UK signals Africa policy shift

6 December 2007

A recent speech by Britain’s new Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, Lord Malloch-Brown, signals an important shift away from a patronising, development-centric approach to Africa to a foreign policy which balances development with substantial new policy components.

Malloch-Brown’s speech, reproduced in full below, was given to the Royal African Society in London on 28 November 2007.

BRITAIN’S AFRICA POLICY
Keynote Speech
Royal Africa Society Autumn Reception
Mark Malloch-Brown
This evening, I want to ask a provocative question. We have a development policy for Africa; is it time that the UK also had a foreign policy for Africa?

Of course, we already do. The FCO is intensely engaged through our High Commissions and Embassies across Africa as well as here in London, and at the EU, UN and the IFIs, in addressing a range of bilateral and regional issues. And I have ministerial responsibility for this.

Nevertheless, the prevailing view of Africa from the famine of the 1970s to Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa has been the need for an internationally supported development strategy to tackle a stubborn and growing poverty, a staggering HIV, malaria and malnutrition driven health crisis, state breakdown in the DRC, Sierra Leone, Liberia and elsewhere weak governance and low growth.

We have come to accept and talk about Africa as the problem child of the global family – stuck in its corner, inert in its poverty and isolated from the waves of global change and integration that are lifting up so many parts of Asia and Latin America.

Half full or half empty?
Now in an audience like this, there is nobody I suspect who does not juggle glass half-full and half-empty assessments of Africa. We even have terms for it: Afro-pessimism and optimism.

However, striking growth rates in a growing number of countries, a higher rate for the region as a whole than for Europe, rising energy-related investment, the beginnings of a Chinese-inspired infrastructure boom, dramatically improved governance and economic policy making, all reflect change in Africa.

But I am not sure our policies towards the region have kept up. We, experts, may be too close to it to have stood back and taken stock of what this change adds up to. We may have missed the big picture as much as others have.

The relative stasis of long-term development, when changes in poverty rates move forward only gradually over decades, is now joined by a host of change-related challenges that Africa must manage and which we as partners and neighbours have a strong national interest in seeing successfully handled. And which for Africa offers the prospect for either much more rapid and sustained development, or new growing threats to stability if uneven growth between and enclave-like energy-related sector and the rest of the economy leads to increased inequality, conflicts over control of resources, further environmental degradation, growing illegal immigration and other issues.

Put at its starkest, will the dramatic improvements Africa has made in recent years in the quality of its political leadership, governance, economic policy making and basic services provision, allow it to ride out the challenges of growth?

Purpose-built to pull their societies out of poverty, new governmental institutions are now in many cases facing the more enviable, but as dangerous, challenge of managing growth. And we have all got an immediate interest in their continuing success.

In fact, my message today does not neatly fall into either the pessimist or the optimist camp. Because change brings its own threat – unequal development, the resource curse of corruption, environmental over-burdening, and instability. Asia is an economic success story, but the number of environmental disasters has quadrupled and there are widening issues of political stability in South Asia.

And nor is Africa a story of simple straight-forward story of progress. Darfur remains as much at risk as ever, Zimbabwe is locked in a frightening cycle of self-imposed failure and there are reports of more than a million internally displaced in Somalia.

A dramatic change in the possibilities
Yet in parts there is real success and progress. The unprecedented growth rates in some African countries are mirrored by unprecedented interest from foreign and domestic investors.

This is resulting in real opportunity for many African countries. Tanzania, although still an extremely poor country, has had growth of 5-6% since 2000 and is looking at projected 7-8% growth in the next few years. The story is the same in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone to take three countries associated with enduring poverty, where economic growth has averaged more than 6% in the last four years and with predictions of strong growth in coming years.

We are witnessing a dramatic change in the possibilities that are on offer to African countries.

The partly energy-led boom is turning heads in the international business community. Traditionally the oil/gas sectors have provided low employment, and historically governments have not used these revenues well. But there are some reasons to be more hopeful that this boom could result in more durable economic development:

  • There is now evidence of better management of tax revenues – for instance Nigeria has new legislation on fiscal responsibility and public procurement, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is being taken up by more countries.
  • There is growth in related sectors. It is not just energy sectors that are benefiting, but also exporters of other commodities for instance Guinea for aluminium, Namibia for diamonds, and Zambia for copper.

Primary commodities, though, still account for about 80% of total African export receipts. The majority of African countries still rely on one or two primary commodities for at least half their foreign exchange earnings.

Increased demand in international markets boosts national revenues, but at the moment they do not gain the richer rewards and more stable income that would come from being involved the later stages of the value chain, let alone the benefits of a more diverse economy.

Oil and gas is leading the boom but the circle is widening, as economies are diversifying on the back of energy investments. We are seeing the growth of financial services sectors in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and of course South Africa, to support these new investments.

Also, the telecommunications boom in Africa seems to keep on going. There are over 200 million mobile phone users in Africa, and the assessment is that this is still nowhere near saturation. The GSM Association, the global trade association that represents some 700 mobile operators across the world, recently announced that its members will invest £25-billion in Sub Saharan Africa over the next five years.

If we take the example of Nigeria, the economy has been driven by non-oil growth rates above 7% for the last four years, in other words, economy minus oil. Agriculture has played an important role, although there is still a need for increased productivity to accompany greater land usage.

Meanwhile, the liberalisation of the GSM industry has helped increase exponentially access to telecoms services to 45-million subscribers – I remember just a few years ago no phone coverage in Nigeria – helping to drive growth directly, and also reducing constraints to business in other sectors.

A major foreign policy challenge
All this adds up to a major foreign policy challenge. So where is the UK interest in this picture of continuing challenges and new opportunities? And why does this matter?

Poverty and inequality in many African countries will be with us for many, many years to come. These are not problems that can be resolved quickly. For us in the UK – this is where the Department for International Development has taken an important lead.

The UK is setting the pace on reaching ODA targets, and is usually in the top five bilateral donors in many African countries. We were last year the world’s second biggest aid donor – although I should note this is significantly because of debt relief.

On a country level, we are the biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid in DRC, and the biggest bilateral donor over all in Ghana and Tanzania. In many countries such as Ethiopia we are signing up to multi-year committments. The Commonwealth committed to multi-year primary education plans for at least 20 of its members by the end of 2008. Forty-five percent of kids in the world not yet going to school live in a Commonwealth country, so there’s quite a way to go there.

So, a basic overall positive aid record.

I hope the EU Africa summit taking place in Lisbon from 8 to 9 December will agree specific co-operation between EU and African countries to help get Africa back on track for its MDG UN Millennium Development Goal targets. The PM has launched a Call to Action on the MDGs and will follow up with a summit in New York next year.

And let me be clear, whatever the business prospects for Africa, a sustained high-level of international funding for MDG targets of poverty reduction, health, education and the environment is an indispensable responsibility for the foreseeable future. Overall progress in Africa towards the MDGs is still going in a negative direction.

Yet we see genuine economic opportunities start to open up for a number of African countries that could underpin their development and provide them with new choices, the need to fix problems of governance, conflict and instability becomes more urgent. If African countries do not tackle these problems then they will increase inequalities and undermine growth.

Many African countries have reached a fork in the road:

Growing riches, responsibly taxed, and used to plough back into a country’s growth and development – for instance used to help educate the next generation – could and should mean that some African countries will see a different future on the horizon.

But growing riches – kept amongst a small, corrupt elite, or siphoned out of the country, or diverted to fund war or terrorism, as has happened with earlier resource booms in the continent – will not only snatch away the prospect of a different future for African countries, but will also deepen and intensify instability where we see it already, and we have seen this in some countries. In an ever more closely interlinked world, this is a dangerous prospect for those in the West.

This fork in the road presents us with some major strategic questions that add up to a very serious foreign policy challenge. You could boil it down to this: do we want a stable, or can we afford an unstable, partner in Africa?

Threats and opportunities for the UK
Foreign policy on Africa needs to be built around these new challenges. The Prime Minister has spoken of “hard-headed internationalism”. Let me apply this approach to Africa.

The UK should lead in helping to tackle poverty and inequality – because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it is in Britain’s domestic interest to do so. A key element of the agenda for the AU-EU Summit is development, and it is what I have in mind when I talk of a new policy.

This is much more than development – this is “development plus”. The summit agenda is divided into the following topics:

  • Governance and human rights
  • Peace and security
  • Migration
  • Energy and climate change
  • Trade, infrastructure and development

Let me elaborate on some of these to highlight their importance to EU policy.

Migration
You have only to look at the pictures of African illegal migrants washed up on the beaches of Spain this summer after harrowing and life threatening journeys, or of Somalis last week, to see the dramatic intersection between the need to promote development in African countries, and the effect on domestic European policies.

These pictures don’t show the scale of migration flows between and to African countries. The OECD official figures estimated in 2000 that nearly a million people in the UK were born in Africa.

So we must develop a more effective co-operation with African partners on managing migration flows for our mutual benefit.

The challenge is to make sure that managed migration is a positive thing for the country of origin, the receiving country and the migrant him or herself – migration can allow the exchange of skills and expertise, and it can boost economic development through the power of remittances.

But it’s not an easy issue. African countries complain that European countries should focus less on securing their borders against migrants and more on helping to create the conditions in Africa that will make young people want to stay at home. They also complain that Europe steals the trained talent, depriving African countries of nurses, doctors and business people. The government of Malawi estimates that two out of every three doctors trained in Malawi move elsewhere in search of better prospects.

A House of Lords colleague of mine, Nigel Crisp, is doing interesting work. He leads a WHO-linked taskforce to see how we can contain the flow of skilled medical workers to the UK and elsewhere.

Our response to migration is in part about keeping our borders secure, but we also need to address the issue at source by helping create the conditions that will give more opportunities at home.

Tackling these issues requires long term commitments to promoting sustainable development: so that ultimately migration is a voluntary and informed choice. A huge issue, with a lot of policy making and discussions to be had between the EU and Africa.

Energy
Let me now turn to energy. Africa’s boom is being led by the world’s search for energy and resources. At present African countries make up a relatively small part of the global energy picture: only Nigeria ranks in the world’s top 20 for oil reserves – but this will change.

Countries in Africa with proved reserves of oil are: Nigeria, Angola, Sudan, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, DRC, Cote d’Ivoire.

Countries in Africa with proved reserves of natural gas: Nigeria, Mozambique, Cameroon, Congo, Sudan, Namibia, Angola, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire.

Countries such as Ghana and Uganda have found oil and are starting to explore whether these finds are commercially viable. Helping countries manage this new asset in a way that prevents corruption and the curse of oil wealth that many have suffered from, and encourages transparency of revenue management, is vital. The EITI is a first step and we need to draw non-western oil companies in.

But we also need to press for more internal disclosure of government use of oil revenues. It is the absence of that disclosure by the Nigerian government that has contributed to the problems in the Delta.

We also have an interest in building our dialogue with African countries on access to clean energy. We have two good opportunities to do this in December. The EU Africa summit will I hope lead to more co-operation on energy and also on adaptation to climate change which is already affecting African countries. Nick Stern argued this cost of climate change to African countries at our RAS breakfast a few weeks ago. And African countries have an important part to play in adding their voices to the international debate on climate change at Bali.

Crime and counter-terrorism
The third area where Africa is important to UK interests is crime and counter-terrorism. Unfortunately a priority of UK policy abroad these days. The social cost of drugs to the UK economy has been estimated as £5-billion – and a third of the hard drugs in the UK arrive via Africa. Cocaine trafficking from West Africa, principally through Nigeria and Ghana is rapidly increasing.

Co-operation between British police and counterparts in Ghana has seen some successes in impeding the West African drug route. And £44.5-million of Nigerian assets in the UK have been frozen by the Metropolitan police to date in crack downs on financial crime and corruption.

Some of the terrorists who sadly took part in the bombings in London in July 2005 were originally from Somalia, Eritrea and Ghana. Africa has not seen the levels of radicalisation that other parts of the world have, but instability and radicalisation have been the children of oil driven growth in societies with gross inequalities of wealth and power.

There are good security reasons for wanting to see more equitable development in Africa and as a result reduce the numbers of unemployed poor youth and other groups.

These headline areas show why it matters directly to the UK if African states succeed or fail. Terrorism and crime, migration, a clean environment and climate change in Africa are issues that are critical to the UK national interest.

Good Governance underpins it all
The growth rates in Africa offer new hope that many countries can turn the corner. But as long as we have broken states – like Zimbabwe, and chronic instability – like eastern Congo, and as long as we have African governments that regard national budgets as personal resources – the opportunities I’ve been talking about still have the risk of melting away.

Which is why the key foreign policy challenge is to encourage and promote good governance and help African governments tackle insecurity, conflict and instability.

How can we do this?

I can see six important roles for UK foreign policy in Africa.

Reinforcing success
We can reinforce success in individual countries. That means political engagement with reforming governments to bolster success. Ghana and Kenya both feature in the World Bank’s “top 10 reformers” this year for making it easier to do business. Ghana has got rid of bottlenecks in property registration, reducing delays from six months to one. Kenya launched an ambitious licensing reform programme eliminating over 100 business licenses which has made it much easier to start a business.

Supporting regional institutions
We can support regional African institutions to become stronger and better advocates for stability. The African Union (AU) brings together 53 diverse nations. It has been a remarkable organisation in the last few years. It has set up a Peace and Security Council which has deployed mediators to trouble spots, and troops and police to Darfur, Burundi, Comoros and Somalia. It is increasingly providing a more coherent African voice on matters of global concern like climate change and trade. A Pan African Court is being established, and with Nepad, the African Peer Review Mechanism has taken forward a radical new approach to improving transparency and good governance.

The old OAU’s decision in 1999 to suspend members where a democracy was overthrown was a critical move. Similarly this week at the Alexandria Library in Egypt I watched Africa honour its own as Mo Ibrahim and Kofi Annan awarded the first Ibrahim Award for African leadership to Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique. Mo reminded the African audience of politicians, officials, intellectuals, civil society activists and artists, that Gordon Brown, in unveiling the Nelson Mandela statue outside Parliament had described him – not Churchill or Roosevelt – as the Twentieth Century’s greatest leader. The mood in Alexandria was that Africa can do it.

Working for effective multilateralism
We can work for effective multilateralism which underpins and encourages good governance and stability in Africa. This means working with our African partners through the UN. It also means using our membership of the EU to support positive developments in governance, and critically engage on issues of concern.

And it also means engaging with China who can use their growing presence in Africa to promote sustainable development rather than renew levels of unsustainable debt. We have set up a bilateral dialogue on Africa with China – the FCO and DFID Africa Directors had a first set of talks in Beijing in the summer. I went there and gave a speech on China in Africa. We also have a dialogue with the Chinese through the EU.

Helping in times of conflict
And we can help not just when things are going well – in situations of conflict or tension, through the work of Embassies and High Commissions directly help influence and support African governments and key non-state actors – as they have been doing for example in Sudan, in Ethiopia, in the Great Lakes. We also are supporting African and UN peacekeepers and mediators.

We are working with close partners on Darfur, say, like the US and Europe but also now China and Egypt on Darfur. International contact groups on Somalia, Great Lakes and Sudan help formulate concerted international action and bring pressure to bear on parties to the conflicts in ways that we couldn’t do alone.

Supporting an effective civil society
We can support an effective civil society. Civil society, including a free press will be the most important check on governance standards. I’m struck that the progressive voice in Africa is in civil society.

Global partners
We have partners that are already global partners. In South Africa, Nigeria and other countries – such as Tanzania and Ghana in their recent Security Council stints – we have allies not just for African but global issues.

Africa is at a fork in the road. We want to help it make the right choices. If countries turn towards, democracy, towards accountable governance, with a strong civil society and a strong economy, African governments themselves will take the lion’s share of development and lift millions out of poverty. They will also become strong and valued partners in finding solutions to global challenges such as climate security or counter terrorism.

By widening our views beyond development we are seeing an appetite for reform in all aspects of African society. Now we must work to ensure this becomes irreversible.

I hope we can all seize this opportunity to build a progressive hard-headed foreign policy that makes sense here and in Africa as underpinning a great project in change management as Africa grapples with the opportunities and risks of change.

Speech given to the Royal African Society, London, 28 November 2007