[Steve McCabe in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered UK relations with West African countries.
Before diving into the substance of the debate, I bring Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The reason for the debate was to probe the Government on their reaction to the recent election in Ghana, but in my mind, and I suspect in the minds of other hon. Members, the debate has somewhat morphed into a veritable tour de force of pan-regional issues. I hope it will be an opportunity for Members to delve into specific countries and highlight specific thematic trends and general trajectories across west Africa and the UK’s relationship with that region.
I start with Ghana, which I had the privilege of visiting relatively recently, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) in his role as the prime ministerial trade envoy to Ghana. That was a very interesting time. It preceded the election and built on the relationship I already had with a number of Ghanaian politicians, including Hannah Tetteh, the ex-Foreign Minister, on whom I heap praise for her work across the region. I felt a measure of sadness about the transition of people with whom I was used to doing business, but equally I am optimistic about the new Government, which is perhaps ideologically slightly more closely aligned to the Conservative party.
The new President, President Nana, has a strong team but does not have the benefit of Short money, as we would have here. I would urge the Minister to see what we can do to help the structure of Government in Ghana and addressing that country’s challenges.
One challenge is that of customs, with goods going in and out. There was a horrendous amount of corruption throughout the 20 processes. I did jokingly ask the excellent high commissioner Jon Benjamin to put in the diplomatic telegram that I had suggested at a number of points taking the head of customs to one side and shooting him by way of example. Clearly, that is not something that I would literally encourage, but such was the need for shock therapy in Ghana. I hope the new Government of Ghana will take the opportunity to engage in that challenge.
I saw a number of good companies, including Blue Skies, which provides fruit to the UK. As well as praising my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor in his trade role, and praising the ex-Foreign Minister for Ghana, and Jon Benjamin the high commissioner, I thank the high commissioner here, Victor, who was very good in exposing issues around the region and introducing me to west African colleagues based in the United Kingdom. I wish him well in his future.
Perhaps the view from the Foreign Office and the Minister is that Morocco is part of north Africa, but it looks towards west Africa more and more. Only this January there was a Ghanaian-Moroccan economic summit in Accra to look at how they could do business. The King of Morocco has reached out to west Africa over a number of years for trading relationships. I note that Morocco was reported in the African press as having the numbers to formally enter the European Union—sorry, not the European Union! That was a Freudian slip. I meant to say that it has the numbers to enter the African Union, which I think would plug a gap that has far too long been an anomaly in the African Union, notwithstanding Western Sahara.
One of the advantages of the Minister’s new role is that, for the first time in recent times, north Africa has been linked up with the rest of Africa. Over the past 20 years, our UK Government ministerial response to Africa has been disjointed and spread, wrongly, across a number of Departments. Sometimes that was for good reason and sometimes it was just for historical reasons. The reunification in the Foreign Office of Africa is positive, and I will come on to describe other trends and changes that I would like to encourage in the Foreign Office in relation to the structure of Government. The role carried out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) for a number of years is probably the right role in terms of Government structure, with Ministers operating across the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office wholly dedicated to the African continent.
It would be odd not to mention in a debate on west Africa the topical issue of Gambia. I particularly praise the Minister for going down and visiting the crisis centre and also for the way in which he let everyone know about it. I compliment him on his Twitter feed, which showed a video of him giving a speech praising the excellent work that they do in the basement of the Foreign Office, looking after British citizens when there is an international crisis. That is excellent work and it is brilliant that he could visit and publicise it.
West Africa is not often in the popular press, but Gambia started to hit the Daily Mail and The Sun. I was uncomfortable with some of the things that I read and the characterisation of the new President as the “ex-Argos security man”. There was more than a whiff of colonial snobbery to that. No one has ever described me as the guy who used to stack the shelves at Bejam’s, which preceded Iceland, but I am indeed the same person. Simply because of the nature of people’s view of Africa, that is how they described the new President, an entrepreneur whom I am sure will make a great President. Gambia cannot go the way of Mali with security and migration, which the prime ministerial envoy to the Sahel so ably dealt with. That role has sadly not been refilled, but it is very difficult to find someone of the skillset of Stephen O’Brien.
I note that Nigeria is offering refuge to the retiring, or ousted, President of Gambia. That is difficult and somewhat distasteful, but it is the practical and effective thing to do. I ask Members to reflect on providing soft landings to other leaders as and when it comes about. By no stretch of the imagination can one consider Zimbabwe part of west Africa, but there are parallels, not only for Nigeria but for other countries, in relation to soft landings for exiting world leaders.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. While he is on the issue of the various nations in west Africa and the leaders and incoming leaders, does he agree that one of the best things we can do is encourage active participation by Governments in west Africa on corruption to try to ensure that those nation states and their citizens benefit from the assistance that we in the UK offer them, and that it is not siphoned off, as has been so often the case in many instances in Africa?
The point is well made. I had the privilege of being alongside David Cameron when he held the corruption summit with the recently elected President Buhari of Nigeria and others. Tackling corruption right from the top is very effective, but I think more of the Africa of opportunities rather than the Africa of downsides. Corruption is not an African issue—it is a global issue—but it does flair up more in specific countries.
There is a massive opportunity in Nigeria. I cannot remember whether Lagos is referred to as little London or Nigerians in London refer to London as little Lagos, but there is a strong connection, a strong diaspora connection and a massive opportunity. By 2050 a quarter of the world’s population will be in Africa, and a quarter of them in Nigeria. Clearly it would be foolish to ignore such a massive opportunity.
I commend the work of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Nigeria, in Lagos with the governor, on improving the ease of doing business, which is a catalyst for getting more money into the system. I also praise President Buhari for taking the tough decision to float the naira, which will be a catalyst for greater investment in the longer term and which removes a previous deterrent to investment.
Francophone Africa is anchored in west Africa. As a result, with the Commonwealth countries, we think more of southern and east Africa rather than west Africa as our natural bedfellows, but we should not do so. We can do more in west Africa. I have worked in Ivory Coast and travelled to places such as Senegal. We need a bespoke operation in francophone west Africa. The Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade need to co-ordinate to get people whose first language is French, or who are properly bilingual, and to have them travelling to Accra and Abidjan, rather than on a traditional trade mission that might have a stop in Ghana and then a francophone country. We need to be using that sort of bloc of people—the City is pretty full of very competent French bankers who are attracted to the United Kingdom and some of our values. Using some of those French bankers or City workers on transactions in French west Africa would be a good idea.
I mentioned that I used to work in Ivory Coast, which is a beacon of opportunity and growth in west Africa. President Ouattara is forward-thinking. I am particularly impressed that, despite the tendency to extend presidential terms that so blights Africa, he has said he will step down in 2020. Since I worked in Ivory Coast, there has been a long civil war, a recovery and a subsequent significant increase in GDP per capita.
The country is not without its problems. Only a few weeks ago there were what we might euphemistically describe as some problems—the head of the police and of the army were summarily sacked as a result—but stability was restored. Generally Ivory Coast is a beacon for growth in the area and shows what can be done. I have had the privilege of returning to Grand Bassam, where I used to go for a Sunday beer and lunch and where that terrible incident of tourists and Ivorians being killed coming in off the beach was. It was good to show solidarity and I encourage people to return to Grand Bassam and not to let terrorists get us down. People should go back there as a tourist and a business area.
In Guinea-Conakry, one of the biggest private sector investments, Simandou, was proposed, but almost immediately we found ourselves fighting Ebola, which I will come to later. I am interested in any update from the Minister on the project and, in particular, on Chinese involvement. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor has a degree of knowledge about that and, off the back of his work as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Ghana, the President of Guinea was keen on him playing a similar role in his country, but I will leave it to my hon. Friend to update us—I am not sure where that ended.
Continuing our tour of countries, I very much commend the counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics works in Senegal. I also commend to British business the opportunities as the airport moves out of the capital—that big tract of prime land is available for development, commercialisation and businesses to generate tax that will grow the country out of poverty.
In a bizarre segue from Senegal, I will talk briefly about the soft power of the United Kingdom. Go anywhere and people are very interested in, first, the Queen, then premiership football and, tailing off, lots of other things depending on their view of the United Kingdom. There is a battle for influence in Africa and, interestingly, it is not only French and English but, for example, American—the National Basketball Association has just set up a college in Senegal. All those things are soft power, and I encourage the Minister to look even more than we have done previously with the British Council and the premier league at how we project British values, whether through football, the monarchy or business. Other countries including America are certainly doing those things.
I am interested in the role of the Economic Community of West African States and in an update on its activities. I have always found that the region is a stronger building block than the African Union as a whole, but it will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of days at the African Union meeting, presumably in Addis, where I very hope that Amina Mohamed, who was the Kenyan Foreign Minister, will get elected. I am sure Her Majesty’s Government would not want to take a proactive position and will work with whomever replaces Madam Dlamini-Zuma, but if Amina Mohamed wins the election, it would be very positive for the African Union building out and going forward.
We need to do much more business. Only yesterday I was with a group of African businessmen and an excellent prospective Foreign Office prosperity team. The question was asked: how well are the British Government doing at connecting with business? I was quite self-critical and said that we were doing about four out of 10. Of the others, most people were around six or seven out of 10, but I said—I will use this language, although I am not sure whether it is orderly—that our performance historically had been pretty crap. Compared with other countries and their interaction, I feel that we are not very good. In summarising, one ex-Foreign Office official—bless him—said that he appreciated my comments, and that I was “much less crap” than many of the other Ministers. I am sure he was not referring to the Minister present today, but was making an historical reference. I was hoping for something more complimentary from former colleagues, but there we go. We take praise where we can find it.
Understanding the Brexit deal for Africa and looking at a post-Brexit economic partnership arena, Brexit might be an opportunity to look towards a continental free trade agreement in the African continent. I was positive about and pushed EPAs, or economic partnership agreements, as a liberalisation of trade in Africa and with the European Union, but Carlos Lopes previously of the United Nations and now of the AU was critical of my position, because he felt, rather as we felt that Britain should not just look towards the European Union, that Africa should not be focused on dividing itself into four blocs that refer back to the European Union, which is a relatively stagnant body for future trade.
I am interested in what we can do to leverage bilateral negotiations with African countries to allow them to buy into trading with one another. I do not know whether it is even possible under World Trade Organisation rules for lesser developed countries to trade quite freely. There are some significant middle-income countries, but I am not quite sure whether we can get one deal that fits all or how things would happen.
I am fascinated to find out more about the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting in February or March, which could be really good for building blocs for Brexit. We need a Commonwealth strategy, a non-Commonwealth strategy and a strategy for the Department for International Development and the countries in which it operates.
I said I would mention Ebola. I do not want Ebola to fall off the table, as it were. I compliment HMG on what they did in Sierra Leone. One of my proudest moments in the Foreign Office was handing out Ebola medals, including to a lady who works in my private office, Rachel Chetham. She had gone to Sierra Leone and put herself in harm’s way to help those people. I was very proud of what she did specifically and what the Foreign Office and HMG did overall.
Looking back on the Ebola crisis, we should learn some lessons. In that one year of crisis alone the international community spent 15 times more than had been spent in all three of the Ebola countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the previous 15 years. If we can invest early in the resilience of the health system, that would be incredibly positive. That point was made to me by Results UK about Ebola.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He makes a good point about what lessons can be learned. We should all be proud of how the Foreign Office, the Government and the national health service responded to the Ebola crisis and the support they provided. In that context, does he believe that there are opportunities to forge stronger links between the NHS, and indeed our universities and medical schools, and many west African countries?
I have great respect for my hon. Friend’s views on health, and he hits the nail on the head. It is ludicrous for DFID to promote health when there is vast expertise in the Department of Health that we should leverage. The same goes for the Department for Education. We can do a lot more. We must also support parliamentarians. I recently met the Sierra Leonean Select Committee on health through the good offices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It was clear that it was not getting the leverage in its Parliament to move things forward and propose changes.
I have recently started engaging on tuberculosis, which I had really associated only with being a by-product of HIV. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 800,000 people in west Africa fell ill with TB in 2015, and nearly 300,000 people died. The mortality rate in west Africa for TB is around 36%, which is double the global average. I am keen to work with the Global TB Caucus, and I encourage other hon. Members to do so. Parliamentarians can play a great part in dealing with TB, and that caucus mobilises parliamentarians from across Africa. Will the Minister see whether his good offices in west Africa—ambassadors and high commissioners—can be used alongside the Global TB Caucus to encourage parliamentarians of those nation states to get more involved and collectively work with us to deal with this issue?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning TB, which is absolutely vital. Does he agree that tremendous progress has been made in west Africa in the past 15 years in reducing both the incidence of malaria and mortality from it, not least given the support from DFID and the UK Government more generally? There is a real issue in the Sahel with intermittent malaria, which DFID is trying to tackle. As Nigeria is one of the two countries in the world where malaria is most prevalent, it is vital that we continue that support.
My hon. Friend has a great reputation on those issues and on international development more generally. He is entirely right gently to reprimand me and say that we must look at the successes as well as the problems. The successes show that the aid budget works and that we should do more of it—they do not show that there are so many problems even after we have done all that work. Aid works and we should do more of it.
I turn to the perennial subject of Donald Trump—he pervades even a debate about west Africa. Will the Prime Minister raise the subject of Africa when she meets Donald Trump? I think she should. We should find out his views about Africa and aid in Africa. We have heard his views about family planning, and there may be a vacuum that the UK and other countries will need to step into, but what is his view of AFRICOM, the US’s African command? What is his view about stepping in if things deteriorate in places such as Burundi, where the Americans would have been well placed to offer support if regional forces did not? Will the Americans be prepared to step up? What discussions has the Minister had with his French and American counterparts about the global effort if there is a need to surge forces into Africa?
There were many places that I did not get to visit. I encourage the Minister to travel the road less trodden and visit the likes of Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. I wish I had gone to Gambia. If one has visited some of those smaller countries, when things kick off—for want of a better word—and there is a problem, one sometimes has a rough idea and can pick up the phone and speak to people. The UK Government’s understanding, knowledge and penetration of Africa means that they are able to do that.
I have taken far too long—I apologise to Members—but in summary, I ask the Minister to do three things: help Nana in Ghana, look to set up a Francophone group of businesspeople, and lobby for structure of government changes so that Africa is better represented by HMG here in the United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) on securing the debate and thank him for raising many important issues, on which I hope to comment.
The Department for International Development currently spends nearly £307 million in Nigeria, making it DFID’s third largest country project budget. I had the pleasure of visiting Nigeria in 2015 with the International Development Committee to see the fantastic work that is being undertaken there, particularly on girls’ education. That visit followed the distressing abduction of the Chibok girls, which people around the world heard about and which left an indelible impression on me as a parent of two girls. Parents sent their children to school one day and then got the news that they had been abducted, purely because they valued education—and education for girls. That must have been a traumatic experience for anyone affected. That trauma continues to this day, as most of the girls remain missing. I met the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaigners who campaign every single day outside the Nigerian Parliament for those girls’ return. We also met Government officials who have pledged to return the girls and fight Boko Haram’s extremism with all that they have. Will the Minister continue to assist with that? We must never let prevail extremists who wish to suppress women and girls, their education and their liberty.
I read with absolute disgust on Monday that Boko Haram has taken to sending female suicide bombers into Government and civilian territory with infants strapped to their backs. Such atrocities and such a lack of concern for human beings—especially the children who are sent to their deaths—are barely understandable. What are the UK Government doing to counter extremism and support the Government of Nigeria in dealing with Boko Haram? It is also important that DFID provides all the support it can to help the girls who are returned to reintegrate. I have read reports in newspapers that girls who have returned may be being stigmatised and ostracised by local communities, but given all that they have been through, they need all the support they can get.
On transparency, as a member of the International Development Committee, I believe that DFID must apply stringent criteria to its aid. Corruption has been rife right to the top of the Nigerian Government. I commend President Buhari for his stance that no one should be above the law, and for investing in anti-corruption measures. What are the United Kingdom Government doing to support him? Jobs and livelihoods will be extremely important in both countering extremism and providing alternative opportunities and hope for a population that has seen great inequity for as long as it can remember. When I was in Nigeria, people were reluctant to take money from me via credit or debit card, even at the airport. The society appears to be cash based, and little of that cash is accounted for. I therefore expect that little cash makes its way into the Government’s coffers. Helping Nigeria to integrate technology for mobile phone transfers and banking will be an important step forward in making cash count for the whole of its society and helping tax collection initiatives.
I also briefly visited Senegal and was impressed by the British industry there. I met representatives from Cairn Energy, a Scottish energy company that has invested in drilling for oil there. I believe there are important trade opportunities for the UK across Africa, but I would like to see that being sustainable trade that involves all strands of society and that offers jobs to local people, once again reducing inequality. I would be pleased to hear an update from the Minister on trade relations—explicitly on sustainable trade, and how that will complement DFID’s strategy to reduce poverty.
I also believe it is important to briefly mention the Committee’s work on the Ebola crisis. I commend all of those involved during the crisis for their work, including Pauline Cafferkey—a nurse who is based locally to me. The Committee heard evidence last year that one of the lessons to be learned from that crisis was the lack of ability to act swiftly enough on the ground by engaging with small, community-based interventions at the frontline. Further work must be done to enable DFID to do that.
The Committee also heard evidence that HIV/AIDS continues to be endemic in Africa, and we know it is one of the biggest killers of adolescents. An HIV/AIDS strategy is required, and I was extremely disheartened to learn that DFID does not currently have one. Those are some of the issues that I believe we must continue to raise and take forward. The Government are perhaps not ready to develop their own strategy across Africa, meaning that the withdrawal of aid money from middle-income countries is a pertinent issue that should be looked at across Government. If we withdraw too quickly, there is a real concern that we may not be able to meet our global goal of eradicating HIV/AIDS by 2030.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful and important point on how Government funding is allocated in order to provide support for countries across Africa. It is important that that funding does not dry up before good results are able to embed themselves and last in perpetuity. That is why we have introduced the prosperity fund, which allows us to move away from DFID funding per se—which is more humanitarian-focused—to what can actually help to build economies and support people in the longer term.
I thank the Minister for that helpful intervention; I am pleased to hear it. As I say, I believe that jobs, livelihoods and trade will provide an excellent way forward for people by giving them alternative opportunities, thereby driving them away from extremism in their local areas. However, DFID’s work should include developing an HIV/AIDS strategy. The Government should take that seriously, because great strides have been made on that issue, and I would not like to see transmission rates increase as we withdraw from middle-income countries that are not ready to develop their own policies.
There is a balance of aid work, sustainability, jobs and livelihoods and trade opportunities across west Africa. It would be helpful to hear an update from the Minister, and I look forward to his giving one.
I am delighted to be able to make a short contribution to the debate. I will primarily focus on Ghana, as I am the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to that country. Many people need to be thanked for both the development that has taken place in Ghana and the development that is about to.
First, I thank the outgoing Africa Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), for calling the debate, for the fantastic work he did there, and for the great time that we had when we were last in Ghana together. His legacy lives on among the Ghanaians, and his contribution is very much valued. Secondly, I thank the high commissioner, Jon Benjamin, and the staff at the high commission in Ghana. The tremendous team includes Gavin Cook, Sharon Ganney, Elorm, Selasi and many others. They are an interactive and energetic team, and they prepare the ground very well for when Ministers visit and for when I arrive to try to negotiate trade arrangements.
Thirdly, I thank the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people in general. There is a great presence from companies such as Subsea 7 and all sorts of oil and gas exploration companies. All the expertise in Aberdeen and other parts of Scotland is certainly bearing fruit in Ghana, in helping in the oil extraction and transportation industries and in improving the expertise and the jobs available to Ghanaians. Fourthly, I thank the Minister, who is a long-time friend of mine, not only for his dedication to his role as Minister for Africa—I know it is now a very broad role and includes parts of the middle east—but for joining us on a visit in the not-too-distant future for the 60th anniversary of Ghanaian independence.
Fifthly, I thank not only the current Government but previous Governments for the support they have given to Ghana, in particular, over the years. Some £80 million from DFID was given in the last year, with plenty earmarked for the current year. The Government have also provided support for Ghana’s regulatory regime and governance. As the Minister mentioned, the prosperity fund is a real opportunity not only to provide aid and support to Ghanaians in difficulty and for issues that we in the United Kingdom care about, but to ensure that Ghanaians are not just dependent on aid—trade helps to lift all boats.
Sixthly, I have to thank British businesses. We have £1.3 billion of international trade with Ghana, as of a year or two ago, of which half is contributed by UK companies, including Scottish companies, that have taken the step of investing and working in Ghana. That brings not only foreign exchange and benefits to UK businesses, but expertise, benefits and employment to Ghanaian citizens. In many ways, it is those trading and business relationships that really make the difference in developing nations.
Finally, I have to thank the Ghanaian people. There has just been a peaceful transition of power in Ghana, which was one of many consecutive peaceful transitions. The outgoing President Mahama needs to be thanked for gracefully accepting defeat at the election and, above all, Nana Akufo-Addo needs to be thanked for his magnanimous victory. He made an immediate commitment in his first speech to ensuring that opaque business practices—corruption—are brought under control, which bodes very well for our relationship in the years to come.
However, there is no doubt that Ghana—and the whole of west Africa—faces challenges, including opaque business practices; a lack of transparency in the tax and investment regimes; and sometimes a lack of consistency in the application of the law across the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East pointed out, there are huge challenges around customs. If the first experience of a business, or a country such as the United Kingdom, coming into Ghana or west Africa involves huge challenges in just getting its goods and services through the port, it can act as a massive deterrent. I am glad that the incoming Administration will focus on resolving that. There is also an issue if one cannot be confident of one’s intellectual property rights or ownership rights of land. That has been a challenge in Ghana, and I hope it will be tackled, with some support from the UK Government, in the not-too-distant future.
I do not want to be down in this debate; I actually smile when I think about the Ghanaian election result. A peaceful transition of power—not even a wobble—in an African state is a tremendous achievement. The chair of the Electoral Commission of Ghana must be thanked for declaring the result as soon as it became clear, as must all participating parties. The UK played a role in helping to make sure that the election ran smoothly, and all of the international observers during the transition should also be thanked.
Let us look at the opportunities. There is no doubt that a stable, democratic set-up creates business stability, and an environment in which UK and other overseas businesses are prepared to trade, with the certainty that no sudden change in leadership will occur. So we have huge opportunities on national security and opportunities to continue to work with the Ghanaian people on visa fraud and issues that relate to visas. We also have an opportunity to support Ghana in its transition to becoming a more accountable state for its people and more transparent and visible in its business practices and institutions. Above all, we have a huge opportunity—putting our selfish hat on—to massively boost and increase our trade with Ghana.
Ghanaians are completely open to us. They are English-speaking. They have the same language and the same common law legal system. They are anglophiles. Almost every Ghanaian President has been educated in and has strong connections with Britain. It was very clear from the incoming President’s inaugural speech that he fully intends to work with the United Kingdom on trade. Furthermore, we were pretty much the only country to have an audience with the President on his first day in office. That says a lot about the relationship and good will that we enjoy between our countries and it says a lot about the opportunities in Ghana and the certainty with which British companies can operate there.
UK Export Finance made its first direct loan to GE Oil & Gas for 100 MW of electricity generation. Lonrho in the UK has a major interest in the Atuabo free port. If the free port proceeds, which I very much hope it does—I am pushing for it—it will be one of the most magnificent, effective and efficient free ports in the whole of Africa. It can revolutionise how the whole of west Africa works, including the way in which goods and services are accessed and oil and gas transported.
We have huge interests in hospitals, but I want to highlight one area: professional services. Often in Ghana there may be a lack of capital to invest in partnerships in Ghanaian businesses and also sometimes a lack of the professional expertise that is required for Ghanaians to help themselves by starting their own businesses and making a success of them. That is where Britain comes into play, because we have tremendous experience in financial technology services and in banking, professional, legal, consulting, mining and bridge-building services. We are well placed to assist Ghana in its development in the new dawn of its existence. Also, we could assist ourselves in terms of our export goals and the connections we wish to make around the world.
It strikes me that Ghana is a prime opportunity for the United Kingdom’s new outward-looking international profile, which looks to be integrated with the rest of the world as we begin to adapt our relationship with the European Union. Ghana should be right at the top of the list when it comes to looking at free trade arrangements. There is an open door there. The Ghanaian people are very comfortable with Britain: so comfortable that perhaps up to 500,000 of the Ghanaian diaspora are British citizens now. There is a depth of good will on which to draw between the two nations.
When I was appointed as the trade envoy to Ghana by the Prime Minster, I was delighted because I feel I embody the relationship with Ghana. Having a father from Ghana and a mother from Britain, it is as though our relationship is embodied within my very soul. We have a great opportunity to really get ahead in striking free trade arrangements and working out our new relationships with developing nations once we are free of the customs union and European Union strictures.
I have visited many other parts of west Africa, including Guinea, and I will make an observation to back up what my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East has said. We often say that the francophone countries, the ex-French colonies, play second fiddle when it comes to dealing with the United Kingdom. From my experience of speaking to the President of Guinea and several other leaders in west Africa, it is exactly the opposite. We have a huge opportunity with French-speaking countries. Let me put it this way. Their detachment from the colonial past with France means that they are very keen to get rid of that history and to join in the English-speaking world, the anglosphere. So I put it to the Minister that we should make efforts to reach out to ex-French colonies across Africa because they are so keen to ensure that they create that relationship with the United Kingdom. They recognise that English is the international language of business and they really want to connect with us. Often in my conversations—quite unguarded among some African leaders—many of them are clear that they want to make English their official language. They get upset when ministerial visits are paid to English-speaking African countries and French-speaking countries often play second fiddle. So there is a huge opportunity there as well to form strong and deep connections with former French colonies.
There are also opportunities in terms of charitable activities and skills, training and transfers to Ghana and other parts of west Africa. A fantastic organisation called Field Ready sets up schemes in technical colleges and universities in Africa, primarily in Ghana, through which 10, 20 or 30 highly skilled Ghanaian students are given placements in the oil and gas industry. Not only are they thankful and warm towards the United Kingdom when they take up the placements, but they ensure a deep well of good will on which to draw in future. Putting down indigenous roots where students and young people are friendly with the United Kingdom in some of the most important industries in which we operate, particularly the oil and gas industry in Scotland, is a really solid part of providing not aid, but trade, skills and training that enable Ghanaians to lift their own living standards with our support.
I thank the Minister for agreeing to come to Ghana in the not-too-distant future for the 60th anniversary. I have two asks: please let us put Ghana and west African states at the top of the free trade agenda in negotiations, and let us welcome those nations as proper partners and allies in the fight against terror and in the pursuit of national security. Let us welcome them as equals in our outlook on the world, which now recognises that it is trade and business that lift all the boats, not just aid. Finally, the Ghanaian President has said he does not want Ghana to be seen as an aid recipient. He wants it to be seen as a trade recipient, and that is something we must focus on.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) on presenting an excellent debate for us all to participate in. Excellent speeches have already been made. It is great to make a contribution, especially in the light of my role as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief. As the Minister and shadow Minister know, I take a human and moral standpoint when it comes to foreign aid, especially when it comes to religious freedom and religious liberties, issues that are regularly in my postbag in my constituency. Other Members I have spoken to tell me the same.
It is well documented that UK relations with west African countries are different with each individual country. Our influence waxes and wanes, so policies and aid vary according to the needs of the people who live there. As different and multicultural as they are, they all have one thing in common: they rely on our aid, support and assistance. We must ask ourselves whether we are effectively exerting our influence to bring substantial and lasting change to those nations, or simply handing out plasters in a situation that calls for surgery at the highest level.
Hon. Members have asked how our foreign aid will be affected by Brexit. How will it impact on our efforts with economic development and clean water? Some of the churches in my constituency of Strangford are directly involved in such aid. How will Brexit impact on stability in west Africa? How much protection and assistance will the Christian Church get from the UK Government in countries threatened with Islamic extremism and persecution?
One of the main west African recipients of aid in the financial year 2016-17 is Nigeria, which is getting some £306 million. It has a population of 160 million, more than 100 million of whom live on less than £1 a day. The main aims of our Government are to provide help with better services—education and health care—and we do some excellent work. The Library background information outlines some of what we do. Another aim is the establishment of an enabling Government who tackle corruption and enhance transparency and accountability. Corruption is a key issue, to which the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East referred. How many of the aims have not been reached? Recently UNICEF researchers and workers in northern Nigeria have spoken of the worst situation of hunger in the world. We cannot ignore that.
More than 3 million people in the region have been forced out of their homes, and aid agencies can reach many of the refugee camps only by helicopter. Oxfam workers accuse the army of doing nothing instead of securing access roads for aid agencies. As to Ministry of Defence and British forces assistance to the Nigerian army, we clearly have a commitment through the MOD and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The RAF regiment is also there assisting the army in training. However, we must ask why the roads are not being cleared and made accessible for aid. If 3 million people are starving, why is the Nigerian army not doing what it is tasked to do, and what it has been trained to do by our Army? Are we doing enough to provide for the people there? Is there any way to get the Nigerian Government to do more?
There have been small successes since Muhammadu Buhari became president in 2015, with Boko Haram being pushed back from occupied territories in northern parts, but despite his intention to fight Boko Haram, he has seemed reluctant to respond to continued violence against the Christian population in the middle belt of Nigeria. In October more than 40 people were massacred in cold blood by Fulani herdsmen, for no other reason than that they were Christians. There is something seriously wrong when those things become small print in the papers, or we do not know about them at all. What advice or assistance has the Minister been able to give Nigeria with a view to helping our brethren? If he is not able to outline that in his response, I should be more than happy to have a letter from him to confirm that. It pains me as a Christian to hear that more than 12,000 Christians have been murdered, and more than 2,000 churches destroyed, by Islamic terrorism. It appears that little has been done to influence Nigeria by our Government or international bodies. The question must be asked: what are we doing? Is it enough, and are we doing it in the right way? Is our influence starting to take effect?
Islamic terrorism is not confined to Nigeria. There have been instances in other west African countries, such as Mali. Like other west African states, it has a poor standard of living, with 50% of its people living on less than £1.50 a day. To put that in perspective, that is less than we would unthinkingly spend on a cup of coffee. We do not give as much funding to Mali, but there is a need for that, especially given the threat of Islamic extremism. The 2012 Tuareg rebellion in the north severely weakened civil liberties and restricted the political rights of many people in the country. After the joint French and Malian military intervention the country has looked more stable; however, the small Christian population is still living in fear in Mali. What are we doing to assist them and give them succour?
We can see at first hand the destruction and the violent nature of radical Islam. Last week a bomb attack by al-Qaeda in the city of Gao killed 77 people and injured hundreds more. Were Members aware of that? It is a reflection on us all—including myself—if we do not know about such things taking place, and about what is happening in Mali. As to its relationship with France, will there now be a joint effort to support France in ridding Mali of al-Qaeda influence and stabilising the country?
I want to congratulate the aid workers, charities, churches, doctors and nurses and everyone involved in making Sierra Leone Ebola-free as of January 2016. What good news that was, and what a response there was from our Government as part of the plan. The country has a population of only 5.75 million, and more than half of the people live on less than £1.50 a day. With the state completely ravaged by Ebola, we know that a lot of work is needed to begin to get the country back on its feet socially and financially. As the Minister knows, British Army personnel have been there, as have aid workers; and we have given direct assistance. The Library note explains what has been done practically, and it is good news.
Our aim is to improve the education system, especially by giving more encouragement to girls, children with disabilities and the most marginalised in society; to support the private sector, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises—again in practical ways; and to help to tackle corruption through the innovative “pay no bribe” programme. Such practical changes are good steps forward. However, in the past week the news has been released that millions of dollars in funds to fight the Ebola virus have not been accounted for. Where did that money go? I would like to know what the Government have done about requesting an independent inquiry into where the funds we allocated have gone. How many lives could have been saved with the money that went missing? We need to get feet on the ground to source the misappropriated money, and help the relevant state institutions to hold those who were involved to account.
I want to mention the question of Yahya Jammeh, the former leader of Gambia—whose name probably sounds wrong pronounced in my Ulster Scots accent. Although he has finally been disposed of—boy, is that good news—after losing the election to Adama Barrow, I believe that there should be an international investigation into the war crimes of Mr Jammeh. After 22 years of holding office he has left the country in controversial circumstances, with accusations of embezzling some £8.8 million, which equates to what the country requires to pay for the civil service for a year. The hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) said that he has gone to Nigeria, although I am not sure whether that is true.
Last week I met some London-based members of the United Democratic party of Gambia. They were desperately worried about what would happen: would the inauguration go ahead; would the new president be able to come to Gambia at all? They said they expected some bloodshed, but there was not any. We should pay tribute to African leaders, people and politicians, for sorting things out for themselves. Often other countries come into such situations; yes, they do it to help, but the situation is seen as one where the people cannot do it themselves. However, in this case they have done it themselves. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in wishing them all the best for a peaceful transition to democracy?
Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady and I think that everyone in the House would subscribe to the change that has taken place; it is tremendously good news that Gambians did that themselves.
Mr Jammeh has been accused of human rights abuses such as torture, disappearances, unlawful imprisonments and massacres, and it seems that he thinks he can get off by disappearing. I plead with the Government to join forces with the UN and hold Mr Jammeh accountable for his crimes. The Economic Community of West African States has been a successful project to improve the finances and infrastructure of west African countries. As a developed state we need to encourage and develop ECOWAS so that in the future it can develop those countries; they can then lead the way for other African states, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) said in her intervention.
I hope that in response to today’s debate the Government will see the need not only to protect the people of west Africa from radical Islam but to give them the impetus to develop their nations socially, financially and politically. It will be a positive move forward if we can engender that; if we can enable them to do it, and encourage them. Those nations can then give themselves the future they want and deserve. The old adage applies, about giving a man a fish or a net. I want to be sure that we are providing nets—I am sure that the Minister will respond that we are—and that they are being used to provide a future for the people of the countries in question rather than hammocks for a corrupt leadership. Let us hope that we can make that change.
We must do what we can, and ensure that what we do is used for the correct purpose. I believe that the FCO, embassies and ambassadors, and the Minister in particular, have a major role to play, and that that has a bearing on the influence of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and on our role in effecting change in the western region of Africa. It has been a pleasure to speak in the debate; it was an opportunity to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) on securing this timely and consensual debate, which is perhaps appropriate on Burns night when we celebrate Scotland’s great humanitarian. He was an opponent of the slave trade on the west coast of Africa, which was an historic centre of that trade. In “The Slave’s Lament”, he wrote:
“It was in sweet Senegal that my foes did me enthral,
For the lands of Virginia—ginia, O:
Torn from that lovely shore and must never see it more;
And alas! I am weary, weary O.”
Fortunately, and to the benefit of the House, I would be ruled out of order if I attempted to sing.
My point is that the slave in Burns’s poem had no choice but to be weary. On the other hand, we have to choose not to be, seize ourselves of the injustices that still exist in that part of the world and do what we can to challenge them. As the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East said, that region does not always get the attention it deserves for a range of historical reasons, so it is good that we have had this opportunity. As has happened in other recent debates about other regions of Africa, the definition always stretches a little when Members want to mention specific countries. I want to reflect on some of the countries that have been mentioned and then some of the regional challenges and opportunities that the Government can respond to.
Ghana was the clear focus of the hon. Members for Rochford and Southend East and for Windsor (Adam Afriyie). Like everyone else, we welcomed the peaceful transition of power and congratulate President Nana Akufo-Addo on his election and John Mahama on standing down. There is sometimes an issue across the continent with big-man politics, but the real measure of a man in such situations should be the willingness to accept the result of a democratic election and to hand over the baton with good grace.
I always associate Ghana with fair trade chocolate. Trade, customs and so on were raised by both hon. Gentlemen and the countries’ economic potential came through clearly in their speeches. Free trade is important and, hopefully, will allow countries to become less dependent on aid, but free trade must also be fair trade; the principles behind the fair trade movement are exceptionally important.
The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East touched on Morocco and its access to the African Union. I may say a bit more about the AU and the Côte d’Ivoire as a beacon for growth.
Gambia has been in the news a lot recently, as we heard from all hon. Members. It was a bit of a rollercoaster: when I first saw that this debate had been scheduled, I thought we would be calling for action and asking what we could do, but there now seems to have been a peaceful transition. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) said, people are experiencing some hope, although there are concerns about Jammeh’s legacy, not least the reported theft of cash and goods.
The situation in Nigeria was touched on powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). The size of the country and its challenges are vast, but so too are the opportunities. The ongoing instability in the north-east and the continuing threats from Boko Haram need to be addressed in any way we can. The “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign continues after two years.
I pay tribute to all the expat and diaspora communities from west Africa that enrich and enliven so many of our cities and towns, not least in Glasgow. There is a large contingent of Nigerian priests in Glasgow; I remember attending a service to pray for girls who had been kidnapped. Every name was read out by Father Thaddeus Umaru, who was one of my parish priests at the time. It was incredibly moving, and to think that those girls are still imprisoned and displaced is dreadfully worrying.
Displacement continues across the country. Over 2 million people have been displaced; the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about the level of hunger. That shows the challenge to middle income countries and the real inequalities that can exist, which is why making sure the appropriate support is provided in a range of different ways, whether through the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or different sorts of trade, is important.
That brings me to issues ranging across the whole region and the continent as a whole. The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) touched on health in his intervention and the former Minister, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), raised the challenge of TB, malaria and other neglected diseases.
In the transition to middle income status, Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are all listed by the World Bank as lower middle income countries, but that is perhaps the most precarious situation because of the risk of backsliding. That is why the role for regional co-operation is so important. Both the regional blocs and ECOWAS, as has been mentioned a couple of times, have played important roles in intervening in the different instabilities we have heard about.
The African Union as a whole is where there may be a bit of divergence because we have taken quite a step by choosing not to be part of the European Union and that diplomatic bloc. I am not sure quite what message that sends out. We must be sure that regional bodies do not encourage countries sometimes to hold their neighbours to a slightly higher standard than they want. It would be interesting to hear some of the Minister’s reflections on that. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East was right to talk about the importance of the UK’s diplomatic influence and the various different kinds of soft power.
DFID’s role was discussed recently in a debate in the main Chamber about the Great Lakes region; I was pleased to hear the Minister commit so strongly to the 0.7% target. It is important to reiterate that at every opportunity. It is ultimately in our own interests to halt flows of people. If we want to improve stability in these countries, it makes sense to invest in stability and civil society. The hon. Member for Strangford has a debate here tomorrow on civil society, when we can explore some of the issues in more detail.
Finally, the impact of Brexit and trade deals have been a big focus of the debate and are important. As I said at the beginning, they must be fair trade deals as well as free trade deals. It is important that any deals reflect the range of human rights commitments that the UK and, hopefully, many of these countries are signed up to and that they take account of climate change and emissions reduction.
When preparing for the debate, I read an interesting piece about regional co-operation to reduce the harmful emissions of diesel that is sold into many west African countries. Action is being taken to tackle climate change, but we must also tackle the pollution of air quality and the impact on health on many people’s day-to-day lives. Again, it is encouraging to see such developments. I hope the Government will commit to continuing to take them forward.
The slave in Burns’s lament had no choice but to be weary, but we cannot allow ourselves to be. Much of the situation in west Africa and the continent is the result not just of historical decisions, but of present day ones made in this part of the world. If we can continue to show the compassion and solidarity that Burns promoted, perhaps there will be less lamenting and more cause for celebration the world over.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) for raising the debate, and for his excellent and wide-ranging introduction to the subject. I know this area is of great interest to him, given his previous role in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and to sum up in this debate, which has covered a wide range of issues. We have spoken about DFID and our aid, notably mentioned by the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). We have talked about healthcare, touching on malaria, TB and Ebola. We have also discussed elections, democracy, Governments and corruption. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East—or, as I will always think of him now, the guy who stocked the shelves at Bejam—spoke at length about the various elections, notably the successful election in Gambia. I will move on to discuss that country. We also had an excellent talk on business and trade, with specific reference to Ghana, from the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie). I look forward to hearing the Minister’s responses to those discussions.
A major issue in the region of west Africa is terrorism, which some hon. Members touched on. West Africa has seen a rise in radical activity. Boko Haram is seen as the biggest threat to security and peace in the region—mainly in the Lake Chad Basin region, including Nigeria and Niger, although its presence has recently reached into Senegal. Boko Haram is estimated to be linked to more than 150 deaths from direct violent activity since the beginning of 2016. It has also contributed to a rise in food insecurity, with threats to the security of agricultural land and livelihoods, displacement of farmers and reduced productivity.
The United Nations reported only last month that 400,000 children were on the brink of starvation owing to Boko Haram’s actions. Even worse, it said that 75,000 of them could die from hunger within the next few months. Last week, the United Nations called on
“the international community to immediately support the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance”.
The region also has an al-Qaeda presence in the Islamic Maghreb. It launched an attack in Mali last November and attacks in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast just this month.
Earlier this month, the Secretary of State for Defence announced the training of UK armed forces alongside Sierra Leonean troops. That is in addition to the more than 350 British troops deployed to Nigeria in 2016 to train Nigerian armed forces fighting Boko Haram. Are the Government in further talks with west African nations to deploy troops in that region? If so, could the Minister tell us where and how many?
Other factors, outside terrorism, have cost thousands of lives in previous years. The region’s resilience was tested during the outbreak of Ebola that began in 2013. The Ebola virus swept across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, claiming tens of thousands of lives. That could have been a pandemic, but the international community’s action and contributions, including £427 million provided by the UK, stopped the escalation.
I recently visited Sierra Leone myself and saw a country that was struggling, although it was declared Ebola-free on 17 March 2016. I must praise the UK Government’s response and contribution to helping to ensure that that was possible. That highlights the importance of retaining our commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on aid every year and our substantial contribution to the European development fund. Can the Minister outline whether the UK will contribute an amount equivalent to that which we currently give the region through the EDF once we have left the European Union?
Given the severity of a disease such as Ebola and the pace at which it can spread, I want to press the Minister on what the Government have learned from the Ebola crisis. What additional measures and apparatus do the Government need to put in place so that, should another outbreak like that occur, they would be better equipped to deal with the emergency?
Last week, as many hon. Members have said, President Adama Barrow was sworn in as President of Gambia. I am sure that the whole House welcomes his succession. Yesterday, we also welcomed his vice-president, Fatoumata Tambajang, to her role in the new Administration. I am pleased to see a woman in such an important role. However, it seems that objections are now being raised because Fatoumata is 67 years old. Apparently, in Gambia, that is two years over the legal maximum for serving in the post. I can only say that it is fortunate for us in the UK that we do not have such a rule here—we would be having several by-elections.
There are obviously issues still to be resolved in Gambia, but what has just happened there has been seen as a huge success story for Africa, and it could be a turning point for Gambia itself. This is the first time since becoming independent, which happened only in 1965, that Gambia has changed its Government through the election system. That continues on from successful and peaceful elections and the transfer of power in Ghana last December and in Nigeria and Burkina Faso in 2015, showing progress and hope for democracies across the continent.
In Gambia, not only has democracy prevailed but the intervention of neighbouring and international organisations has helped to install President Barrow in high office. The African Union, historically hesitant to criticise its own members on human rights issues and abuses, worked tirelessly, hand in hand with the Economic Community of West African States, to ensure that the election results were upheld. Both the AU and ECOWAS are to be commended for their diplomatic handling of the situation and the eventual military commitment and pressure to force the removal of Yahya Jammeh.
The work of the UN, its Security Council, the United States, the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation has also played an integral role in condemning the former President to exile. Jammeh was a dictator: he had ruled, repressed and brutalised his people for 22 years, after seizing power in a military coup in 1994. His time in power saw constant human rights abuses, including thousands of forced disappearances, and arbitrary detention and torture for any political dissenters. However, the time for reconciliation has begun, with President Barrow’s commitment to release all political prisoners.
President Barrow has also been working with the Senegalese authorities to repatriate the 45,000 Gambian refugees who fled in the wake of the troubles. I ask the Minister whether there will be additional assistance for those wishing to resettle in their homeland, given the unique circumstances and the need to help reunification to happen.
As many will know, President Barrow lived, worked and studied here in the UK. That presents the UK with a distinctive opportunity. Over the weekend, President Barrow stated:
“There is a strong tie with Britain and Gambia”.
He also stated that he wanted a return for Gambia to the International Criminal Court and the Commonwealth. The Labour party strongly supports that, and I hope that it has cross-party support as well.
With regard to a future trade agreement, the President could not be any clearer, stating:
“Any aspects that’s going on in Gambia, Britain will be our number one partner in terms of trade, in terms of democracy, in terms of good governance. They will be our partners.”
I know that the Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs have spoken directly to President Barrow, but could the hon. Gentleman inform the House of when the first UK representative from Her Majesty’s Government will go to Gambia to meet the new Administration?
That brings me to the Prime Minister’s trade envoys. I accept that this does not fall directly within the Foreign Office’s remit, but it will play an integral part in our future relations with the region, diplomatically and economically, now and post Brexit. There is currently only one trade envoy programme to the west African region, which is to Ghana and is headed by the hon. Member for Windsor, who visited earlier this month. Will the Minister outline the current and future plan for that particular programme and whether the Government will commit more envoys to the region to strengthen our ties with it, given the importance that it will have in the upcoming years? That is important, given our historic links and aid contribution. The ECOWAS commission represents 350 million citizens and is moving towards further regional integration through a common political, security and socioeconomic agenda.
Although the news from Gambia is welcome, the region still faces many challenges, including security challenges, inherent poverty, terrorism, the refugee crisis, lack of sustainable healthcare, famine, piracy off its shores, female genital mutilation and human and drug trafficking, plus other transnational organised crimes. Many of those issues have been highlighted here today.
Progress can be slow, yet Britain can continue to work together and towards strengthening the institutions that we take for granted, through our commitment to aid, opening markets by way of trade and using our soft power of diplomacy—not to mention our premiership football teams—which will contribute to working towards strong and lasting ties between the UK and a peaceful and economically prosperous western Africa.
It is a pleasure to work under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) on a commanding performance. When I first saw that I was going to take over the responsibility he looked after so well, I realised that I had big shoes to fill. He has reflected that in his articulation, understanding and grasp of the matters not only in west Africa but right across that amazing continent. I thank him for his contribution today, and thank other hon. Members. This has been a comprehensive, wide-ranging and very useful debate. As usual, I have a few minutes in which to answer a deluge of questions. I am simply not going to be able to do justice to hon. Members and will write to them with more details if I am not able to cover those points in my closing remarks.
First, to focus on my hon. Friend’s opening remarks, he praised the work of the posts—of our high commissions and embassies—not only across Africa but across the piece in the Foreign Office. We certainly punch above our weight. I pay tribute to them and join him, and all hon. Members in the Chamber today, in praising the leadership that is shown in representing Britain not only from a trade and diplomatic perspective, but from a security and military perspective. We are very proud of what they do. They are the unsung heroes. I hope any delegation that goes out, or any parliamentary visit that takes place, will benefit from the knowledge, experience and friendship that is bestowed at our posts across the world and in Africa.
My hon. Friend stressed the importance of the crisis centre. I thank him very much indeed for complimenting me on my Twitter feed. I hope, simply because of the number of people who watch Westminster Hall debates, that the number of followers I have will double after his congratulations. The work of the crisis centre is critical in ensuring that we look after Britons abroad when there is uncertainty in any part of the world. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it is a huge area in the basement of the Foreign Office that gets taken over with all sorts of important feeds, linking into other organisations and posts so that we can keep track, provide relevant information and, not least, communicate with the travel authorities. We can provide important information so that, if there is a requirement for repatriation or health issues or others, we can deal with them with a sense of urgency. It was used in regards to Sousse and other events, and was mobilised for the Gambian political dilemma as well.
My hon. Friend underlined the importance of Africa as a nation. It is envisaged that, in 2050, it will be one quarter of the world’s population, so the continent is important to us. As many hon. Members have outlined, we have a history and relationship with it; we have connections and we should certainly take advantage of them. The World Bank states that Africa as a whole will need to create 18 million jobs every single year. We need to be part of that story, and we have a very good part to play. Other connections have been made such as cultural links and connections with the diasporas in this country. Soft power was mentioned, and we can take advantage of that in developing the important bonds that will help the continent, and certainly west Africa, as it takes important steps to an improved democratic space.
My hon. Friend mentioned the opportunities of Brexit. As the Prime Minister has articulated, it is not us looking inward but quite the opposite. It is us saying that we do not have to go through the prism of working with 27 nations in Brussels, but can have direct relationships and direct trade opportunities with countries, including those in west Africa.
My hon. Friend and others praised the work we did for the continent in tackling Ebola. That is a great example, stepping outside the EU, of how a coalition of the willing—a coalition of those countries that are able and committed to doing something good—stepped forward and helped a part of Africa that needed our support. It is absolutely right to praise all those involved, as the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), the spokeswoman for Labour, did in heaping praise on what we did there. Yes, there are lessons to be learned, because this is likely to reoccur again—we need to be prepared for some form of illness or plague.
My hon. Friend asked about the importance of the Commonwealth meeting. It is a great trading opportunity. He knows that we will host the next event in spring. It is a great opportunity for us to embark on and enhance the trading relationships we have with our African friends.
My hon. Friend asked about the Trump Administration. We are all asking that question. What I can say is that the deputy Secretary of State, Tom Shannon, had the job under the previous Administration. He had responsibility for Africa and the middle east, mimicking my entire footprint, and continues in that role. Terrorism is a huge concern in Africa, not least with Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia. Brett McGurk will continue to lead the counter-Daesh coalition, which will expand its work to look at how it can use the experience it has gained to help countries tackle terrorism in Africa.
Boko Haram was mentioned by the hon. Members for Heywood and Middleton, for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). When I visited Nigeria, I had the opportunity to meet people from the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. There is no doubt that the impact of Boko Haram cannot be over-exaggerated. We estimate that, since 2009, 20,000 people have been killed, more than 2.2 million people have been displaced and more than 15 million people have been affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. The problem is that, in the north-east of the country, access is very limited, the roads are very poor and security is very difficult to enforce. Some of the programmes we are looking at are to improve the infrastructure so that the security can work there. We have more than 350 personnel training intelligence and helping military forces, so that the Nigerians can provide better security for that area. The humanitarian disaster is huge, which is why we have a number of DFID programmes working to try to help the situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) articulated very powerfully his knowledge and passion for Ghana and his role of trade envoy. I thank him and others for the important role that envoys play. They provide continuity and a steady drumbeat of visits, which Ministers cannot always get out to do. I thank him for the work he has done in Ghana and am pleased to be joining him to visit the country very soon.
My hon. Friend stressed the role of business. It is absolutely right that we work to ensure that Ministers not only go out, but take businesses with us as well. He also talked about the connections and diasporas in Britain, and touched on the Francophone countries. It is important that we do not simply see the region as the French domain, but as one that we can go into. The British Council does amazing work teaching English—there is desire for that right across Africa, regardless of the historical connections.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), the spokesperson for the Scottish National party, spoke about the importance of continuing that commitment of 0.7% in our aid budget. I confirm again that that is certainly our intention and is very important indeed. He touched on something that is not perhaps particularly appreciated: the impact of climate change on Africa in causing what we might call environmental refugee movements—people are having to move because they can no longer grow crops in certain areas because the climate has changed and it is no longer sustainable. We need to focus on that, too.
In the short time I have left, I should say that we are seeing a slight change in west Africa in places such as the Gambia and Ghana, where elections have taken place. There is a recognition that constitutions must be honoured. No longer is it the case—this is not just in Africa but around the world, although there are many examples in Africa—that, when a leader gets used to power, they find reason, cause and excuse to alter the constitution so that they can continue in perpetuity, until such time that they get tired and work out a way of getting their son or daughter to take over. What we saw in the Gambia and neighbouring nations—this point was made in a fairly lengthy, but pertinent intervention—was them saying that they were looking to solve their own problems. We wish President Barrow every success. I was pleased to be able to make that phone call, although I have to say that was prior to President Jammeh saying that he was not going to recognise him. I am pleased that we already have that bond with the country and look forward to visiting.
I am not even going to touch on some of the other countries, but will certainly write to hon. Members with more details on their specific questions. I will simply end by saying that west Africa is a huge and diverse region. People are enjoying stability and growing prosperity, but in other countries, leaders continue to face considerable challenges. What we see right across the whole region is the enormous potential of those countries and their people. It is in our interests and theirs that we work together and help them to realise that potential. That is why we continue to support west African countries’ efforts to deliver peace, stability and democracy.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.