Remarks by Henry Bellingham at a reception to mark the African Union Day - 25 May 2010

The African Union has a number of successes to its credit. They include important peacekeeping missions in Burundi in early 2003, and extend to ongoing interventions in Somalia and Sudan.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Henry Bellingham

This is my first speech as Africa Minister. It is an honour to deliver it to this many African Heads of Mission, on this important day in Africa’s history. I am grateful for this invitation. Indeed, we could not have timed our elections more perfectly!

As we celebrate Africa Day in the run up to the World Cup in South Africa, I know that there is immense pride across the continent that this most important world sporting event is being hosted on African soil. It is a marvellous opportunity to showcase the beauty of the country and the exuberance of South Africa, but also to give to many ordinary football fans around the world a glimpse of the vitality and promise of the whole of Africa.

The focus that the football brings to Africa this year, and the demonstration of team work and national pride that the competition will showcase, is a welcome backdrop against which to celebrate today the achievement of African countries individually and collectively.

Nelson Mandela once said: ‘I dream of the realisation of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of the continent.’

Since 2002, the African Union has picked up the challenge of trying to deliver this. We all have a role in delivering the (AU) vision of an ‘integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa [which is] driven by its own citizens and represents a dynamic force in the global arena.’

I would like today to celebrate the A’s successes and share my vision for the future of the UK-Africa relationship.

AU’s achievements

The AU has a number of successes to its credit. They include important peacekeeping missions in Burundi in early 2003, and extend to ongoing interventions in Somalia and Sudan.

The bold ambition to transform African security through the construction of an Africa Standby Force.

Determined mediation efforts to restore stable governance in countries like Mauritania, Madagascar and Guinea.

And clear AU leadership in condemning unconstitutional efforts to seize power in a number of African countries.

For these and other reasons, the AU is now broadly recognised as the voice of Africa. Your work with the UN and regional organisations like ECOWAS in West Africa helps to keep governments, civil society and the rest of the international community co-ordinated in support of regional stability.

The AU has a laudably ambitious vision of standards for member states - more ambitious than many other regional organisations around the world. There is a conscious effort to write new rules for Africa, which we applaud. The new approaches include:

  • The New Partnership for Africa’s Development, (NEPAD)
  • The African Peer Review Mechanism: and the
  • African Charter on Elections, Democracy and Governance.

We already work closely with the Chair of the AU, Jean Ping, and his staff on the AU Commission’s Strategic Plan, and will continue to do so. Indeed, the UK is a major supporter of the AU.

UK Current Support

The Foreign Secretary and I are committed to strengthening UK’s bilateral relationships with Africa. The severe pressures in the UK budget and the public finances are no reason to withdraw. Instead, we will work hard, including with our international partners, to improve the effective delivery of all support.
At a bilateral level, the UK’s £42m Africa Conflict Prevention Programme has already:

  • trained over 12,000 soldiers on a ‘‘train-the-trainers’’ basis
  • supported peacekeeping training centres in Pretoria and Nairobi
  • And supported Kofi Annan’s mediation mission in Kenya after the post election violence.

The UK is also giving or planning to give:

  • £6m to strengthen the AU and the Economic Commission for Africa to help build capacity and promote good governance
  • £4m in support of climate change
  • And £22m in support of Agriculture and Fisheries through NEPAD.

But our support must not just be financial. It must also be political. The new Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has pointed to the extraordinary diversity of Africa. Our policy cannot therefore be uniform. In addition to a focus on good governance and the democratic institutions - courts, civil society and justice - we should also work to sharpen the international focus on conflict prevention and effective diplomacy. In this respect, as a Permanent Member of the Security Council, we will work to improve coordination between the UN and AU. The Commonwealth is another institution of which we and many African countries are members, and where well coordinated action can add broad benefit.

Future priorities

We laid out some of our future priorities for Africa in ‘‘One World Conservatism’’. The analysis is clear that while many countries, particularly in Asia, have seen poverty rates fall, they have risen in Africa. While global trade has lifted several nations out of poverty, Africa’s share of global trade continues to fall. And 22 of the 34 countries furthest away from reaching the MDGs are in, or emerging from, conflict.

This Government therefore remains committed to meeting the internationally agreed goal of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on aid. We will urge others to do the same.

We will work harder on long-term measures to prevent conflict. And make sure that our EU initiatives, such as the €300 million Africa Peace Facility, delivers even better for the future.

We will encourage the EU and other developed countries to lower trade barriers to poor countries; and we will target aid to promote trade - particularly intra-regional trade - so that growth in Africa is more sustained, and is of benefit to all. We are also keen to develop bilateral trade links with Africa, bringing mutual benefit to our African partners and the British business community.

We must not forget the untapped trade opportunities within Africa, with its population of almost 1 billion. We support SADC, COMESA and EAC’s ambitions to form a Free Trade Area of 26 states from the Cape to Cairo. Trade across African borders, if well managed, has the potential to transform regional economies. Another area to which the AU might turn its energies.


The British government’s wish is to see an Africa of peaceful sovereign states engaged in mutually beneficial trade and other exchanges, tackling problems through debate, negotiation and peer support. We will do what we can to support such a future, and institutions like the AU, which are working to the same ends.

Might I ask you to raise our glasses in a toast: Happy Birthday to the African Union.

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Published 26 May 2010