The UK’s Partnership with Africa

Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds spoke to the Royal Africa Society about the UK's partnership with Africa.

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

Good morning. Many thanks to all of you for coming. I would like to thank Richard Dowden and the Royal Africa Society for inviting me to speak, and Mark for his kind introduction.

I describe myself as an African optimist. I strongly believe that Africa faces a bright future; and I disagree with the stereotype of all Africa being plagued by corruption, violence and poverty. Africa is transforming, I would like to set out today how the UK can play a part in securing its future, its potential. It is about the UK being a lasting – and honest - partner with Africa.

Across the continent a generation of educated, ambitious Africans demanding more and more from their governments, is emerging. And there is a deep seam of talented, often visionary leadership visible throughout Africa. Leaders who want to transform their countries and communities. The impact of these twin forces – expectant populations and committed leaders – is already visible.

Last year, five African nations outgrew China and 22 beat India. 17 African nations are ranked higher than India on the World Bank’s ease of doing business rankings. 35 African countries are, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index more transparent than Russia.

British private equity firms are queuing up to do business in Africa. They tell me regularly about the excitement of investing in African firms. Their focus is not just extractives, but increasingly consumer companies - breweries or biscuit manufactures – proof of the rising wealth across Africa.

But, I cannot of course claim that Africa does not face challenges. It would be naive to say otherwise. These challenges are often long running and require multi-faceted solutions. The challenges are in politics, in economics, and in security. Too many Africans are still at risk from appalling levels of violence and poverty. Corruption remains a problem. There are more elections taking place today than before, but too many of these elections are neither credible nor fair.

I want to be clear and unapologetic that the UK will continue to speak out – in the spirit of partnership – when things aren’t going right; where we see elections manipulated, or public funds stolen, or human rights abused in the name of security. That is what a real partner does.

On security in particular, our assistance in Somalia, and northern Nigeria amongst others is all about building capacity in those countries to protect their people, their lands. But to do so in line with international human rights standards. It’s my firm belief that building security and promoting human rights lays the foundations for prosperity in Africa.

My officials will tell you that I have spent most of the last year on the road in Africa. Let me tell you a little about a couple of my recent visits. In the last few weeks, I have visited South Sudan and Mali. Two very different countries, but each facing and responding to its own set of challenges. In Mali, there have been significant improvements.

Just over a year ago, Mali was struggling with the aftermath of a military coup, only to be faced with the charge towards Bamako of an alliance of jihadists. The prospect of an African capital adorned with the black flag of Al-Qaeda was real.

Today, there has been a democratic election and security has been restored to much of the country. But now is not the time to return to business as usual.

In the last 20 years, hundreds of millions of pounds of donor funds has gone into the country to little discernible effect. More multilateral money – in the billions – is flooding in now. Without a serious and determined effort to improved capacity and transparency, there is a danger than in the future, we will see a reversal of the progress made over the last year.

And last week I was in South Sudan – the World’s newest nation. So much has been achieved. Juba is in the midst of a massive construction boom; and despite dire warnings of state failure a few years ago, the economy is growing and a sense of nationhood is fast emerging. But there are some very tough decisions ahead; whether this is about security sector reform, protection of human rights or peace with the region. Bringing sustainable stability to South Sudan will take time.

Both Mali and South Sudan remain – in their own way – fragile countries, facing complex and significant challenges. There will be tough choices ahead; politically difficult decisions; but they need to be made, and with an eye on the long term, not the politically expedient. Capacity needs to be improved; transparency entrenched. As they, and other African countries move forward on their journeys, both need support and honest friendship – a role the UK is ready to play. My ambition is that the UK is at the heart of Africa and African countries realising their potential.

Aid and Transparency

There is no question about the extent and impact of UKAid to Africa; much now is geared towards transformation. I have seen firsthand on numerous occasions its impact. But in addition to developmental support, our African partnerships are defined by honesty. And at times, yes, we will criticise. This is not about colonialism and lecturing; but as with any friendship or marriage, genuine, effective partnerships are based on honesty, and where we feel that decisions need to be taken, we should be ready to be honest.

This year, the UK hosted the G8. Our ambition was to improve tax collection; greater trade; and real transparency. We call this the “Three Ts.” This is about entrenching the conditions that will provide the foundations for sustained economic growth and lasting stability. This agenda is firmly in African interests.

Just last month the Prime Minister hosted a number of African leaders at the Open Government Partnership summit where leaders from around the world shared best practice. I was delighted to see Africans from across the continent play a leading role in those discussions.

Prosperity and transparency

With greater transparency comes improved prosperity. And in a networked world, as Africans become more prosperous and seize the opportunities in front of them, in a networked world, there will also be real benefits for the UK

As you all know, following the global financial crisis, this Government has championed an export-led recovery. The Chancellor set a target of doubling our exports to £1 trillion by 2020. And we are making progress. Just two days ago, the Prime Minister came back from the Dubai Air Show with news of new orders for Airbus worth almost £30bn, which will safeguard 2500 jobs in the UK. In East Africa, the UK company ASCO has just secured a £100m contract in the oil and gas supply chain.

I want to see more headlines like that coming from Africa.

And not only do I want to see the news of contracts, but news of improved access to capital for African businesses, of improved governance, of improved investment environments. Those elements of the Golden Thread that allow private sector growth, job creation and a transformational shift away from poverty.

I am leading an approach to help us – and our partners in Africa - achieve exactly those headlines.

Prosperity partnerships

We have a committed and competent network of staff working on trade issues across our platforms in Africa. Many of you have fed back to me on the support your businesses have had from our team in London, or our Heads of Mission or UKTI offices overseas. But since joining the Foreign Office, I’ve felt that there’s more we can be doing not only to support, but to help drive business and growth.

For example, I’ve been struck that the priorities we set in our trade and investment work were not aligned with the hosts of the African countries in which we were working. And I felt that our government departments overseas - the FCO, DFID and UKTI - were not aligned in the work they were doing, so they were not achieving the impact they could have done.

The model I want to see is this;

  • the FCO working with African governments on a political level to improve investment and growth environments,

  • DFID using its huge expertise to back that up with capacity building, with its increasing interest in providing finance,

  • UKTI supporting British firms to deliver on the ground.

  • And at home, HMG aligning to ensure that British firms of all shapes and sizes are aware of the opportunities, and the support available to them.

So, this evening, together with the Development Secretary I am officially launching five ‘High Level Prosperity Partnerships’ with the Ambassadors and High Commissioners of Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Angola and Tanzania.

In the last six months I have visited all of these countries – some several times – to agree specific plans, in specific priority areas, with the governments. In each of these countries, I have a senior political level counterpart with whom I have a strong relationship to help us reduce any obstacles to growth and progress. For example in Tanzania, that’s the Prime Minister, in Ghana it’s the Foreign Minister, in the Ivory Coast it’s the Minister of Trade and Industry.

Our aim is that our partnerships, and the diplomatic relationships at their heart will provide a forum for open and frank conversations, with the aim of driving a paradigm shift in economic growth, to the benefit of all.

Yes, some – if not all – of these countries face genuine and difficult challenges to economic growth. Those needs might be security sector reform, improving transparency, building capacity in ministries, or infrastructure development. We will work together to address those strategic and tactical level challenges.

And though the official launch is tonight, we’re already getting on with it. In the last few months, our partnerships have led to Investment Summits for Ghana and the Ivory Coast in London. Justine Greening returned from Tanzania last week after having announced an innovative new partnership with Unilever that invests £7.5 million of UK aid in Tanzanian tea plantations. Lord Marland followed up HRH Prince Harry’s visit to Angola with a delegation of UK companies from priority sectors for the Angolan Government. Early next year I plan on visiting cities around the UK to sell the opportunities that exist for British firms.


The Ivorian Prime Minister and Tanzanian President shared the stage with David Cameron at the Open Government Partnership Summit a month ago. I think the presence of Prime Minister Duncan and President Kikwete demonstrates exactly what kind of partnerships the UK wants with Africa. Not partnerships where one country dominates the other; that is the kind of a relationship that belongs in a different age. But real and lasting partnerships with African countries where the contributions of African countries to universal challenges are supported and celebrated. Where we address difference of opinion honestly and frankly. And where we work together to drive mutual prosperity. Thank you.

Further information

Follow Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds on twitter @MarkJSimmonds

Visit the Royal Africa Society website

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Published 21 November 2013