UK's Africa Policy: High Commissioner's speech at Legon Center for International Affairs and Diplomacy, University of Ghana

A speech by the British High Commissioner on the subject of the UK’s Africa Policy

University of Ghana

Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here at the University of Ghana, for the first time in my case, though not, I hope, the last.

I have been asked to speak on the subject of the UK’s Africa Policy and to discuss how much Africa matters to us and why Africa has been, and will remain, central to Britain’s foreign policy objectives.

But let me say something first about recent global events – the wider context which has shaped current UK foreign policy.

The world is emerging from a very difficult period.

We have endured a global financial crisis so intense it shrank world trade by a tenth in a single year, and caused the entire world economy to contract.

In Britain we experienced our deepest recession since the Second World War, three times as deep as that of the 1990s. Only recently, earlier this year, did our economy again reach the size it was back before the crisis in 2008.

But we have taken tough decisions to deal with our deficit, to rebalance our economy and to kick-start growth, with the result that we now have the fastest rate of growth amongst the world’s major advanced economies.

On top of this economic challenge, we have lived through a very demanding decade and more in foreign policy. Perhaps the greatest challenge has been the perverted ideology that drives Islamist or jihadi extremism, defeating which is clearly a generational challenge.

Defeat it, we will. But for now, ISIS continues its brutal campaign of murder and repression across northern Iraq and Syria.

Growing insurgencies in Libya and Yemen threaten further instability. Boko Haram in Nigeria and its neighbours; Al Shabab in Somalia; and other extremist groups in the Sahel all threaten security, including ours and Ghana’s.

There are other serious threats too. On the borders of Europe, the situation in Eastern Ukraine remains a serious concern to us.

And across the world, we see threats from weapons proliferation, the relentless advance of cyber warfare, the behaviour of rogue states, and traditional military advantage being undermined by disruptive technologies.

Add to all that the challenges of climate change; international organised crime and trafficking of all kinds, including of people; refugee crises; trade protectionism; territorial rivalries in some of the world’s regions – and you can easily make the case that foreign policy is more important than it has ever been.

So what is Britain’s Foreign Policy?

You will all know that foreign policy is the “policy pursued by a nation in its dealings with other nations, designed to achieve national objectives”.

In concrete terms, we define the three main themes of UK Foreign Policy as:

• Firstly, safeguarding Britain’s national security by countering terrorism and weapons proliferation, and by working to reduce conflict around the globe. We do that in part by maintaining the UK’s global role, as an active permanent member of the UN Security Council, the EU, NATO, the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth and other key parts of the international architecture.

• Secondly, building Britain’s prosperity by increasing exports and investment, opening markets, ensuring access to resources and promoting sustainable growth, including by connecting our economy to the world’s fastest growing markets. The UK has always been an open economy that thrives on trade. So, we will prosper when we build strong relationships with other countries that are prospering.

• And thirdly, supporting British nationals around the world through modern and efficient Consular services. It is always worth recalling that the only reason the vast majority of citizens around the world might ever come into contact with a foreign ministry is when and if they find themselves in difficulty overseas. In our case, the British public are those who fund us, through their taxes. They have the right to expect good customer service from us when they legitimately need it.

Alongside these three main pillars of our foreign policy – which we brand under the headings of Security, Prosperity and Consular - lies our significant Overseas Development effort which has a major impact both on the Security and Prosperity strands. And here in Ghana, we continue to be one of your largest development partners, both bilaterally and by virtue of the fact that over 15% of the EU’s own budget comes from the UK.

In short, Britain is an internationally engaged country, a practical country that looks for pragmatic solutions, and a country of modern, tolerant values that celebrates peaceful difference. We live that mindset in our foreign policy.

And to implement that policy, we now have 267 diplomatic posts around the world to help us understand, engage and influence as effectively as we can.

But it is not just about what we do as a government that makes sure that the UK is an engaged, global citizen – a nation that with only 0.75% of the world’s population is the world’s 6th largest economy with the 5th largest defence budget.

We think that ‘soft power’ matters tremendously too and that the UK has a huge amount to offer there.

English is the global language; the UK is home to 29 of the top 200 word universities; the BBC is the world’s most trusted – and most retweeted – news source; we have a rich heritage that is popular worldwide, embodied in no better way than by our Royal Family. And as you in Ghana know so well we have the best and most-watched football league in the world – one now graced by more Ghanaians than ever before.

So, the UK is a global player in so many regards.

How does Africa fit in?

Returning though to the purely governmental sphere, we believe that an active and activist UK foreign policy must have Africa at its heart. Many of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa. Africa has vast human and physical resources and enormous potential. At the same time, parts of Africa are still wracked by abject poverty and crushing conflict which we seek to make a contribution to solving – not least as we also have a historical and moral responsibility to this continent, given our colonial past.

That is why, for example, we came to the aid of Sierra Leone, both when its democracy was subverted in the 1990s and, recently, when it was ravaged by Ebola. That is why the UK has been the leading international player in combating sexual violence in conflict, Female Genital Mutilation, early and child marriage, and the disease of malaria which still kills each year so many multiples of those who have died from Ebola. All of these scourges affect Africa disproportionately and Britain wants to be a major player in addressing them – it is the right thing to do.

But more widely, our Africa policy means that we need genuine partnerships with African countries. Our shared history, family and cultural connections mean that we are committed to partnerships with African countries, through the good times and the bad. Africa is important to us because African communities are also part of the fabric of the UK and what happens here affects us.

There are over 40,000 UK nationals living in Nigeria; 10,000 here in Ghana, 4,000 in Sierra Leone. 500,000 Nigerians and 90,000 Ghanaians live in the UK, though the respective Diasporas are much larger when you factor in the second and third generation populations who are now UK citizens. We think that there are over a quarter of a million British citizens who claim Ghanaian heritage.

But we also know that this continent’s very diversity means that there can be no one single Africa narrative, including in our foreign policy.

Africa is a continent of 54 countries, over 2000 languages with almost 150 million Arabic speakers. There are over 3000 tribes, ethnic groups and peoples. It has a population of over a billion ……. and growing.

In 2010, the combined population of sub-Saharan Africa was 800 million. By 2040 it will be 1.5 billion. By 2025 one quarter of the world’s population under the age of 25 will live in sub-Saharan Africa and by 2050 one in four people on the planet will be African.

And it is also a continent of mammoth proportions: the distance between Cairo and Cape Town is greater than that between London and Lahore in Pakistan.

Africa is a dynamic place of entrepreneurs, opportunities, an aspirant middle class and a vibrant youth culture. And this is the Africa the UK government has sought to engage.

So what are we actually doing?

The UK government believes that it is in our national interest to promote prosperity and security in Africa. We need our partners to be stable, prosperous and secure.

So we work to address the challenges and maximise the opportunities of each of our African partners. A key recent policy has been to re-position the UK’s relationship through:

• bilateral expansion, increasing our footprint in Africa, where we have opened or re-opened 6 new embassies over the last 5 years in Cote D’Ivoire, Madagascar, Mali, South Sudan, Somalia, and Liberia;

• Increasing our development spend on economic development, getting alongside private sector interest in Africa to drive sustainable and inclusive growth that will reduce poverty by creating jobs, and reduce dependency on aid;

• And championing financial inclusion. Through the Department for International Development, we promote and support the use of technology like mobile money and branchless banking to make it possible for people to overcome the barriers to access, as well as working with African governments to make the operating environment for business simpler, fairer and, crucially, more transparent.

At the same time, traditional aid programmes building health, education and sanitation services in developing countries remain vital. They make a real difference to millions of people.

But it goes without saying that development has most impact, and is most sustainable, when the governments of aid recipient countries enable the process through good governance and show a strong commitment to lifting their citizens out of poverty.

Tackling poverty overseas is about addressing the root causes of global challenges such as disease, migration, terrorism and climate change. Addressing these issues is firmly in Britain’s own national interest as well as Africa’s interest. And the UK is the first major economy to meet the UN’s 0.7% of Gross National Income target on development spending, a target now legally enshrined and therefore binding on future British governments too.

However, we must recognise that aid alone will not eliminate poverty in Africa. Addressing these challenges helps create the trading partners and markets of the future. So there is an element of self interest.

But while we understand that some countries in Africa still need aid, many more need investment, expertise and financial services to maximise commercial opportunities, abundant resources and huge economic potential. The World Bank estimates that the continent as a whole needs an extra $90bn capital investment a year for infrastructure alone.

We also believe that it is the private sector that will grow Africa out of poverty. This is because profitable businesses pay taxes. And tax revenue allows governments to invest in health, in education and in infrastructure. Tax revenues provide accountability between the government and the electorate.

So we seek to champion Africa as an investment and trade destination of choice. To this end, we have added 20 Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomats to work as ‘prosperity officers’ to complement the work of our fourteen UK Trade and Investment offices on the continent. And we have created High Level Prosperity Partnerships with Ghana, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique and Tanzania – all very different countries of different heritages where we have built ambitious frameworks to encourage growth across a range of key economic sectors including education, agriculture, infrastructure, and extractives.

And what of Ghana?

Our common history means that Ghana is very familiar to the UK and the UK is very familiar to Ghana. We share similar values and standards.

We have a mutual interest in regional security and we need to promote regional solutions to instability in Mali, the Sahel, the Gulf of Guinea and wider transnational threats.

The UK’s strategic goal for Ghana is its continued economic development, supporting it in rising up through its current, and still relatively new, ranking as a Lower Middle Income country. For that, we think it is crucial to promote the growth of the private sector and trade, improve the use of revenues including those from oil, and promote sound macro-economic management.

We want to assist Ghana in its political development too – through stronger institutions; through strengthening citizens’ voices and the accountability of the governments they elect; and through the electoral cycle, which means more than just observing the elections on election day.

And socially, through the reduction of poverty and meeting of the Millennium Development Goals.

And in security terms, too, through effective common responses to existing and new threats including those posed by the drugs trade, human trafficking, piracy and other organised criminal activity.

In addition, cooperation in foreign policy is a key area as well. The UK supports Ghana as it seeks to influence positively its neighbours and the wider West African region, to spread democratic principles and adherence to the rule of law, to be a voice of reason in international fora, and to continue to promote and facilitate African-led solutions to African conflict.

As well as the clear benefits to Ghana of this approach, the UK will gain from supporting stability and growth in Ghana and the West African region, including through increased bilateral trade and a reduction in the harm posed to UK nationals.

So, the influence of Ghana over unstable neighbours to the west and north is vital in promoting a safe and secure environment within which UK interests can prosper.

We are – to repeat an earlier important point - a major donor and development partner: our bilateral aid and share of the EU and multilateral aid together amount to over £100m a year.

Our Department for International Development is focused on assisting the Government of Ghana in its management of critical areas such as providing basic services, the efficient and transparent management of public finances, fighting corruption (which incidentally so many Ghanaians tell us has been getting worse, not better), ensuring that oil and gas receipts benefit all Ghanaians, and that the macro-economy returns to a sustainable path of long-term growth.

In short, we aim to try and help Ghana onto a firmer, stable and successful long-term economic trajectory that cements its still relatively new middle income status.

On economic development, DFID is supporting the private sector to drive market reforms and boost investment, especially in the agricultural sector.

Ghana is a also significant commercial partner with bilateral trade volumes now over £1 bn a year. Ghana is amongst the UK’s largest export market in sub-Saharan Africa; and the UK is one of the largest foreign investors in Ghana itself.

In 2013 UK exports to Ghana totalled over £587m. We hope to see that figure rise markedly by the end of 2015. British businesses continue to see Ghana as a valuable long-term investment base in West Africa. Companies such as Tullow Oil, Vodaphone, Lonrho, Prudential and Standard Chartered Bank are amongst the biggest UK players here.

On Defence we seek to increase the levels of professionalism in Ghana’s Armed Forces - to maintain Ghana’s ability to act as a role model for regional stability and as an important contributor to UN peacekeeping around the world

In the financial year of 2014-2015, the UK spent over US$ 1 million on Defence engagement with Ghana. This year will be similar.

We support the continuous development of key Ghanaian Defence educational establishments in order to increase military professionalism and maintain their status as regional centres of excellence, thereby contributing to enhanced sub-regional military cooperation.

We support the development of the Ghana Navy so that Ghana can play a key regional security role in the maritime domain in order to assist and enable regional efforts to improve maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.

And we support Ghana in its ambition to develop its Armed Forces as a leading contributor to UN and AU Peace Support Operations, in order to maintain Ghanaian commitment to current deployments and develop it as a model for others.

More generally, we seek to encourage and further develop Ghana’s leading role within ECOWAS in order to enhance the capacity of developing sub-regional security structures and improve sub-regional capability to respond to emerging security threats in the land and maritime space in an efficient, effective, and coordinated fashion.

Those three areas I have described - of security, prosperity and development assistance - all go hand in hand. Without peace, we cannot have prosperity; without prosperity, security is impossible to maintain. The prosperity agenda advances long term security. Good governance and increasing societal wellbeing go hand in hand, as a virtuous cycle. But of course, in this increasingly interconnected and globalised world – where shocks on one side of the world are transmitted rapidly to the other – the bilateral relationship between our two countries is only half the story. As the global financial crisis, or the recent outbreak of Ebola, or the rise of Islamist extremism have demonstrated, national borders no longer act as barriers to the transmission of global threats. No country that is part of the global economy can isolate itself from, or be immune to, the global challenges or threats that we face together. But just as no country can be immune from the global challenges we face, nor does any single country have either the resources or the ability to tackle them alone. But every country can contribute to tackling them together. Whether it’s limiting the effects of climate change, tackling global terrorism, preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons or securing cyberspace against the piracy and lawlessness which undermines investment confidence and economic growth - in every case we need to work in partnership with like-minded nations, who share the same self-interest in a stable, sustainable and rules-based world as a platform for growing prosperity for all of humanity. The lesson we draw in our response to these global challenges is that, by acting together, in groupings of like-minded partners and allies, working through the multilateral mechanisms of the UN and the International Financial Institutions, we can tackle effectively even the most seemingly intractable threats to our stability, our security and our prosperity …… and we can do so together, with the collective moral authority that comes from a rules-based international system mandating our vital work. In the UK and throughout Europe, we have just finished marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The strategic rivalry that twice devastated Europe in the first half of the 20th Century is now inconceivable – relations between the nations of our own continent are now firmly based on friendship, confidence, trust and solid institutions. That is a model of broad cooperation that, I would submit, needs to be replicated everywhere. I close by stating again that Ghana is at the core of our strategic foreign policy for Africa and will continue to be a key partner for us in this regard. The UK-Ghana relationship is as dynamic as ever and continues to grow. Our hope is that Ghana continues this positive trajectory of consolidating its democracy, continuing to develop economically, and, so, of being a positive image for others to emulate in the region.

Published 27 August 2015