UK will go on supporting Zambia – Thornton
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
James Thornton, the British High Commissioner spoke at a reception on 24 April to mark Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Birthday. He said:
First of all, I would like to thank those who have made this event possible, including everyone in the High Commission team. These events always involve far more work than you could possibly imagine.
And many thanks to our sponsors. The main sponsor is Jaguar-Land Rover, manufacturers of the classiest four wheel-drive vehicles available. Their sole distributor here is Alliance Motors.
Thanks also to Zambia Breweries for providing the beer and soft drinks.
At previous QBPs we have had HE the First President, Dr Kaunda, with us. We are sorry that he has needed to be admitted to hospital, and hope that he will return to full health soon.
I want to talk about the UKs’ role in the world, and to describe our commitment to supporting Zambia in its growth and development. I also want to show how bilateral relations go far beyond the actions of our two governments.
As many of you will know, we have an election in the UK on 7 May. This will result in the formation of a new government.
There may be changes to UK foreign policy as a result. But I expect us to continue our tradition of active engagement in world affairs, seeking solutions to conflicts and global problems.
And our commitment to international development will continue. Once again we are the only large economy to meet the UN’s target for funding development assistance. Our MPs have just overwhelmingly passed a law committing us to meeting that target every year in future.
So what do diplomats actually do – apart from attend cocktail parties in nice gardens like this one?
Well, we aim to play our part in the life of this nation. October 2014, for example, was a momentous month for Zambia. There was an occasion of great joy – the fiftieth anniversary celebrations. This was immediately followed by the sorrow of the loss of President Michael Sata.
We helped arrange the return of the President’s body to Zambia from London, with due honours. And the UK was one of only two nations outside Africa to send a delegation to the funeral. It was led by the daughter-in-law of Her Majesty the Queen and by a government Minister.
On a more day-to-day basis, we in the High Commission try to do four different things. The first is to support poverty reduction, economic growth and good governance in Zambia. A key word there is “support” – the government of Zambia obviously plays the key role, and we work closely with other donors.
Our Department for International Development, known to you all as DFID, continues to run a wide-ranging programme here.
Like me, its staff are all passionate about making a difference in this country.
Our aim is to see the emergence of a Zambia that no longer needs development assistance such as ours.
A country which maximises its potential for economic growth, and which ensures that all its citizens are able to share in the benefits of that growth.
His Excellency the President, in his inaugural speech on 25 January, talked of the fabulous wealth living side by side with abject poverty here being a moral outrage. We agree.
We have supported Zambia’s social cash transfer programme since its inception. This is an affordable and effective way of alleviating extreme poverty. Further scale-up could be paid for by reducing agricultural subsidies, which generally do not benefit the poorest.
Our Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, visited Zambia last July to speak at Dr Kaseba’s symposium on ending child marriage.
Good governance is important for its own sake, and also for creating the conditions for growth and development. Part of our role is to join Zambians in advocating for it. We congratulate the Electoral Commission of Zambia and the Zambian people generally for the conduct of the recent Presidential elections. We made the largest donor contribution to the process.
We welcome the commitment by President Lungu in his inaugural speech to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and other civil liberties.
The High Commission’s second aim is to promote UK commercial activity in Zambia. I am going to quote President Lungu’s inaugural speech again! (I wish I could claim to have written it!)
The President told business that he would try so far as possible to balance their interests against the interests of the people of Zambia.
That is absolutely right. Businesses must contribute to the country, including by paying their fair share of tax.
But the government needs to create the best possible business environment. That is crucial to attract foreign investment, for which there is worldwide competition.
Seven months ago we took on our first member of staff whose sole role is to promote UK-Zambia trade.
We recently had two trade missions from the UK in as many months.
And we helped launch the British Chamber of Commerce in Zambia.
I am grateful to the senior businesspeople who volunteered their time and effort to get the Chamber going; it could not have happened without them. We need more volunteers to get involved.
Membership of the Chamber is open to all businesses and other organisations. Information packs are by the exit; take one away if you are interested.
Our third aim is to encourage Zambia to use its influence in the world for good. Zambia can help seek solutions to regional and world problems, from human rights to conflicts to disarmament to climate change.
We are delighted that Zambia has sent a battalion to join the UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. The UK will train the troops going out in future rotations.
In October the then PS in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led a team to my Ministry in London for foreign policy talks. We want to ensure that this dialogue is maintained and developed.
The fourth function of the High Commission is to provide assistance to British citizens in need. This is a lower-profile but extremely important part of our work.
Finally, the British Council, as ever, continues to foster educational and cultural links between our countries.
So that is what we do. We promote development and governance in Zambia; we promote UK commercial activity; we encourage Zambia to use its influence in the world; and we assist Brits in need.
Of course the UK-Zambia relationship extends far beyond our Governments and respective High Commissions.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Anglican Church worldwide, visited Zambia last year. Britons who are supporting development work here on a private basis include a former Cabinet Secretary and a former head of our National Health Service.
Mark Bennett came to Zambia in the 1970s, could not stay away, and ended by developing cheap IT to improve education for ordinary Zambians. Sadly he died earlier this year; his organisation, iSchool, carries on.
There are many others like Mark.
And many Zambians have personal connections with the UK. A lot have studied at the UK’s world-class universities. Even more will be able to do so now that we have expanded our Chevening Scholarship scheme here nine-fold.
To conclude, the UK will remain committed to international development. The High Commission will remain committed to a better Zambia. And the personal links between British people and Zambians will endure.
The greatest privilege I have had in twenty-five years as a British diplomat has been to be posted here in Zambia. Zambians are so friendly. As I have described, the links between our countries are so strong. The climate is brilliant and the country is beautiful. I have travelled to Ikelenge, to Liuwa, to Mbala, to Chipata. My greatest professional sorrow is that I cannot remain here forever!
But sadly I will be moving on in July, after three and a half years. I start as Ambassador in Bolivia towards the end of the year.
You will all be able to remain in contact with me via Twitter – follow me at @UKThornton! I pay tribute to all my wonderful High Commission colleagues.
I would also like to thank my family. Anne, Helena and Julia have put up, mostly without complaint, with my long hours and my obsession with the job. They are as sorry to leave as I am.
Please do not ask me who will replace me – no announcement has been made yet.
It now remains for me to propose a toast – to the President, His Excellency Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, and to all the people of Zambia. Cheers!