest). A rock-solid commitment to NATO and contribution to security and defence in Europe and further afield.
It means a beefed-up diplomatic presence in Africa for FCO and DFID. The diplomatic footprint of China, France, Brazil, India and Turkey each outnumbers the UK’s staff on the ground. Russia and the Gulf nations are also expanding.
The government should make it much easier for people from Africa, and other non-EU countries, to obtain UK visas. As we know from trade discussions with friends in India in particular, our partners reasonably expect a quid-pro-quo on visa liberalisation for students and workers.
The government’s new expansion of fast-track global talent visas is welcome – there should be no arbitrary cap on leading scientists, researchers and mathematicians. Talent is spread equally through the globe, but the barriers to entry based on nationality have not been level. It is right to encourage and support the best and brightest to turn their ideas into reality here.
Global Britain means, above all, a compassionate Britain.
Conservatives are making the case for leadership in international development, knowing it is grounded in the interests of the world’s most disadvantaged people, in our own national interest and in our values – encouraging enterprise, opportunity and aspiration for every family.