Theresa May Is on Her First Visit to Africa as Prime Minister. This Is What She’s Focusing on.
As Brexit looms, May is exploring a renewed partnership between Britain and Africa.
Theresa May has just embarked on her first visit to Africa as prime minister — making her the first UK prime minister to visit sub-Saharan Africa since David Cameron attended Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013.
It’s all part of a push to deliver on a more global Britain, as Brexit looms.
And in her opening speech, in Cape Town, South Africa, May made an “unashamed” pledge to ensure the UK’s development aid spending benefits UK interests.
“I am unashamed about the need to ensure that our aid programme works for the UK,” she said on Tuesday. “So today I am committing that our development spending will not only combat extreme poverty, but at the same time tackle global challenges and support our own national interest.”
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“This will ensure that our investment in aid benefits us all, and is fully aligned with our wider national security priorities,” she said.
It means that the UK’s aid programme would extend its remit of tackling extreme poverty, and increasingly “support a major new crack down on illicit finance and organised crime” and counter “illegal migration, modern slavery, and trafficking in people,” reported the Guardian.
May recommitted to maintaining the aid budget at 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP) — which is enshrined in UK law — but said the spending had to have a wider political and security purpose, alongside tackling extreme poverty.
She said refocused development spending would look at “not just what we can do to help the most vulnerable people across the world and help lifting people out of poverty, but how can we ensure there is a long, longer term element by working with governments and others to ensure good government in stability in those fragile states.”
It sparked concerns from leading development charities, which warned that a refocus of development spending could shift priorities away from the mission to end extreme poverty.
“It’s an uncomfortable fact that extreme levels of poverty are increasing in the countries she is visiting despite recent economic growth,” said Mark Goldring, the chief executive of Oxfam GB. “It is therefore vital that the UK promotes growth that supports the world’s poorest first and foremost, and that UK trade interests don’t inadvertently increase inequality.”
As part of the drive towards a global Britain, May said she wants the UK to become the G7’s leading investor in Africa by 2022, specifically focusing on stability, growth, trade, prosperity, and job creation.
The central message of the trip is a renewed partnership between the UK and Africa, to “maximise shared opportunities and tackle common challenges in a continent that is growing at a rapid pace,” according to a government statement.
“Now is the time for the nations of the world to come together,” she said. “To co-operate. To view international competition as a process through which both sides can benefit. To work as partners, sharing our skills, our experience, and our resources to tackle the challenges we face, to contain and direct the forces shaping the world and to deliver prosperity, security, and success for all our people.”
On the 3-day trip, May will visit South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria — three countries that she sees “as key partners in achieving this goal.”
“With thriving democracies, strong international ties, including through the Commonwealth, and fast-changing economies, they are typical of 21st century Africa,” she said. “An Africa very different to the stereotypes that dominated previous centuries, and that some people still believe even today.”
May made her opening speech of the visit while in Cape Town, where she met President Cyril Ramaphosa, along with young people and business leaders.
May said Cape Town’s “recent past lends it a special resonance for many around the world” and that it “symbolises the transformation experienced by South Africa.”
She began her speech by referring to the lives of Nelson Mandela, from South Africa, and former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, from Ghana, who died earlier this month.
“The life stories of these two great men encapsulate the ebbs and flows of history,” she said. “They demonstrate just how much can be achieved over the course of a lifetime. But also that progress can never be taken for granted — the fight to secure our gains is constant.”
After talks with Ramaphosa, May reportedly described partnerships with African countries as an “important step” that will “provide the strong foundations on which we can build a closer trade and investment partnership in the future.”
May will next travel to Nigeria, where she’ll meet President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, and spend time meeting victims of modern slavery in Lagos.
Then, in Nairobi, Kenya — where she will become the first UK prime minister to go to Kenya for over 30 years — May will meet President Uhuru Kenyatta and see British soldiers training troops from Kenya and other African countries in techniques needed to identify and destroy improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
She will also commit to helping support the next generation of young Kenyans as they seek to develop and grow their country, according to a government statement.
“Africa stands right on the cusp of playing a transformative role in the global economy, and as longstanding partners this trip is a unique opportunity at a unique time for the UK to set out our ambition to work even closer together,” said May in her speech in Cape Town.
“A more prosperous, growing, and trading Africa is in all of our interests and its incredible potential will only be realised through a concerted partnership between governments, global institutions, and business,” she added.
“As we prepare to leave the European Union, now is the time for the UK to depend and strengthen its global partnerships,” she said. “This week I am looking forward to discussing how we can do that alongside Africa to help deliver important investment and jobs as well as continue to work together to maintain stability and security.”