Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am pleased to introduce our report The UK and Sub-Saharan Africa: Prosperity, Peace and Development Co-operation. I thank the members of the committee and our staff, including our specialist adviser Dr Julia Gallagher, professor of African studies at SOAS, for all their hard work in producing the report. I am also grateful to all the witnesses who contributed to our inquiry, one of whom, the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, has subsequently been appointed as a member of our committee and is participating in the debate today.
Our inquiry was launched in July 2019 and the report was published in July last year. In the interim, in addition to carrying out short inquiries on topical issues, we have conducted two major inquiries: our report The UK and Afghanistan was published in January this year and our report on the UK’s security and trade relationship with China will be published this month.
The constraints on parliamentary time caused by the pandemic have delayed the opportunity to bring today’s report before your Lordships for debate. Naturally I am looking forward to hearing the contributions by all noble Lords today. Despite the passage of time since we published our report, our 96 conclusions and recommendations remain valid—some of them perhaps even more so. Today I shall give an overview of some of the major issues that we covered.
Our primary recommendation, from which all others flow, is that the Government should publish a clearly articulated list of their priorities for their engagement with Africa along with an action plan for meeting them. When Theresa May visited Cape Town in September 2018 as Prime Minister, she announced a “fundamental strategic shift” in the UK’s engagement with the countries of Africa, known as the “strategic approach”. We welcome the uplift of staff in the region that followed that announcement but are disappointed to conclude that the Government’s so-called strategic approach to Africa falls short. It is not a strategy but rather some broad ideas and themes. Making a random set of speeches does not constitute setting out a coherent strategy.
The context of the UK’s departure from the European Union and the integrated review of foreign policy, defence, security and international development presented us all with a timely opportunity for a renewal of the UK’s engagement in Africa. So what additional light was thrown on the strategy by the Government’s integrated review earlier this year? Not a great deal, I am afraid. The region takes up so little space in the review that it reminds me of the evidence given to us by General Sir Richard Barrons, who said that while “politicians … and officials” often say that “Africa really matters”,
“almost in the next paragraph Africa becomes the fourth priority”.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a region of 49 countries of immense complexity and diversity. In the next 30 years it will see unprecedented social and economic changes, some of which present enormous economic and social opportunities as well as challenges for individual nations. The African Union has developed a long-term strategy intended to meet those challenges and harness the opportunities. We say that the UK should take a greater interest in, and seek a stronger partnership with, sub-Saharan Africa to support the delivery of the African Union’s strategy.
The region has some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Africa’s population is expected to double to 2.1 billion by 2050. That growth is fuelling a rapidly expanding middle class and an increasing proportion of young people across the continent. Africa is the biggest bloc at the United Nations and it can be felt that the AU is growing in significance. It is therefore of strategic and geopolitical importance to the UK. It is a region where the UK really can make a difference.
During our inquiry, it became clear that aspects of the UK’s domestic policy have a direct impact on its reputation in Africa. We received overwhelming evidence that the UK’s—
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, but a Division has been called and we will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, there is a consensus in the Room that we do not need 10 minutes for a Division. If the Committee is content, we will make future adjournments for a Division five minutes. I think that meets with the approval of everybody I can hear.
My Lords, I had begun to explain that, during the course of our inquiry, it became clear that aspects of the UK’s domestic policy have a direct effect on our reputation in Africa. The first of those is visa policies. We received overwhelming evidence that the way in which the Home Office deals with visa policy is damaging to our reputation across Africa and has a deleterious effect on our businesspeople’s ability to carry on economic relationships with countries across Africa.
We also heard evidence of the lasting impact of the historical legacy of slavery and colonialism on perceptions of the UK in the region.
We were struck by evidence that remittances from the UK to sub-Saharan Africa exceed both aid and charitable giving. Remittances are given too little profile in the narrative of the UK’s economic relationship with sub-Saharan Africa, and we believe the Government should work to reduce the cost of remitting money to the region.
Of course, it is now clear that the pandemic is having a damaging impact on the region in both health and economic terms. This adds urgency and scale to the collective responses needed to the challenges we identify in our report. Significant economic support from international partners will be needed to prevent economic gains made over previous decades being reversed. In particular, we say that the Government should support the African Union’s call for a two-year standstill for African countries’ public and private debt and continue to work with international partners to ensure that the Covid-19 vaccine is made more available to developing countries across sub-Saharan Africa.
We conclude that the UK’s future relationship with the countries of Africa and their regional institutions must be based on a genuine partnership. That has not always been the case. The UK should continue to support constructive reforms to the rules-based international order, including the UN Security Council, to provide, for example, African countries with a voice commensurate with their size and importance.
The cultural, educational, language and other soft-power connections of the Commonwealth provide a substantial basis for a further strengthening of the UK’s ties. We believe the Government should work with the 19 African members of the Commonwealth to seek ways in which its work in the continent could be strengthened.
We conclude that working with international partners must remain an important part of the UK’s approach to sub-Saharan Africa. We identify common interests between the UK and France, particularly in the Sahel, and the need for new methods of co-operation to be built up with EU institutions and member states.
It is, however, China which is regarded as an important partner and source of investment in the region. There is scope for the UK to work constructively with China, especially through multilateral institutions, on issues such as debt, health, climate change and trade—provided, of course, that the UK’s national interests and values are robustly defended.
We welcomed the range of effective UK official development assistance projects across the region and were therefore dismayed by the Government’s decision last year to make swingeing cuts to ODA across Africa. The cuts are already damaging the UK’s reputation and standing there.
The committee finds that UK trade with and investment in sub-Saharan Africa has flatlined over the last decade. Concerted action by the Government will be needed to address this. The UK-Africa Investment Summits in January last year and this were high-profile events and welcome, but detailed, consistent follow-up is required. I note, for example, that the Minister for Africa tweeted this last weekend that he had signed an MoU for the UK to partner with the African continent free trade agreement—we are the first non-African nation to do so—but he did not say what the MoU is about and what it would do. I hope that my noble friend Lord Parkinson can update us on that and explain what the implications will be for UK trade with the region.
There are significant challenges to peace and security in sub-Saharan Africa. They are likely to be exacerbated by wider trends affecting the region, including population growth, weak states, governance challenges, violent ideologies and the climate crisis. Witnesses highlighted instability in the Sahel, Nigeria, Somalia and Cameroon as of particular concern, and areas where the UK could play a constructive role, including through peacekeeping, diplomacy, and support for human rights. We should now, of course, add conflict in Tigray to that list. The Government’s strategy in the Sahel is now unclear because the integrated review mentioned the Sahel only once and Mali just in passing.
While the UK pursues important new economic opportunities and seeks to tackle security challenges, human rights will remain critical. The Government should consider a package of support to build the necessary conditions for democracy to function effectively in sub-Saharan Africa: a system that encompasses accountability, human rights, the rule of law, the prevention of conflict and measures to fight against corruption. That package should be a key factor in an Africa strategy and implementation plan. We should work in partnership to achieve those goals. It would be a partnership of lasting value both to us and to the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, who chairs the committee with great distinction, following in the footsteps of the distinguished noble Lord, Lord Howell, who will be contributing shortly himself. I begin by paying tribute to our late and much-missed colleague, Lord Judd. Frank had great expertise and a great love for Africa and its peoples. He had his head in the air but his feet were very firmly on the ground.
My first observation is this: the report, which is very radical, particularly in its call for a new strategic approach to Africa, has been to some extent overtaken because of the delay of over a year between publication and the debate we are having now. Clearly, the authorities need to examine this.
My second observation is that there is much British experience of Africa. After all, as the noble Baroness said, 19 states are members of the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, in this country there is insufficient attention to Africa. Just look at the British press coverage compared with that of France, for example. I recall that, when I was in the FCO, Africa was the afterthought state and afterthought posting, when those who had key expertise elsewhere had a short period in Africa and did not build up a particular expertise. Let us hope that the much-criticised merger between DfID and the Foreign Office will lead to a change in that. There is also a great turnover of Ministers. It is sad to mention in passing the gaffe by the incumbent in mixing up Zambia and Zimbabwe.
I shall give examples of areas that have changed since publication, or which merited greater attention in the report. The report argues for greater commitment by the UK to Africa, yet the subsequent cut in overseas aid must surely undermine this aim and lead to a reduction in our influence and a consequent increase in the influence of other countries, particularly China.
Perhaps again, the defeat of the West in Afghanistan will lead to a loss of credibility and enhance the appeal of jihadist groups, which are active not only in the Sahel but down the whole swathe of east Africa, from Somalia right down to Mozambique. Do I detect the possible beginning of a recognition in the post-Afghan situation of the need for closer co-ordination of policy, particularly with France? I recall that Robin Cook, when Foreign Secretary, initiated regular high-level meetings with the French and closer co-ordination with posts, for example with the British having a position in the French embassy in Togo and the French having a link with our high commission in Accra. There must surely be some scope for that.
Can we have a detailed breakdown of the effects of the cuts by country and by section? VSO, for example, is part of that soft power which is too often neglected. I understand that VSO has been funded, albeit at a reduced level, only until the end of this financial year. There is no certainty thereafter. How can VSO, which is so important to our soft power impact, plan properly for the future when it does not have adequate and long-term funding? I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will consider writing again on behalf of the committee to the Government to try to obtain some clear commitment on funding for VSO.
It would also be helpful to have some indication of the Government’s contribution to the challenge of Covid. After all, we have bought substantially more vaccines than we need. We will need to pass not only vaccines to Africa but, hopefully, some of the technical expertise that we have, given that even South Africa, with its comparatively good communications and quality medical services, is struggling massively.
Africa contributes very little to climate change: perhaps 0.3% of carbon emissions. Yet the effects are potentially massive, as we have seen in the latest UNICEF report. It showed the effect on sub-Saharan Africa, which is vulnerable to the increased frequency and severity of floods and of droughts, with inadequate infrastructure.
My final point relates to population, a problem that is only touched on in the report. The explosion of Africa’s population has effects not only on Africa but on us in Europe through migration. I understand that this is too hot a potato for the Security Council to handle. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with his experience, may wish to comment on that. The report states that the population of Africa will double by 2050. Africa’s population was 230 million in 1950 and is projected to rise to 2.53 billion by 2050. Even as fertility is projected to fall, Africa’s share of global population, at 17% in 2017, will be 26% in 2050 and could reach 40% by 2100. Nigeria, for example, had a population of 38 million in 1950; it is projected by the UN to rise to 411 million by 2050 and to 800 million by 2100. The noble Lord, Lord Hague, wrote a perceptive article on this recently, in the Times of 24 August. Have western Governments and our African partners adequately recognised this challenge?
The human pressure for land leads to the cutting of forests, adding to climate change, desertification and conflicts over land and water. How will Africa find the resources to feed, educate and house that scale of increase? Will Europe be prepared to open its doors more widely to receive the new and increased migration? What work is under way with African and EU partners to confront this challenge?
Of course, expenditure on girls’ education may help and is important, but it is clearly insufficient. To what extent is family spacing a part of our aid effort? To what extent have we factored this population increase, massive as it is, into the aid policies that we pursue, particularly in Africa? Surely we need to work alongside African states, as well as with our EU partners and countries such as China, to understand the nature of local societies, recognise the problem and seek to mitigate its effect. The report is valuable—it is a gold mine of information—but perhaps we need another report on the challenge of population in sub-Saharan Africa.
My Lords, I, too, served on this committee. I do so no longer but I begin by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who did a remarkable job after all of us, I think, had some initial hesitations, both about taking on such a huge subject that involved a large number of countries and about whether we would be able to give coherence to our findings. I hope that we managed to do that; if we did, it was largely thanks to our chair.
I join the noble Baroness in saying that the fact that we are debating this report on Britain’s relations with sub-Saharan Africa some 15 months after it was published is a travesty of proper parliamentary procedure, which cannot be justified by excuses about Covid. I hope that that invisible entity known as the usual channels, which of course could not be present in this Room, will take some lessons from this because, together with the failure to debate the report of the committee on Afghanistan, this is frankly a scandal.
Why do I say that Covid is not a reasonable excuse for not debating earlier? It is quite simply because Covid has hit Africa particularly hard, accentuating the many challenges that its countries face in health, social and economic terms. We should have been debating what Britain can do to help. Why so? Because Africa matters to Britain and Britain matters to Africa, however patchy our past record there may have been—and it was. Through partnership and co-operation, we can make a real, positive difference there and shape up an essential part of our post-Brexit international role, which is likely to be more significant and more helpful to our western allies than any chasing after Indo-Pacific tilts.
On that point, the integrated review says quite a lot about the Indo-Pacific tilt. However, it does not explain coherently the rationale behind it or of what in practical terms it needs to consist. Briefly sailing an aircraft carrier through the South China Sea does not answer that criticism. The case for working in concert with the US, Japan, South Korea, Australia and other countries in the region to reduce the economic, trade, technological and investment disequilibria between all of us and China, which has taken excessive advantage of the benefits of WTO membership and other aspects of the rules-based international order, is a convincing one. But militarily too? I really wonder. Where is the evidence that the US—or India, for that matter—is looking to us for a closer military relationship in the Far East? The US has gently made it clear that it is in Europe and in Europe’s back neighbourhood, of which Africa is clearly a part, where it is looking for a more active and more substantial role from us, our European NATO allies and the EU as a whole. Given Africa’s potential in terms of demographics—the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, rightly referred to them—and economic growth, does that not make good sense from our own point of view too? I suggest that it does. Let us not forget that sliding into a quasi-Cold War relationship with China will not endear us to many African countries, which will want no part of that.
I will focus my remarks on three main issues: trade policy, visa policy and peacekeeping. There are many more, but time presses. We heard a lot ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum about how the UK would be able to offer much better trade opportunities both to African countries and to our exporters if we were outside the EU. More than five years on, there is nothing to show for that, other than a number of rollover agreements—“running to stand still”, we might call it. I urge the Minister, when he replies to this debate, to undertake that within, say, six months the Government will publish a detailed framework for the development of our post-Brexit African trade policy. Any such framework will need to address how we plan to ensure that our policy objectives do not cut across, complicate or undermine the objective of an African free trade area, whose success the Government have quite rightly identified to be in our interests. I am delighted to hear that the Minister has signed a memorandum of understanding with the African Union on this, but I hope that he also understands the complexities that will arise from making our trade policy towards Africa consistent with Africa’s own trade policies.
On visas, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, all the evidence that we took demonstrated that the pre-Covid operation of our visa policy towards African countries was humiliating and a serious obstacle to any strengthened relationship with them. On higher education scholarships and university places, which are surely a key part of any future British policy, the requirements were onerous and, post Covid, completely inoperable because they required people to travel to countries other than their own to take an English test, even where English was an official language of the country concerned, as I discovered when I was in Liberia last year. What is our future policy on these visa issues? Not a squeak do we hear. If we cannot find a better, more humane approach, there will be little chance of a strengthened relationship with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. I hope that the Minister will say something on that.
Thirdly, only an incurably foolish optimist would suggest that there will not be a continuing demand for international peacekeeping in Africa, both UN peace- keeping and African Union and subregional operations. The integrated review says little on this. What contribution do we plan to make to it? Will we not only help to train African peacekeepers before they deploy, as we are already doing—I welcome and applaud that—but mentor them when they do deploy, which is what they desperately need? Will we be there with sophisticated equipment and staffing to help such international operations? You would not get the answer to that in the integrated review.
I hope that the Minister can provide some response on these three issues. I cannot say that the Government’s original response to our report, which raised all these issues, was in any way adequate. That was why the committee, rather unusually, had to send it back and ask them to try harder. The FCDO tried a bit harder, with some modest success, but the hard fact is that that Africa strategy about which ministerial speeches often wax eloquent simply does exist. There was a total unwillingness to provide us with a detailed explanation as to what it consisted of. Since then, the draconian cuts in the aid budget have hamstrung any future strategy. I hope that the Minister can at least assure the House that those cuts will be restored and that full implementation of our legal commitment to 0.7% of gross national income will be honoured as soon as our economy again registers growth.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, not least because it gives me a rare opportunity to agree with two things that he said: first, that the Government should spell out sooner rather than later a post-Brexit trade framework ambition for our relationships with African countries, and, secondly, that they should facilitate rather than discourage the development of a pan-African free trade area.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay and her committee on producing a comprehensive and valuable report—so comprehensive that, in the few minutes available to us, one could not comment on it generally. I have been interested in these subjects since my first career was working on aid and development projects in Africa and Asia. That led to me being appointed by David Cameron to chair his global poverty commission along with Bob Geldof—an unlikely pairing, you might think—which in turn led to the formation of the Trade Out of Poverty group where my noble friend Lord Hastings, whom I believe I am allowed to call my noble friend, and I were initially and subsequently chairmen, with great and invaluable support from the noble Lord, Lord Boateng.
At a conference organised by that group to coincide with the meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers, I was struck by the different priorities of the European and African contributors. The European contributors, myself included, talked about the importance of facilitating trade, removing barriers, encouraging and supporting education, shifting the emphasis of aid to helping in the development of the economy and trade and that sort of thing. The African delegates politely agreed with that but then focused on one word, which, to my astonishment and that of most people, they all without exception repeated again and again: electricity. They said, “We cannot develop without electricity. Our development depends on developing our electricity, and unless and until we electrify our economies we will not grow or develop.”
I do not often have a good word to say for Vladimir Ilyich Lenin but he said the future prosperity of Russia depended on two things, Soviet communism and electricity, and he was half right. You cannot develop without electrifying your economy, and we have to recognise that. Industry cannot function without a regular, reliable and economical supply of electricity. Education is hampered if people cannot study because they have no light to work by and read by in the evenings. Hospitals cannot function if they cannot run refrigerators and other equipment because they have no regular and reliable source of electricity. Female emancipation, above all, cannot proceed if women are unable to leave the home and domestic tasks because they cannot have refrigerators, washing machines and the other things that have played a major part in freeing women in so many parts of the developed world from some of those chores.
Since I worked in Africa, the supply of electricity has improved, but unfortunately in many areas it has been outstripped by the actual, let alone potential, demand for electricity. Blackouts, shortages and the sheer absence of electricity are widespread. Although references to electricity in the report are few, I am glad that paragraph 333 mentions the availability of
“‘strong DfID support, both technical and financial’ for the African Development Bank’s efforts to ensure that the 250 million people in the region without access to electricity and energy were able to get this off grid.”
Unfortunately, that is qualified in the next paragraph by a report saying that
“it was important to ‘make sure that we do not subsidise the use of fossil fuels or investment in them, and that we do subsidise the use of, and develop, renewables’”.”
It is also reported that
“The UK’s aid budget was ‘going much more into renewables than into fossil fuels’”,
and since then that has been intensified.
Obviously, renewables may be the optimal way to provide electricity in parts of Africa where you are distant from, and unable to be connected to, a grid—the sun is a lot more plentiful there than here, and in some places wind is also well available—but even in Africa the sun does not shine at night and the wind does not blow all the time, so you need batteries. The combination of intermittent renewables and batteries is hideously expensive. It may be cheaper than anything else if you are a long way from the grid, but we should not kid ourselves that it is cheap.
For urban areas—the population of Africa is increasingly living in urban areas—renewables are far more expensive than reliance on fossil fuels. Some armchair commentators in this country, who certainly do not fall into the category of experts, claim that renewables are cheaper. If that is so, wonderful—there would be no problem. If renewables were cheaper, no African country would waste its resources on a more expensive source of electricity, would it? They are not stupid. Or are we going to base our policy on the assumption that African Governments do not know what they are talking about and are too unwise and ill educated to choose the cheaper source of electricity over the more expensive?
They are trying to develop fossil fuel plants, but of course they cannot get loans and assistance from international organisations, or from us, to do so. It is surely arrogant and patronising of us to say that they are going about these things in the wrong way. We have to decide: should we help them to electrify their economies in the most economic way by offering technical advice and, if need be, access to finance, or should we withhold such assistance and even put obstacles in their way and the threat of punitive tariffs on their exports if they do not rely on renewables?
Those who argue that we should use every method that we can to guide, force and coerce them to use more expensive renewables, rather than cheaper fossil fuels, say that we should do so because African countries, and poor countries in general, are more vulnerable to climate change. They are right—that is true—but poor countries are vulnerable to climate change because they are poor. We are much less vulnerable because we are developed. They will reduce their vulnerability only if they develop and they will develop only if they have access to electricity. I rest my case. We should not stand in the way of Africa developing itself in the way that Africans think is best for them.
My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity to debate this report, but I have to say: better late than never. A couple of speakers have mentioned that the report was published in July 2020, and here we are debating it in September 2021.
The good news is that the report emphatically remains relevant. It is a very substantial piece of work of 160 pages, produced during the period when we were facing all the difficulties of remote working. I pay tribute to the work of our secretariat, particularly our clerk Eva George, and very much so our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay.
One thing we can all agree on is the huge importance and potential of the region we studied, Africa south of the Sahara. The population of Africa as a whole is projected to double to 2.1 billion by 2050. By 2100, the population of the continent will account for just under 40% of the world’s population.
The UK has close links extending over many generations with many countries of the continent—especially in the south where, as we have heard, 19 countries are members of the Commonwealth—but by no means have all these relationships been positive. Our colleague, my noble friend Lady Amos, told us in her evidence that
“a lot of young Africans I speak to are very ambivalent about Britain, partly because of the issues around visas and the perception of a hostile environment, but also … [because] they will have family here who are constantly reporting back on what it is like to be living and working here.”
But the contacts and interactions over so many years also have many advantages. Dr Nick Westcott, director of the Royal African Society, told us that there was respect among African Commonwealth countries for the UK’s
“strong tradition of a free press, free speech, democratic institutions and visible and effective accountability.”
There are many positive connections through the Commonwealth; 19 of the countries in the region are members, including two recent additions, Rwanda and Mozambique. I think many of us are quite surprised that countries are joining that were never formally associated with Britain in the way that others were. Others have expressed interest in joining. In addition, of course, there are numerous soft power links between us, ranging from the BBC to the Premier League.
But, for all the advantages of the history of interaction between the UK and Africa south of the Sahara, there is a clear sense in our report—in fact, it is a theme in the report—of opportunities missed. Dr Westcott said that
“‘the overall perception of the UK’ was that it had ‘been a major player and a major partner for Africa,’ but it was ‘fading’.”
We were told that Africa has suffered
“political neglect from the UK”,
and it is hard to disagree. One illustration of that—you might think it is an oversimplified one—is that, since 1997, the British Government have had no fewer than 19 Ministers for Africa. That is an average time in office of 15 months. How on earth can a Minister make a positive impact in that time, let alone maintain personal contacts with African political leaders, which can be so important?
All too often, UK Governments have made grand statements that have not been followed by action. In a speech in Cape Town in August 2018, Theresa May announced the Government’s intention to be the largest G7 investor in Africa by 2022. By the time of the UK-Africa Investment Summit in January last year, the target had been dropped and Boris Johnson said he wanted the UK to be a “partner of choice” for the continent, whatever that means—any help would be gratefully received. Our trade with sub-Saharan Africa, both in goods and services, currently amounts to just 2.06% of UK exports and 1.76% of our imports. There has been a flatlining in UK trade and investment in the region. The Royal African Society told us:
“African leaders complain that British companies are no longer bidding for … big contracts.”
The picture that clearly emerges is that of a part of the African continent which has huge potential, which has many generations of interaction with Britain, about which British Governments speak grandly, but where the potential is unrealised. In paragraph 4 of our conclusions, we say:
“Successive governments have said that Africa should be given a higher priority across Whitehall, but have failed to make this a reality in the face of competing demands.”
That is why we call on the Government to publish a clearly articulated list of the priorities for their engagement with Africa and an action plan for meeting them. And it is a good time to be doing this. As we say in paragraph 415,
“Leaving the EU provides an opportunity for the UK to re-cast its trade relationships with African countries and remedy some of the defects in the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements.”
There are also a number of practical proposals that could be implemented quickly. One would be to keep Ministers in post long enough to establish personal ties with their counterparts on the continent. It is also important that intergovernmental meetings are not simply at official level but at a political one. Another would be addressing the problems associated with UK visa policy, as previous speakers have mentioned. Among the many criticisms expressed to us were its bureaucracy, its inconsistency and its cost, as well as its being time- consuming and humiliating.
Then there are the problems with remittances sent by families from the UK to Africa. We know from a 2018 World Bank report that the total value of remittances to low and middle-income countries in Africa was three times higher than the combined official development assistance that they received and similar in size to their total foreign direct investment. We know the huge benefits of these remittances, which go directly to support individuals and companies, cutting out any payments to intermediaries. Yet the average fee for an international money transfer to sub-Saharan Africa is a staggering 9.4%. Our Government should be working to reduce these costs, which the World Bank has said could be as low as 3%.
Finally, the Government should do far more to engage with the hugely important resource that we have, which is the African diaspora. In 2019, diaspora groups in the UK included 251,000 from South Africa, a similar number from Nigeria and 128,000 from Zimbabwe. These intercontinental family ties are a huge source of mutual support and understanding and carry great potential for ever closer ties in the future. Many of our witnesses argued that the Government should improve their engagement with the diaspora, which, as we say in paragraph 478, is
“an essential resource in delivering the Government’s plan to increase trade and investment with the countries”
of the region.
These are just four relatively simple ways—ministerial links; visas; remittances; and the diaspora—in which the UK could deepen and strengthen its links, which are already of long standing, with sub-Saharan Africa. I am proud of our committee’s work, which is substantial and practical, about an area of our foreign policy where our message to the Government and the Minister is “Could do better”. I look forward to his reply.
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Group on Zimbabwe and vice-chair for southern Africa of the Africa APPG. I join other noble Lords in commending the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and her committee for an excellent and comprehensive report, although I must admit that when I read it I felt a mixture of despair and anger, because it confirmed everything I feared and have often observed—the lack of strategy or consistency, the counterproductive policies and the missed opportunities.
I had the privilege of working in southern Africa as a teacher in a rural secondary school in the late 1980s and subsequently have been an adviser in South Africa’s first and second democratic Parliaments in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since that time, I have travelled irregularly back to the region and remain in contact with many of my former pupils, as well as with politicians and others whom I came to know in South Africa. What is most striking to me is how our significance in the region has waned over that period, not just among political elites but in the eyes of ordinary people. It is, in part, a consequence of the lack of consistency, strategy or even sometimes apparently any real interest in Africa highlighted in this report.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, Africa remains important to Britain and Britain still has the chance to remain important to Africa. The noble Lord, Lord Hague, pointed out in the Times last month that, over the next 30 years, Africa’s population is expected to grow by more than 1.1 billion people, meaning that the continent will host three times the population of Europe by 2050. As a result, he argued:
“The future of Africa will … be one of the decisive factors in world affairs”.
Yet there seems to be no real understanding in government, at a political level at least, of Africa’s central importance economically and politically. Perhaps that is in part because of the fact highlighted in the report and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that since the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, was Minister for Africa for a period from 1989 to 1997, no Minister has been in place for more than two years. The noble Baroness’s effectiveness as a Minister was not just because she was an excellent Minister, which obviously she was, but because she had been there, was known by people, had the expertise and was highly respected. With the best will in the world, that cannot be achieved, however good or bad our Ministers might be, if they are reshuffled every few months.
China understands the importance of Africa. Even Russia, with its much more limited resources, understands the importance of Africa. But they seem to have some sort of strategy, where we seem to have a series of knee-jerk reactions. Somebody described it to me as if we are playing a chess game: they are sat there looking at the board and we in the meantime are watching TV and shouting at the kids to be quiet. Every now and then, they say, “Your move”, and we look up, look at the board and make a move. It is not surprising that it is not very strategic.
Nowhere could our lack of strategy be clearer than in the approach we have taken since the beginning of Covid. We have hit African economies with a triple whammy. First, not content with the big cut that our aid budget would have faced anyway as a result of the Covid-related reduction in our GDP, we savaged it yet further, cutting off assistance to millions of people at their time of greatest need.
Secondly, we cornered the market in vaccines for ourselves while African countries have gone wanting. We are talking about booster programmes at the moment, when some of the most vulnerable people in Africa do not have access. Where national programmes have managed to get above 20% vaccination rates—for example, in Zimbabwe; not a country or Government that I normally commend, but they have—it is largely led through Sputnik and Sinovac, because they have provided the drugs. People do not forget such things. We have compounded that by helping to spread the erroneous belief that AstraZeneca was ineffective against the beta variant, something that has been proved not to be the case, but we still seem to spin.
Our final coup de grâce has been to cut off the African tourist economy at the knees by putting every African country on the red list and requiring that even double-vaccinated tourists have to quarantine on their return. There is no rationale for such a blanket approach: the US does not take such an approach; Germany does not take such an approach; Switzerland does not take such an approach. I hope that, in his response, the Minister will explain why we take such a different view from them.
We talk about tourist travel as non-essential travel, but it is essential to those economies. It is estimated that tourism provides £160 billion to Africa’s GDP and £18.3 billion to South Africa alone, supporting 1.5 million jobs. Travel bans are literally a death sentence. Of course we have to protect our people, but we must have a coherent rationale in how we go about it. If we do not correct this policy by the time of the southern hemisphere summer season, we will further devastate the economies of many countries, driving desperation and compounding political instability. I hope that the Minister will give us some comfort in that regard.
A number of noble Lords have raised the issue of visas, the excellent report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Africa and other all-party parliamentary groups which also fed into this report. When I sat on the governing council of the International Planned Parenthood Federation for three years, our African youth representatives could never come to this country: they were never granted visas. That was shocking, and it was of course noted. We made many representations to the British Government, but they would not treat it on a sensible, rational basis because the embassies and high commissions no longer had any discretion in these matters.
My final point is on climate. While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, on the importance of electricity, I also say that the importance of getting African countries to work as part of the COP 26 process has been fatally undermined by our reduction of aid. I hope the Minister will also address that.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Oates, who has such personal experience of the region. This time two years ago, I was honoured to join many learned colleagues on the International Relations Select Committee, a brainchild of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and skilfully chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. We began our investigation into the UK’s relationship with sub-Saharan Africa. Over the course of the months ahead, we were to hear from many fascinating witnesses, and I thank them for their time and inspiring insights over that period.
However, by the time we came to write the report, we found ourselves exiled to our homes and working in this strange, virtual world. While we were busy dealing with those challenges in our own country, we became increasingly mindful of what they meant for sub-Saharan Africa, a region of some 46 countries with great energy, brilliance and a population dominated by the young, with huge potential, but also with an underbelly of vulnerability to conflict and extreme poverty. I believe that we do no service to this important relationship by ignoring Africa’s great strengths and potential as well as its fragility.
I emphasise from the start that our report was focused on the UK’s relationship with sub-Saharan Africa. It was not about the future of Africa per se, which was and is for Africa to decide. However, that is not to say that there is not a role for us as partners and friends.
The single biggest strategic recommendation of our report was to embrace positively a region of great promise, working with Africa as equal partners and building investment and trade relationships. However, there was also the realisation that the region faces many challenges that call for a response, not least on humanitarian grounds. We were reminded of the importance of a joined-up strategy where our trade, investment, aid and security policy are brought into alignment. Yet time and again we found this lacking—a point made by many noble Lords today. This also meant having an awareness of where our own position fell short. For example, our approach to the issuing of visas to the people of Africa was of particular concern; again, that has been raised many times this afternoon. There was a sense that this soured our relationships with African nations, as well as with the diaspora.
Before Covid, four of the 10 fastest-growing countries in the world were in Africa. It also has one of the youngest and fastest-growing populations. However, Africa is particularly vulnerable to falls in GDP that thrust it back into poverty and cause hardship and tragedy. As Dr Moyo said when she gave evidence to us, to
“put a meaningful dent in poverty in one generation”,
economic growth of 7% per year is needed, but annual growth before Covid was around 3.5%. Covid is a deep, immediate concern in Africa, but so too is its potential long-term impact from falling economic growth. So, we held our breath for the people of Africa as Covid took hold.
Hovering in our mind was also a question that we had posed even before the pandemic began: would our own Government honour their aid commitments to Africa and, if not, what would be the result? At the core of our aid policy lies a commitment to some of the most vulnerable communities in the world. It is there to alleviate the scourge of global extreme poverty—but there is more. ODA is in our national interest and blatantly promotes it at the same time. If you want to see global action on climate change, insure against mass migration—often caused by conflict or famine—combat terrorism, eradicate poverty and counter world pandemics, as well as compete with China’s growing influence, the provision of 0.7% is a good way to set about it at the same time as standing by our commitment to the world’s poor.
So where are we now? This summer, as Britain hosted the G7, we had the opportunity to convene some of the richest countries in the world at a critical juncture. Although I was proud of some of what was achieved in Cornwall, I believe that we fell short of what was needed in three crucial respects. First, we hosted a G7 summit in the middle of a global pandemic in which we were the only G7 country not to have increased aid spending when the world most needed our help. In fact, we cut it. The cut from 0.7% from 0.5% acted as a double whammy alongside a shrinking economy that already would have led to substantial reductions. It meant cuts of around 66% in African programmes, according to aid charities.
Secondly, in Cornwall, the Government claimed to have put women and girls at the centre of their agenda, yet we are witnessing devastating cuts to many programmes that are designed to support them.
Thirdly, we committed 1 billion vaccines to the world, which we knew, however worthy it was, fell far short of what is needed. The contrast between vaccine delivery in the East and in the West could not be greater. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote in the Guardian over the summer:
“while 50% of European, US and UK adult populations have now been fully vaccinated, the figure for Africa is 1.8%.”
How short-sighted this is. Even if we put aside the moral responsibility argument, we are left with a blatant self-interest one. Until we vaccinate the world, Covid will be among us, mutating, causing deaths and blighting lives.
Great Britain still holds the presidency of the G7. It should use its convening power to hold a vaccine summit, virtually if needed, or to encourage the world leaders who are meeting next week at UNGA to engage nations, the business community and NGOs to commit to a global vaccine scheme that meets more like the 14 billion needed by 2022 if we are going to win the battle against Covid globally. We should also review and think again on our ODA cuts, which are damaging lives and livelihoods at a time when communities, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, need our support. Lastly, we should be working with African nations to build a partnership for trade, investment and friendship for a future that has so much possibility and a partnership of so much potential.
My Lords, the Select Committee was disappointed in the Government’s eventual written reply to its report, which failed adequately to address many of the issues that the report had raised, so I hope the Minister will be able to give a fuller reply today focusing on real action rather than vague aspirations.
The report was wide-ranging, but I will pick out one issue in particular and touch on three or four others. Before I do so, there are three background factors that need to be taken into account in most of what the UK does in sub-Saharan Africa. The first is our responsibility as a post-colonial power in the region, the second is the continuing poverty of vast numbers of its people and the third is galloping population growth.
Most of the 19 Commonwealth countries of Africa are former British colonies with a legacy of the English language, a parliamentary system, legal structures based on a recognised rule of law and the wish to maintain educational and commercial ties with the UK. This legacy can be of value to the UK in developing new long-term partnerships based on mutual benefits. Perhaps the Minister could tell the House explicitly what economic and commercial partnerships the Government are currently developing, indicating their size if possible and intended outcomes, given their stated ambition to support African countries in transforming their economies.
Turning to poverty, as others on the committee have already said, it is estimated that, by 2045, 85% of the poorest billion people will live in Africa. Demographic projections also indicate that global population growth up to 2030 will be greatest in sub-Saharan Africa. The Government’s decision to cut development aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI is therefore a greater calamity in Africa than in most other parts of the world. The cuts mean that more African children under the age of five will die of preventable diseases or malnutrition; programmes to extend education will be reduced; investment in agricultural productivity will decline; and—in some ways worst of all, given the pressures of rapid population growth—family planning and reproductive health services will reach fewer women and girls. It is shameful that the UK will be doing so much less to support poverty reduction in Africa while at the same time boasting about “Global Britain”. The cuts should be restored quickly.
Although remittances should never be seen as a substitute for expenditure on development aid, as my noble friend Lord Grocott said, there needs to be greater recognition of how much the diaspora community in the UK are supporting their families in Africa through remittances. So what have the Government done specifically to lower the cost of remitting money to Africa since the committee recommended this over a year ago?
I turn to the specific issue of Cameroon whose capital, Yaoundé, is in the former French colony but where a substantial English-speaking minority, around 20% of the population, exists in north-west and south-west Cameroon, which was formerly a British colony. Since independence, there has been a history of discrimination against the anglophone minority and a lack of representation for them in the political and economic leadership of the country. This has led to an uprising, with demands for secession.
The armed separatists, regrettably, are guilty of violence, as are the Cameroonian Government’s security forces. The civilian population in the north-west and the south-west are victims of atrocities including looting, the burning of bridges, the destruction of crops and livestock and wanton killings, leading to the collapse of the local economy and serious food shortages. The international community has done little about it. The UK has a particular responsibility, given the history of Cameroon, and so do the French. The World Food Programme has been struggling to feed starving civilians.
Meanwhile, the Government are apparently going ahead with a trade agreement with Cameroon, in spite of the human rights abuses taking place. Can the Minister provide more information on the rationale for this agreement and say why it is taking place in the context of serious human rights abuses, as well as massive government corruption? Instead, will the Government work with the French Government and the international community more widely to try to restore peace and to ensure that that there are impartial investigations of human rights violations, that schools and health centres that have been closed are reopened, that funds are provided to help those who have fled their homes and are internally displaced and that there is support for the World Food Programme to provide food to stop starvation in the civilian population? If the Government are serious about what they claim is the foundation stone on which all government activity is built—a commitment to human rights—surely they should take greater action than just expressing concern in various international fora about what is happening in Cameroon.
Before I end, I want to return to a couple of general points. First, I hope that the Government will do what the committee asked and publish their priorities in a coherent and convincing way, above all setting out the actions that they will take to achieve them. Secondly, in the year in which COP 26 is taking place, I hope that the Government will engage with sub-Saharan Africa on climate change, so that the continent’s potential for economic growth can be exploited in ways that do not lead to more pollution and environmental damage. Lastly, I hope that they will fight to get international recognition of the need for a two-year standstill for African countries’ public and private debt, as the committee recommended. Without this, it will be much harder for many African countries to maximise their economic growth and to give their people new opportunities to be creative and innovative, as well as prosperous.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her splendid introduction of a huge subject. May I also say what a pleasure it is to be among friends of Africa in this rather exotic Egyptian setting?
Global Britain has been looking east and not south, with Afghanistan dominating world attention and Britain even acquiring a trans-Pacific outlook, so sub-Saharan Africa, as usual, has had a very low media profile. The Select Committee therefore rightly seeks to develop a sharper foreign and security policy focus on Africa.
The Sahel region, especially Mali, has become or threatens to become one of the world’s most dangerous sources of terrorism and migration. The report applauds, as I do, the UK’s intervention there, alongside France, as part of the UN stabilisation mission. RAF Chinooks were in action earlier this summer, transporting French troops in a counterterror operation and carrying out rescue operations alongside French helicopters. However, Her Majesty’s Government still need to explain their wider strategy in the Sahel, especially as the region has become a funnel of trans-Saharan migration through Libya, where there are still terrible stories of trafficking and forced prostitution.
Before Brexit, this was a UK concern through the EU’s Khartoum process. This links again with the committee’s recommendation on development, good governance, human rights and so on, known as the Copenhagen principles. Does the FCDO measure the impact that this considerable aid programme—although it has been cut—has in slowing down migration, as is often claimed?
On student migration, the Home Office is doing nothing to improve the visa regime—as the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Oates, said—in spite of all the research done by the Africa APPG. Will it follow the advice of the Overseas Development Institute and review present visa arrangements, which are much worse than those offered by the US and the EU and do little to encourage students to come to this country?
The report is surprisingly thin on climate change and what HMG can do about it. It welcomes mitigation programmes, low-carbon development and renewables, but without giving examples. Friends of the Earth and CAFOD have provided one suggestion, which is for the UK to give up its export finance for the giant LNG drilling project of Cabora Bassa in Mozambique. They say that many families have been displaced, and Total has withdrawn its staff. Would it not be a strong response to climate change in Africa for the UK to pull out of this project? It would surely be better PR and greater transparency for us to promote more sustainable green energy projects such as wind farms and electric vehicles.
On the other hand, CDC set out an impressive Africa climate change strategy in a timely presentation this morning. I certainly had the impression that CDC is now working closer with NGOs and others in the local community. However, there are still questions about the continuing use of gas and fossil fuels. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, suggested that they follow the SDGs a little more faithfully; he may say more about that. We must hear from the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, as well.
There are some welcome statements in the Government’s response. One is that they will increase their engagement with the diaspora. They will highlight evidence from Africa in their COP 26 presentation—that is good. They will further support the suspension of debt payments by LDCs during the Covid pandemic; can the Minister say for how long this will be? They promise to strengthen Commonwealth institutions in Africa.
As for the pandemic, the report was written before Covid had established itself in Africa, which began receiving gifts of vaccines only in March. We recently sent 3 million vaccines to 11 African countries, the first of a batch of 80 million sent via COVAX, but these are very thinly spread and many people are having to pay for their vaccines. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fall, said, Gordon Brown says the poorest countries, which are meant to have priority, are not receiving nearly enough, given that altogether 92 countries are eligible for support. Is the FCDO scaling up this programme? At present, vaccine coverage is minute in population terms. Can the UK help to develop greater capacity for manufacturing vaccines in Africa?
I turn finally to conflict. According to the integrated review, the conflict fund is going to be reinvented and a new conflict centre established. Has this now happened? How does it differ from the original CSS fund? Can the Minister confirm that, in countries such as Sudan and South Sudan, the churches remain important channels of peacemaking and that CAFOD, Christian Aid and other faith groups based in the UK can be, are and will go on being a direct channel of support for our funding of this sector? Unhappily, as he will know, both north and south are continuously on the edge of conflict. President Salva Kiir in the south is still trying to co-operate with the international community, but he has just withdrawn from the peace talks in Rome. Is the Minister satisfied that the UK can do nothing to speed up the inquiry into the June 2019 massacre in which at least 127 demonstrators died? But we must welcome the Government’s initiative in sanctioning two Sudanese men: Salah Gosh, who was President Bashir’s head of security, now in Egypt, and another prominent businessman accused of corruption in the south. Those are positive steps.
Finally, in the context of aid cuts, have any embassy programmes in the Sudans been cut since the reduction of ODA was announced, or have they been protected?
I will end with a comment from my Ghanaian Uber driver this morning. He said, “The West has not yet learned to match democratic principles to local African culture.” I think I know what he means.
My Lords, this was one of the last reports of the International Relations and Defence Committee that I was a part of. It is good to be back in the presence of many of my colleagues and listening to their expertise once again. I add my thanks to the clerks and all who supported us in producing this report.
I intend to focus on one of the major changes that has taken place in the 15 months since the report was published and look at how our conclusions are challenged and confirmed by it. Our report largely described Ethiopia as a success story, whether as a fast-growing economy, a leader on climate change, or even as host of the African Union, including its peace and security department. But since November last year, peace and security have collapsed. Ethiopia is now in the midst of a horrific civil war. Thousands of people have been killed. Hundreds of thousands face famine. More than 5 million are in need. There is a de facto humanitarian blockade: less than 10% of humanitarian aid has got through since July. Press and aid organisations such as Doctors Without Borders have been banned.
The war fits many of the patterns the report outlined as typical of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a civil war, but one that does not respect borders and has outside interference, in this case from Eritrea. It is based in large part on old political grievances and the historical relationship, or lack of it, between the TPLF and other parts of Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Government still claim that they are targeting only a small group of TPLF leaders, whom they brand terrorists. It has been clear for months that the violence goes far wider than that. This is an ethnic conflict, and the Tigrayan people face what the UN Secretary-General has called “unspeakable violence”. There are reports of massacres, of Tigrayans rounded up and sent to camps or slaughtered. The famine and hunger in Tigray are not accidental: they are deliberate —an attempt to starve Tigrayans into submission.
The Ethiopian President, sadly, has already used language to dehumanise those whom she described as opponents. When I hear it, I cannot avoid hearing echoes of the language that preceded genocide in the former Yugoslavia. No conflict is the same as another, but ethnic conflicts have features in common. Pramila Patten, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, has described how
“In Tigray, women and girls are being subjected to sexual violence with a level of cruelty beyond comprehension.”
That is the fate of innocent women and girls, whose only crime was to be born of the wrong ethnicity—cruelty beyond comprehension, inflicted deliberately to terrorise and destroy a region and its inhabitants.
Ethnic violence and sexual violence go hand in hand. Ethnic violence and international inaction also seem to be linked. Some of the weaknesses in the African Union that the report identified have been cruelly exposed in Ethiopia: it is proved powerless when its host commits atrocities. Senior UN figures have been vocal in condemning the violence, but there seems little by way of concerted attempts at international mediation or diplomacy to end the conflict.
That includes from our Government. The integrated review identified Ethiopia as a key partner; it is our biggest recipient of aid in sub-Saharan Africa. We ought to be well positioned to influence this conflict positively and help to end it. Yet we seem to be more concerned with preserving relations with the Ethiopian Government and protecting trade than bringing our influence and pressure to bear on ending ethnic conflict. In seeking to become investment partners, we have perhaps forgotten that, as our report warned, partnership must be conditioned on human rights.
The absence of the international community and the proliferation of sexual violence are not separate issues. The Government have deployed one—I repeat, one—expert from the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative to the region. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can update us on what progress they are making and what the likely next steps are. I fear that a single expert will not make much difference in preventing the horrors of which we have heard.
I know that the Government have decided not to seek to establish an international accountability mechanism for sexual violence. I regret that decision, but I recognise it. They must explain, though, how else impunity can be ended. How can sexual violence be prevented otherwise, in the absence of accountability? What accountability do the Government think there will be for the sexual violence committed in Tigray? If the answer is that some sort of ad hoc mechanism might be set up in the distant future to act, but probably only with the Ethiopian Government’s oversight, then I am afraid that we have totally failed to learn anything from past conflicts and are doomed to see sexual violence recur repeatedly in future.
I desperately want to believe that Ethiopia can be a success story once again. Our report highlighted its importance to the region and to the UK. Escalating conflict and violence, which threaten to draw in more and more of Ethiopia’s people and regions, is terrible news for Ethiopians and for Africa as a whole. One of the main thrusts of our recommendations was that the Government should be clearer about their strategies for sub-Saharan Africa—and make sure that they actually have strategies. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can tell us what the Government’s strategy is for working with allies in Africa and from around the world to end sexual violence and ethnic cleansing in Tigray, bring peace to Ethiopia and help to rebuild that country so that it can be a success and a partner once more.
My Lords, the House, and indeed Africa, owes the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the committee that produced this report a debt of gratitude for all the work that they put into it and for the good sense and wisdom that it contains. I am able to say that because I was not a member of the committee at the time, but the speeches that we have heard today reflect that.
I wish simply to underline to the Minister the importance of him responding in a way that demonstrates that there is a strategy. Where is the evidence of closer integrated relationships and working between the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Trade and the FCDO? If there is no written strategy, where is the practical evidence on the ground of that closer working relationship? I am bound to say that I do not see it. Nor, in listening to speeches from Members from all sides of the House, do I hear any evidence of it existing and making a difference, both to African lives and to the good relationship between the peoples of Africa and the people of the United Kingdom.
One thing that struck me when I was a high commissioner in South Africa was the depth of civil society relationships, such as the relationship between the Mother’s Union in New Brighton in the Eastern Cape and the Mothers’ Union in Brighton in our country or between those integrating rugby in Gugulethu, a township in the Western Cape, and the Datchet Boys’ Rugby Club. I saw actual evidence of that commitment and engagement. If only we saw the same evidence of commitment and engagement on the part of the Government. Sadly, it is not there. It does not do any service to this country or this House in the absence of evidence of that relationship.
I want to make two or three points about one particular area that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has already referred to and which, importantly, is dealt with in recommendations 81 and 82 of the report, in relation to Cameroon. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who knows about these things, described the history of Britain in Africa as patchy. Frankly, it was nowhere more patchy than in the history of Cameroon, but I am bound to say that when you compare it to the legacies of Germany and France in Cameroon, there is a difference. The legacy of France, which continues, is one of exploitation while the legacy of Germany, which was inherited after the mandate, was, frankly, one of brutality.
However, I fear that Britain’s legacy in Cameroon is one of neglect; I am afraid that neglect continues to this day. We were promised that there would be attention to human rights in the partnership agreement between the UK and Cameroon on trade, but where is the evidence of that? We hear about trade but do not hear about human rights. What has been the British Government’s response to the most recent atrocities that occurred a matter of only days ago in Cameroon?
The report refers rightly to the role of women and girls as, all too often, victims of conflict. Just two weeks ago there were two such victims and I am going to name them, because naming is important. Sinclair Shaalanyuy, a young girl who was attending a summer school in Kumbo, was killed. Grace Titalabit, a mother attending a presbyterian church in Bali in north-west Cameroon, was killed in circumstances where the blame is quite clearly on the security forces of the Biya regime.
There is ample evidence, I am afraid, of atrocities time and again on the part of the Cameroonian security forces. What is our response to that? How are we engaging with France on this issue? Where is the evidence of our engagement—if it exists—producing any difference on the ground? How are we supporting civil society’s peacemaking efforts in Cameroon? How are we working with the churches in all that they seek to do in relation to peacekeeping and conflict resolution in that country? What resources are we applying to that?
How are we working across the piece in ways that protect civil society engagement? The report rightly refers to the importance of that engagement, just as it refers to the importance of diaspora engagement in relation to development. Just a matter of days ago, on 26 August, the Minister of territorial administration in Cameroon issued an order demanding that promoters and representatives of all foreign associations operating in Cameroon submit information about their operations and their relationship with Cameroonian civil society. I am afraid that was specifically designed to suppress and hold back the activities of civil society organisations promoting peacekeeping, conflict resolution and indeed development. It was aimed at the sort of organisations that are doing excellent work in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Cameroon.
As a result of those decrees and that activity against civil society, Médecins Sans Frontières has had to withdraw from Cameroon, and the threat exists to British organisations too. So how are we working with France on this issue? When was the last time that a Minister from the FCDO spoke with a French Minister on this issue, and what was the result? We must have evidence of that co-operation. The report specifically calls for co-operation generally in Africa—we want joint approaches and joined-up development efforts—but there is no evidence of it.
We have an opportunity to make a difference, but we will make that difference only if we see evidence of a strategy focused on unlocking the potential of Africa and recognising the warm and effective relationship that exists at every level of our society here in the United Kingdom with Africa and Africans, with the diaspora and, indeed, on the continent itself. It needs to be evidenced by a strategy and its implementation, so that we move from warm words and sentiment to reality.
My Lords, the House is rightly proud of the work of its Select Committees and it is a matter of profound regret, as my noble friend Lord Hannay said earlier, when their reports are not debated in a timely manner. The usual channels should address that. It is a privilege to serve on the International Relations and Defence Select Committee, and I, too, pay tribute to the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who chairs it admirably and keeps us all on our toes at every meeting. I refer to my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, as an officer of various other APPGs and as a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response.
At paragraphs 82 and 83 of the report, the committee expressed its disappointment at the Government’s approach to Africa, describing it as “confused and confusing”.
“It is not a strategy”,
“but rather some broad ideas and themes, and there is little clarity on how the Government plans to put it into action.”
In urging the Government to take a deeper interest in Africa, the report points out that Prime Ministers rarely visit Africa and that Ministers for Africa come and go, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, told us that there is always a new plan—and here we go again. Contrast this with the approach of China. We need to be much more aware of the strategic nature of belt and road indebtedness, the plundering of resources and the quid pro quo demand for African votes at the United Nations.
We also need to learn from and harness the diaspora. As we have been hearing, remittances have a greater value than development aid. That is not to say that we should not restore the cuts in development aid, but we must recognise the role that remittances can play. For example, in 2019, people in South Sudan received $1,200 million in remittances, a staggering 29.5% of GDP, compared with £104 million in UK aid. The World Bank says that in one recent year, $40 billion of remittances were sent to sub-Saharan Africa.
Money and goods from the diaspora are wonderfully targeted and relatively free from the problems of corruption and siphoning-off by officials. Yet, as the Brookings Institution points out:
“The fees paid to remittance service providers to send money to Africa average nearly 9 percent— the highest rate in the world and three times the Sustainable Development Goal target for remittance costs (3 percent).”
I hope that, when he comes to reply, the Minister will address that, especially in the context of the diminished ODA and the high fees for digital remittance channels, and commit to examining the Brookings proposals for a global non-profit remittance platform.
However, unless conflict in Africa, discussed in chapter six of the report, which looks in detail at countries such as Nigeria, Somalia and Cameroon, about which we have heard from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, is addressed, development will continue to be blighted. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, reminded us, the report names ideology as one of the factors driving conflict. Sudan’s civil war, driven by Khartoum’s attempts to impose its ideology, led to 2 million deaths. I saw ruined clinics, hospitals, schools and homes. Ultimately, Khartoum ideology destroyed its own country and partitioned it into two diminished states.
I also visited Darfur. The same ideology killed 300,000 people and displaced 2 million, many of whom still live in precarious, squalid camps. Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the ICC for genocide and crimes against humanity, gave the orders in Darfur. Last week, Sudan’s Foreign Minister, Mariam al-Mahdi, said that Bashir will be handed over to the ICC for trial. I should like to hear from the Minister what progress is being made to expedite this.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, there are mutations of the same ideology: murder, maim, destroy and displace. Globally, a shocking 82.4 million people are forcibly displaced, with more than 26% of the world’s refugee population in sub-Saharan Africa. Last year, the highest increase in the number of internally displaced people occurred in Africa. Displacement leads to trafficking, exploitation and jihadist recruitment, posing a real and present threat to local populations and to British interests, and indirectly to Britain itself. Jihadists in Boko Haram, IS West Africa and al-Shabaab have inevitably seized on events in Afghanistan. Like the Taliban, their task is made so much easier by inherently weak and unpopular corrupt Governments. Note that those who blindly support them also become tainted.
According to the 2020 Global Terrorism Index, Nigeria is now ranked only behind Afghanistan and Iraq. Corruption and ineptitude have run the economy into the ground, while the UK has poured in more than £2.5 billion over a decade, averaging £800,000 a day. That does not imply support for cuts in ODA, but it is not unreasonable to ask how those resources are being used to combat conflict.
I have sent the Minister’s department reports that over the past eight months more than 4,000 Christians have been murdered by jihadists in Nigeria, with 400 killed in August alone. Over 12 years, 43,000 Christians and 29,000 Muslims have been murdered by jihadists, with places of worship destroyed, attempts to eradicate alternative beliefs and countless numbers of people displaced. The case of Leah Sharibu—a Christian girl abducted, raped and forcibly converted in 2018—is highlighted in the Select Committee’s report. She is still in captivity. What can the Minister tell us about Leah’s case?
A long-serving retired military intelligence officer states without equivocation that religion and ethnicity are primary factors in Nigeria’s current insecurity. The foremost Muslim traditional ruler, the Sultan of Sokoto, has condemned the killings of others as un-Islamic and has called on the Nigerian Government to decisively address the insecurity. The levels of insecurity in Nigeria are beyond critical, and the Buhari Government’s response is a mixture of complacency and complicity. Beyond ritual condemnations, what are we doing to hold those responsible to account?
I end by turning, as the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, did, to the Horn of Africa and to Tigray, where conflict, as in Nigeria, has morphed into atrocity crimes, including the use of manmade starvation, and where those responsible are living in impunity. Listen to this report from Monday’s Daily Telegraph. It describes how Tigrayans have been
“rounded up, mutilated and dismembered”
“thousands of men, women and children”
“makeshift ‘concentration camps’, cutting off limbs and dumping mutilated bodies into mass graves as part of an orchestrated ethnic purge”.
What are we doing to bring those responsible to justice?
The report says that the UK and its international partners have too often failed
“to tackle the underlying conditions that allow conflict to emerge.”
It calls on the Government to
“develop longer-term strategies to prevent conflict, and above all to prevent genocide, and support regional partners.”
I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us exactly how the Government intend to do that and assure us that we will be less timid in confronting the destructive power of ideology and naming it for what it is.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure but also quite difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because his knowledge of human rights conditions all over the world, particularly in Africa, is tremendous. His dedication to trying to find solutions is wholly admirable and very much respected by the House.
My African experience comes from CDC. I am very pleased that the committee, under my noble friend Lady Anelay’s chairmanship, was able to get a lot of evidence from CDC. However, my CDC experience ended some 30 years ago. The way CDC operates, the people it employs and the imperatives in their lives have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. I am not going to go into a comparison. I am not at all enthusiastic about comparisons anyway, but time has passed. Things have moved on and when we think about Africa, particularly the 19 Commonwealth members of sub-Saharan Africa, we must think very carefully about the way that things have changed.
I would like to pursue the committee’s partnership concept, which is absolutely the right way to be thinking about a direction of travel. When you come to read the Government’s response to the committee’s report, take into account that the committee was looking for the publication of a proper plan of engagement—the plan of action which was mentioned by its chairman. Paragraph 167 of the report says:
“Bilateral relationships with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa should remain a key part of the UK’s”
involvement. I would say they are vital and, if I might be practical, are the only form of deep involvement in sub-Saharan Africa which makes any sense to me.
I notice that we have just reappointed a high commissioner in what I remember as Swaziland—I think it is now called Eswatini. If you think about how a high commissioner would be the front-line man or woman of British policy in sub-Saharan Africa and compare their role with that of the high commissioner in Lagos and Abuja in Nigeria, it is just not the same thing in any way. Indeed, in pursuing the partnership concept I would like to speculate about Nigeria and the partnership with it.
In parenthesis, we should remember that Cameroon, which has been mentioned several times, quite rightly, is on a boundary with Nigeria. Indeed, when Cameroon got its independence two of its provinces opted to go into Nigeria, so their relationship is very close. At the moment, Nigeria is host to a great many refugees from Cameroon. That is a thing which has to be thought about if we are to create a meaningful partnership with Nigeria. On the other side of Nigeria, again in parenthesis, is Benin. They speak French as their common language in Benin and whenever we think about a partnership with a country in sub-Saharan Africa, we have to think about the complexity of life there.
Let me come briefly to Nigeria itself. It has 200 million people and it is predicted—most population estimates turn out to be wrong, thank goodness—to rise, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, to 400 million in 2050. Well, 2050 is not a long way away. The effect of Nigeria’s fertility rate being over five is that the per capita income is falling. The economy is growing slowly again, after Covid and all the other problems, but it is not keeping pace with the increase in the numbers of Nigerians. The per capita income in Nigeria is about $2,500 a year. Noble Lords will do their own mental arithmetic on what that means and be able to compare it with, for example, ours.
When we come to think about a partnership with Nigeria and Nigeria’s relationship with the UK, since the average age of the Nigerians is probably about 16 or 17 and the country has been independent for close to 80 years, we have to forget any idea that the population of Nigeria as they grow up have any real relationship with the fact that we were once the colonial power. We have to start from somewhere else.
The place that I think one needs to start from is: where are the Nigerian Government? If you are going to be a partner but the partner does not tell you what he is thinking, it is not going to be much good trying to be a partner. What about the dilemma of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley? The Chinese are solving his electricity dilemma by building coal-fired power stations. Apparently, that would not be a good thing in Nigeria; well, I suppose they do not have much coal, but they have plenty of oil and a lot of gas. Are we really going to say to our partner, “You can’t do that”?
You have to look at what your partner is saying. What do the Nigerian Government think about the explosion of their population from 200 million to 400 million in the next 30 years? Is it something that they want to see happen? Unless we have a dialogue that opens up a conversation, we will continue to get pathetic responses from the Government such as the one they gave to the noble Baroness’s report—and it was pathetic; it was completely general and had no commitment. We are faced with a Government who basically have no real commitment to any single country in sub-Saharan Africa.
My Lords, this is a massive and impressive report. I for one am very proud to see this committee, which was born only in 2016—in the teeth, I remind your Lordships, of strong opposition, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, will vividly remember—taking such a lead under the excellent chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Anelay in reaching out to issues and areas that other committees do not reach and where much more illumination is vital for our future.
It really is time to piece together fresh approaches to a continent that is going to contain, as the report tells us, one-quarter of the world’s population—
My Lords, the Grand Committee now stands adjourned for five minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, as I was saying, it really is time to piece together fresh approaches to a continent that is going to contain a quarter of the world’s population and where the past 50 years of western intervention—especially the trillions of dollars poured into Africa by our American friends from the time of Chester Bowles onwards—have had such sadly limited success. If any of my observations seem to have a mildly critical tone, it is precisely because this report successfully opens up many important new perspectives and issues and acts as a powerful stimulant, so anything I say must be taken as further proof and praise of its value.
I have four points to make. First, the canvas is enormous. I understand completely why sub-Sahara was chosen: to limit the subject and avoid some of the labyrinthine complexities and turbulences of the Maghreb to the north. However, in the age of communications revolution and hyperconnectivity, I wonder whether the traditional geographical distinction is so valid. Modern violence and terror networks are increasingly intimately linked. The same ugly and destabilising forces as operate in the Middle East and along the Mediterranean shore—of course, they are the chief barrier to peaceful trade and development—poison politics across the Sahel states and have long since reached down into Nigeria with the Boko Haram horror, as we heard, and right down the east and west coasts of Africa. All in all, the huge sea of sand between north and south in Africa may mean less separation politically and in economic terms today than in the past.
Secondly, humanitarian aid is plainly needed more than ever, especially where terrorists and Islamic extremist violence have left and are leaving their wreckage. So trade concessions are needed—particularly the sort that encourage local enterprise and infant new industries. However, as has been said, we must be careful not to disrupt the rapidly growing trade cohesion in Africa, as exemplified by the new African Continental Free Trade Area and several other key networks that the report rightly lists and which are rapidly taking shape. Furthermore, we are gaining a new understanding of the mainsprings of development in Africa, which old aid views do not necessarily reflect. The wrong kinds of aid, measured just by volume and percentages, can easily hold back growth and do as much harm as good. Factors such as property ownership and remittances, on which the report held an evidence session, may be far more significant in development than was believed in the past.
Thirdly, there is no prosperity or development without peace. We need to know a lot more about what is happening across the whole belt of Sahel states, where violence rages from Niger through Mali right over to Somalia and the Horn of Africa on the east coast, and of course down to Mozambique. The report has an excellent chapter on peace and security across the region where, in Mali, the UK, working with the French, now has a fully mechanised long-range reconnaissance group, the Americans have a major drone base at Agadez and the UN struggles to keep the peace through MINUSMA along with some EU initiatives and the so-called G5 Sahel group of states.
Fourthly, there is the Chinese factor. Perhaps this should come first because it is now the biggest outside influence by far. The report looks at China’s activities, but there could perhaps be even more emphasis on the reality that the Chinese are everywhere in Africa, doing good in some areas but doing harm and arousing antagonism in others. I often think that if the Chinese would sometimes come off their anti-western high horse, they might learn a lot from the Brits on how to be most constructive over African development and reinforce the best trends instead of entrenching the bad ones. They are the largest funders of the African Union, but they own far too much of the debt of African nations for the health of the continent. Does not the whole problem of how and where to work with the Chinese need a thorough analysis and refocus across all involved departments here in Whitehall? I think I have heard other noble Lords say the same thing.
From here, I will strike a more jarring note. Everyone nowadays is calling for grand strategies of this kind or the other, especially in the field of foreign policy. I am afraid that the report is not immune from that tendency. However, in the fast-moving and fast-evolving age of digital revolution, the most beautifully crafted strategies are out of date before they begin. Anyway, the vast variety and changing character of Africa’s many regions, with all their totally diverse problems, fit into no single strategy. We have to be ready to work with different partners in shifting alliances in different areas. We have to work with the French very closely in some areas, and with the Japanese—whose enormous development programmes go quietly and expertly forward—in others; I am not sure that there is much about this in the report. We also have to work carefully and selectively with the Chinese.
We have to use different models, such as the CDC Group’s excellent approach to new enterprise encouragement and innovation, which my noble friend Lord Eccles has just been speaking about and which, incidentally, goes right back to the principles of the old CDC when it started 50 years ago. I had the privilege to be slightly involved.
We also have to work as closely as possible with the African Union itself. We have to focus on unique phenomena such as little Somaliland—I do not know whether that gets a mention—which works in smooth contrast to its violence-ravaged neighbour, Somalia. Frankly, I think it deserves more support and has lessons we ought to be learning in that region—for instance, how to deal with the extraordinary Djibouti situation, where we are not represented but the Chinese, the Americans, the French and many others are all building enormous military bases.
A prospering new Africa, cleansed of the poisons that still infect it but ready with a younger generation to leap-frog straight into the high-tech age—as in Kenya, for instance—and free, as far as possible, of hegemonic rivalries and ideologies is directly in our own national security and economic interest. Historical ties help us, and the modern Commonwealth network is very much alive and growing in ways only dimly understood by our media here, and indeed by our policymakers as well. But we also need a variety of imaginative, up-to-date and adaptable new approaches to meet fundamentally changed conditions across the whole continent. This report gives us a sharp and welcome push in that direction.
My Lords, the committee has produced an excellent report. I will focus on a very specific bit of it, the role of CDC, which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and my noble friend Lord Eccles mentioned earlier.
I happen to think that CDC can do a whole lot better. It has said it aims to invest $1 billion a year in Africa, but before it invests a single additional dollar it needs to revisit and rethink its investment strategy. CDC should be backing the boldest and most innovative entrepreneurs in Africa, those thinking about the biggest problems across the continent, but it hardly ever does that. It invests large amounts in private equity funds and expects them to invest on CDC’s behalf, as the report points out. As such, it has very little control over investment decisions at these funds, and ends up owning all sorts of exotic assets.
CDC owns a Pepsi bottler in South Africa, hotels in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana, an Ethiopian fine wine business and a real estate development called Project Paradise in Mauritius. I could go on and on. Surely there must be a better way to achieve CDC’s own stated goal, which is “to leave poverty behind”. Fizzy drinks and upmarket hotels are probably not a priority.
It is also disconnected with our own Government’s bold ideas domestically. We published the UK Hydrogen Strategy last month. Why is CDC not trying to find the most promising entrepreneurs working on hydrogen fuel cells in Africa? They exist. We say we want to be the global science and technology superpower. Why is CDC not directly backing the very best technology entrepreneurs, scientists and innovators across Africa? Just ask any African entrepreneur and they will tell you the same thing: when CDC does invest directly, it prefers to work with big-name groups, conglomerates and big banks—everyone across Africa who does not need our money.
Finally, CDC flies the UK flag globally, but without the accountability and standards our diplomats are held to. When an entrepreneur meets a CDC representative overseas, they see them as a representative of the United Kingdom. Over the years, I have spoken to dozens of entrepreneurs in Africa who feel they were brushed off when pitching their ideas to CDC. Its employees must be held to the same standards as others who fly the UK flag.
One billion dollars a year is a lot of money. It can go a very long way, but for that to happen CDC needs to embrace African entrepreneurs. I hope this Government insist that it does so.
My Lords, I give many congratulations to the committee; its report will be referred to for many a year. I would have welcomed an inclusion regarding the Maghreb countries, given their role in continental affairs. Many consider that Morocco, for example, makes for an excellent springboard when wishing to impact francophone Africa, and then there is the getting to grips with the reasoning and consequences behind the migration exodus through the third countries of Mauritania and Libya or the Spanish enclaves. Other downsides exist, given the serious challenges of the security situation in Africa’s central belt of countries, including the Sahel, to which I will refer later.
I must declare with pride having been honoured with a Yoruba chieftaincy and my interest as co-chair of the APPG for Trade and Export Promotion. We are to engage on matters of Africa. I approach African affairs overall with a sense of optimism, particularly as regards Africa’s remarkable performance over the last decades and its prospects for substantial growth.
The African Agenda 2063 tracks a course for the continent becoming:
“An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.
The African Continental Free Trade Area represents the latest step towards achieving that objective. I too encourage the Minister to shed light on the MoU referred to earlier. With 54 contracting parties, the free trade agreement brings together a combined population of more than 1 billion people and a combined GDP of over US $2.6 trillion, with the potential to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty and 68 million people from moderate poverty, and increase real income gains by 7% by 2035.
While trade and investment between the UK and Africa have barely advanced over the last decade, we have the potential to be Africa’s partner of choice. A comprehensive vision by the UK therefore needs to be put in place that would position us as a powerhouse for services, an investment environment, standard-setting and good governance that would contribute to Africa’s economic and social development. Promoting a rules-based trade system in Africa, forging investment and advancing partnerships and technology would bring tremendous growth potential for both sides. A regrettable fact remains that in an age of increasing protectionism, isolationism and nationalism, certain countries wish not to share but to prioritise what they perceive to be protecting their interests.
The UK has a strong internationally-acknowledged and respected regulatory environment, recognising that the true benefit to Africa will come when standardised, rationalised and reusable processes, customs and regulatory legislation become common across all nations, facilitating fairer trade. The Government should embark on a “training, knowledge and sharing” approach across the continent.
Work remains to be done, however, to reinvigorate existing commercial ties. The UK does not have any trade agreement with 40 of the African nations. It has rolled over the EU’s former trade agreements with 15 African states but has lost former EU trade agreements with four African states. We therefore have catching up to do, and HMG should be focused on delivering a comprehensive and detailed UK-Africa strategy that addresses the challenges and needs of the continent in a systematic way.
The UK will have to compete with established and emerging partners. China has used its belt and road initiative to restrengthen its presence across the continent, having invested in 52 out of the 54 African countries; it is about to enter the São Tomé market. China’s FDI stock in Africa totalled US $110 billion in 2019, contributing to over 20% of Africa’s economic growth.
The UK should also take note of the efforts of the traditional development part of the European Union, which last year issued its briefing Towards a New EU Strategy with Africa: A Renewed Focus on Outreach. It aims to boost economic relations, create jobs on both continents and generally deepen the EU-Africa partnership across the board by aiming to not only reduce tariff barriers, which are already low, but minimise and remove non-tariff measures while harmonising domestic regulations and good regulatory practice.
Further negotiations between standard-setting bodies should take place to assist African firms to export products to the UK, not just agricultural goods but manufacturing and advanced products. Open markets for African goods and services, increased mobility and the enhanced reallocation of resources should lead to economic and industrial diversification, structural transformation, technology improvement and improved human capital.
Innovation in Africa already abounds—for example, in the health sector in countries such as Rwanda and Ghana, and in the fintech industry. I note with interest the plans to turn Nairobi into a world-class financial centre. That is further illustrated by mobile banking, which is transforming the lives of Africans in both rural and urban centres.
A word on the downside. We must be cognisant of the political instability faced by a number of African countries, most notably in the Sahel and the west and central Africa region. Added to the increasing security threats resulting from the ongoing expansion of ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliated groups, and the activities of disaffected non-state armed groups in many of these countries, the economic disparity and political instability by coups in Chad, Mali and, most recently, Guinea, are an illustration of this. Even Niger, which experienced relative calm during the recent presidential election, is bedevilled by the infiltration of ISIS-supported dissidents from southern Algeria into the northern border area around Agadez, by incursions across its eastern border with Nigeria by elements of Islamic State West Africa Province, and by the increase in similar turmoil created by terrorist groups on its borders with Burkina Faso and Mali.
The UK must do its part to assist these countries by continuing to participate both in humanitarian assistance initiatives and security endeavours, and by continuing to support, for example, the military component of the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali operations. France’s decision to replace the extensive Barkhane military operations in the Sahel with a Special Forces contingent, involving greater international participation but with significantly reduced boots on the ground, makes MINUSMA of crucial importance.
I must add in conclusion that Africa has helped itself with significant improvements in leadership and governance, while signalling increasing demands for stronger accountability, checks and balances from its leaders. Over the period 2008 to 2014, 34 countries had improved their national governance, and since 2016 meaningful elections have led to changes in numerous countries, including Benin, Comoros, Ghana, Lesotho, Liberia, São Tomé and Sierra Leone. Africa is about much to do and much to be gained for all, but there is also the risk of much to be lost if the economic disparity and security concerns are not addressed.
My Lords, I begin by echoing the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, in congratulating all noble Lords involved in the authorship of the report, particularly their chairman. I learned an immense amount from it and have learned an immense amount from listening to noble Lords in this debate.
All of us born in the 20th century, which I think is all of us in this Room—even my noble friend Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay—grew up with stereotypes of Africa made by aid appeals and bad news stories. We can all think of those images: flies settling on children with bloated bellies, gun-toting teenagers and so on. Those stereotypes led my near contemporary, the noble Lord, Lord Oates, into a great adventure where, with his father’s stolen credit card, he landed in Addis Ababa, determined to do something about the Ethiopian famine in 1985. He realised two things on landing: first, that Ethiopia in 1985 did not particularly need 15 year-old English schoolboys, but secondly that the problems were not caused by western policy; they were internal and caused by bad domestic policy. We heard from my noble friend Lady Helic how, having grown impressively in the meantime, bad policy is again condemning that country.
I do not think that stereotypes survive first contact. You cannot fail to be hit by the industriousness and the hum of enterprise in Africa. If you want it in figures: before the coronavirus hit, sub-Saharan Africa had been growing at between 5% and 6%. According to the African Development Bank, even this year, despite everything, it is forecast to grow at 3.4%. Of course, that is partly just the number of people. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, the numbers laid out in impressive detail. When I was last in Africa a lot of politicians were saying, “This is a terrible problem and a great challenge—how are we going to find jobs for all these young people?” I would say: imagine the opposite problem. Imagine that you are Russia or Greece or somewhere where you have an immense number of retirees and very few people of working age. Then you would have a problem.
There is a terrific opportunity in demographic growth. If, as my noble friend Lord Eccles said, it sometimes does not feed into growth, that is usually again caused by bad policy. My noble friend specifically mentioned Nigeria. Nigeria has a 120% tariff on rice—a basic staple—and crazy banking rules. By the way, I would say it has a mildly corrupt Government that did not return the favour of the PDP, having accepted the election results last time. It is ultimately in the hands of Nigerians to choose different policies.
What drove that growth in Africa? It is the great unreported happy fact of the 21st century. It was not aid or even remittances; above all, it was mobile phones and the technology that went with them, facilitated by investment. Here is a hard truth: the motives of the companies that put in the mobile phones that allowed farmers to check the weather and see where the seed was cheapest, and allowed fishermen to decide where to land their catches, were purely mercenary. They did this openly for the profit motive; they were not pretending to dress it up in humanitarian terms. Some people find that an unsettling, even sordid, fact. I do not think that the beneficiaries on the ground see it in those terms.
Some people fret that there is a necessary tension between economic growth and environmental protection. My noble friend Lord Lilley ably set out the choice between affordable electrification or electrification through renewables. However, it seems to me that the best thing we can do if we want countries to take environmental protection more seriously is assist them in reaching a level of economic development where it becomes feasible.
My noble friend Lord Ridley is fond of pointing out that, 50 years ago, wolves, tigers and lions were all endangered but now, wolves have rebounded, tigers have flatlined and lions are still endangered. Why? Because wolves live in rich countries, tigers live in middle-income countries and lions live in poor countries. He is slightly oversimplifying but look at the story of our generation. In the years since 1980, there has been net reforestation on this planet of an area roughly the size of Alaska, but it has happened overwhelmingly in wealthy countries, particularly in Europe and North America. Why? For all the most obvious reasons: people in those countries do not rely on slash-and-burn agriculture or wood fires for cooking, and they do not have this constant pressure on land.
What can we do to help Africa to reach a level of development where those pressures are eased? The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, had the answer: open our markets. It does not even cost us anything—on the contrary, we are doing ourselves a huge favour. The reason to have comprehensive trade liberalisation with Africa, including in services, visas and professional qualifications, is not as a favour to a growing part of the world but as a favour to ourselves that also, incidentally, benefits exporters in that great and rising continent. Yes, there will be moments when it is not, if you like, aesthetically pleasing. The movement of rural populations into workshops in urban areas is not pretty. The 19th-century novelist Anthony Trollope once said:
“Poverty, to be picturesque, should be rural.”
However, this is a process that every country goes through. We were first, and others are now following, but—let us allow them the dignity of agency, for heaven’s sake—they do it because they are making rational choices about how to secure the best living standards.
What can we do to help? We can ensure that they have the right to buy and sell without restrictions. Here, like my noble friend Lord Lilley, I am delighted to be able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay: we could be doing way more. It is true that a lot of sub-Saharan African countries already qualified for what they call EBA, which is almost a tariff-free deal, effectively. However, as the wags in Africa will tell you, it is not so much “Everything but Arms” as “everything but farms”. There are all sorts of ways in which agrarian produce is excluded. I met Ugandan vanilla producers, who said, “In theory, we are allowed to sell all the vanilla we want to the European Union. There is no tariff”. In practice, the standards are set by two French lobbyists who have substantial interests in Madagascar in such a way as to exclude everyone else’s vanilla. If Britain, pursuing an independent global trade policy, is serious about global engagement, we must identify and remove those tariff and non-tariff barriers. I repeat: we must do this not as a favour to Africa but as a favour to ourselves.
Let us apply the lesson learned by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, aged 15: it is not always about us. We are a naturally solipsistic species—it is human nature to put ourselves at the centre of the universe—but the rise of Africa is a demographic fact and will be an economic and geopolitical one. The challenge for us is to stop thinking of it as an obligation and start embracing it as an opportunity.
My Lords, I and, no doubt, my noble friend Lord Oates’s publisher, are delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, has read his Africa memoirs. For those who have not, we both commend them very warmly to the Committee.
I declare my interest in the register. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the other noble Lords who referenced Sudan that it was the last country I visited, last March. I was stranded when it declared a state of emergency and closed the international airport. If anything, it brought home to me the vulnerability that many countries had when the pandemic struck in terms of not only immediate health but the ongoing economic impact. I have had a very close relationship with Sudan. It was therefore right that this committee started with an understanding of the impact—not just the immediate impact but what are likely to be very long-term consequences—of the pandemic on sub-Saharan Africa.
As others on the committee have said, it was a pleasure to serve under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She led the committee and our inquiry report in an open and inclusive manner. It took as its starting point how robust the Government’s self-described Africa strategy was in relation to the African Union’s own strategy for 2063, for example in the 2019 Joint Communiqué on the African Union-United Kingdom Partnership. We were told that just one initial example of what was then referred to as the new strategy was the “pivot to the Sahel”. However, as the noble Baroness indicated, there was only one reference in the integrated review, and that reference was to our support for the French deployment. As we have now seen, and as was referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, the change to that deployment under President Macron raises questions. I hope that the Minister can say whether it is the Government’s intention now to change this element of the integrated review.
Overall, the committee concluded in paragraphs 82 and 83 that
“the Government’s new ‘strategic approach’ to Africa falls short. It is not a strategy, but rather some broad ideas and themes, and there is little clarity on how the Government plans to put it into action … Communication of the new ‘strategic approach’ to Africa has been confused and confusing … and has relied on jargon”.
The Government’s position did not remove that confusion because the last witness the inquiry heard from was the Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, who told the committee:
“In my mind, we have a very clear strategy. We are acting on that strategy and organising ourselves and our resources around it. One of the tests that I apply to everything I do is: how does it contribute to the Africa strategy? That is alongside other tests, such as value for money, the manifesto commitments and so forth. It is very much a real document.”
However, the Government’s response to the report said this on page 5:
“A single strategy document for such a diverse continent would not be effective, nor is a continent-wide strategy usual practice.”
Either it is or it is not. Recent government documents and statements in the integrated review on an approach to the Indo-Pacific suggest that such a diverse area seems to warrant a strategy, so why not sub-Saharan Africa, or Africa and our relationship with the African Union?
However, the confusing position within government tells a deeper truth, which has been highlighted in this debate. Statements have been provided with grandiose assertions and ambitions, whereas the reality seen by our partners never reaches those ambitions. The shockingly high turnover of Ministers and the lack of seniority of ministerial visits, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and my noble friend Lord Oates highlighted, are illustrative. Of more substance is that in 2018 the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom gave a commitment in Africa that the UK was to be the biggest investor in Africa in the G7 by 2022, but there was subsequently no public statement by the Government on why this was scrapped just 18 months later. The Government hoped that people had not noticed, but the African Union did and so did China, at the very time—as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, highlighted—when many countries are now much more sceptical of the strategic debt policy of China and much more open to the approach of investment from the UK and other, similar countries. I am afraid the Government need to explain why this was the case. I asked the Minister why the target was dropped. He said:
“Our competitors are investing heavily. Financially, China is eating up a lot more of that investment opportunity than before. It makes hitting a crass target of being the largest harder and harder.”
So something has moved from being a target by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to being “crass”. I ask, as did the noble Lord, Lord Grocott: what, therefore, is the ambition for UK investment in Africa?
The second area in which we have reneged on a leadership position, as my noble friend Lord Oates and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, highlighted, is the real and devastating impact of UK development co-operation cuts. It is not so much a cut in aid as a cut in co-operation and partnership. British embassies and high commissions have spent the last six months telling scores of UK and Africa-based NGOs and charities to ask USAID and the EU to fill funding gaps. This is humiliating for the UK missions around the subcontinent and it is leaving unhelpful vacuums that others may fill.
In his letter to the IDC in the Commons, the Foreign Secretary highlighted the countries in sub-Saharan Africa where UK bilateral co-operation is being cut in its entirety. When the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked the Minister to reassert the position on aid, he replied:
“I will go back, if I may, to something that I should have said and which is truly amazing. We are still one of the few nations that delivers on 0.7% GNI. The fact that we do not still bash that around as a debatable is fantastic. We should be very proud of that.”
We were very proud of that.
The Government have failed to publish anything on soft power, covering education, wider rule of law issues and cultural and societal partnerships. It is of interest to me, for example, that this Friday the African Union-China human rights dialogue is convening. There will no doubt be a very powerful counternarrative on this subject from Beijing. What is the UK’s response? As we leave the field in many respects, reneging on leadership, it will be filled by others.
As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, my noble friend Lord Oates, the noble Baroness, Lady Fall, and others highlighted, this is a region of countries with young populations who are also more globally minded than previously and led by Governments who are more democratic and stable than ever before, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said. They seek co-operation to meet global challenges but they look objectively at our approach and the actions that our Governments address. If we leave the field, renege on leadership and become less reliable, others will fill this gap, which means that when we want to bring together coalitions of the willing to defend our positions around the world, we will find fewer partners as a result.
My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Anderson about missing the late Lord Judd. His commitment to development and Africa would have been highly relevant to today’s debate.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, not only for chairing the committee but for her excellent introduction to the report, and I thank all members of the committee. The report is a great resource, bringing together a range of important information on our relationship with sub-Saharan Africa. As we have heard in this debate, it makes incredibly powerful points that are as relevant today as when it was published. I associate myself with the remarks about the delay in our ability to debate it.
It is right to call for a stronger relationship between the UK and sub-Saharan Africa, and I am particularly pleased that the committee sought to change the narrative about the region. A genuine and constructive partnership between the UK and the 49 countries of sub-Saharan Africa presents enormous opportunities for all involved, but there is clear evidence from the committee that this is not being utilised by this Government. That was so ably amplified by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, this afternoon. As the report points out, sub-Saharan Africa is of great strategic importance to the United Kingdom, but it finds the Government’s strategy for Africa too vague to be useful and not adequately reflected in action. The talk is not yet matched by the walk.
The region includes many of the world’s fast-growing economies, and there are enormous opportunities for new trade agreements that would benefit both sides in the multilateral system. I hope that we will see a much more effective strategy on trade, instead of the simple rollover agreements that we have seen so far. In the multilateral system, the 49 states are increasingly important. They make up a large proportion of the influential G77 grouping at the United Nations and have often shown leadership throughout the UN system. Geopolitically, close security co-operation between the UK and the states in sub-Saharan Africa can make the world a safer and more secure place.
But our relationship with Africa should be based on much more than our interests, and the committee found that the United Kingdom can make a huge difference to the lives of people throughout the region. A closer relationship will clearly be mutually beneficial.
The report also recognised the great work done by the CDC in supporting African growth, particularly industrialisation. I do not particularly recognise the portrayal of the CDC’s work by the noble Lord, Lord Sarfraz. If he had been able to attend the CDC’s latest stakeholder event, he would have seen exactly what sort of projects it is prioritising. The CDC is not a replacement for private investment: that is something we should be promoting. The CDC has a very clear mandate set by the Government, and I hope the Minister will justify it. The most important thing is that it must make sure that its work reflects the 2030 agenda, the SDGs—a critical part in developing Africa. We should understand that it is not us telling Africa about the SDGs; the important thing is that they were accepted by all nations at the UN as a target for everyone and that they apply to everyone. It is the fact that they are universal in their nature that makes them so important.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned climate change. I am sad that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is not here, because a critical part of development is energy generation. As we have heard in the debate, without energy generation we cannot meet the SDG targets. This morning I was fortunate enough to co-host a CDC event with the noble Baronesses, Lady Sugg and Lady Sheehan, looking particularly at its investment strategy in terms of climate change and energy generation. There were lots of critical questions about that but, for me, the most important thing is that the context of its strategy is the SDGs. How do we get better employment? How do we get health systems working? How do we get gender equality? Those investment decisions in energy are really important.
What we heard in our session today was about the strategy of ensuring that there is a just transformation—how we work with Africa to ensure that the pathway to net-zero carbon targets actually embraces those commitments to jobs. The problem with the portrayal by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is that it was about either green and effective energy generation or cheaper carbon generation. Actually, that is not the CDC’s strategy but it recognises that to start the process of transformation you may need to use natural gas, which it has done. There is a debate to be had about that but the most important thing is that it is focused on this transformation, working with Governments and the private sector in Africa to ensure that the pathway they take is a green one—and not making the mistakes of the industrial north. The invitations went out to every noble Lord and it is a shame that not enough turned up, but I hope that the CDC will organise further events about how we can see the effectiveness of its investments.
Many noble Lords referred to the remittances sent from the UK to Africa, which come to many billions each year. As we heard in the debate, they exceed contributions in aid spending as well as charitable donations. However, decreases in the total were widely expected in 2020. I would like to hear from the Minister what assessment the Government have made of the level of remittances to sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, have they declined in 2020 and are they expected to decline further in 2021?
A major theme of the report is the need to pay more attention to the interests and concerns of the diaspora communities which contribute to these remittances. The report also states:
“In order to develop a better understanding of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Government should seek to foster knowledge of the UK’s historic relationship with the region among UK citizens.”
As my noble friend Lady Amos pointed out in her evidence to the committee, those citizens include a growing number of diaspora Africans themselves. In their response, the Government state that they are committed to continuing and increasing diaspora engagement. They said that a key area in which they will increase our diaspora engagement is on climate change-related issues, using the opportunity provided by hosting COP 26. With less than two months to go until that summit, what preparations have the Government made to facilitate this?
Mention has also been made of our political support for civil society, which, as many noble Lords may have heard me say, is a key guarantor of human rights. A strong civil society protects human rights. The committee made the case for greater engagement with civil society groups; in the Government’s response there was mention of only Nigeria and Sudan. Can the Minister detail what the Government have done to instigate further local engagement with civil society in Africa?
Our support for Security Council membership negotiations can strengthen the voice of Africa on the world stage, and our backing of the African Union-led peacekeeping missions can bring it a more stable future. Unfortunately, in recent years the Government’s lack of a coherent strategy for engaging sub-Saharan Africa, in addition to their inconsistent and often incoherent foreign policy, has created obstacles to our relationship with the region. Since the Government’s response to the report, as noble Lords referred to—of course the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, did so, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fall, made this clear—we have seen the break from 0.7% as it has gone to 0.5%, which has resulted in the UK abandoning its commitment to the world’s most vulnerable and undoubtedly harmed our standing with our allies in Africa.
I do not want to bang on too much. I was going to make a lot of references. The report is so wide-ranging that it is incredibly difficult to cover all elements of it. I was certainly going to raise the visa point but noble Lords have mentioned it so I will not repeat it; I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that particular point.
The committee’s report presents the right starting point for developing a new approach, including taking a greater interest in the region, identifying opportunities for genuine partnership and giving altogether greater priority to our relationship with the 49 countries. However, more than that, we need to ask ourselves what role we play in the world and how sub-Saharan Africa relates to that. The UK should be an outward-looking nation that is confident of its values and determined to work with other nations to the advantage of both parties.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, this has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns for the way in which she opened the debate and for her great dedication as chair of your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee. I am also grateful for her understanding, as a former Chief Whip, for the reasons for the delay in having this debate, as well as for the patience of all the committee’s members; I recognise that it has been tested. I am glad, however, that there have been opportunities during our many Statements, Questions and PNQs on the pandemic for some of the points raised in the debate to be made in your Lordships’ House.
The committee made several recommendations to the Government in its report. Many of them are already informing our approach to African countries as we tackle the pandemic and work towards a sustainable recovery. Africa is a continent of unequalled diversity. It is critical that we calibrate our engagement accordingly and focus our resources to ensure that we deliver the greatest possible impact for those with whom we work and for the UK taxpayer.
The Government’s vision for the UK in the world, including in relation to Africa, is set out in the integrated review. It highlighted our focus on east Africa and the continent’s regional powers, such as Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana, but we are also working to strengthen partnerships across the continent to boost trade, strengthen democracies and bolster security. Our overarching objective is to increase economic growth in African countries and support them becoming greener, healthier, more open and more secure.
To achieve this, we are focusing on five priority areas: economic growth; tackling threats; open societies; human development; and the shift towards a greener, cleaner planet. In the time available, I will say a bit about each of these priority areas. I will also try to address as many of the points made and answer as many of the questions posed by noble Lords as possible. As ever, I will of course consult the official record afterwards to ensure that all noble Lords’ points are properly followed up.
Our first priority is supporting economic growth to help African countries recover from the pandemic and meet the aspirations of their growing populations; as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, and my noble friends Lord Eccles and Lady Anelay noted, the number of people on the continent is doubling every 27 years. If African countries are to put themselves at the forefront of emerging global markets, economic growth needs not only to keep pace with but to consistently exceed population growth. That sounds ambitious—it is—but, as my noble friend Lady Fall mentioned, before the pandemic countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Benin and Côte d’Ivoire had growth rates of more than 7%. Those rates put them among the fastest-growing economies in the world. Fifteen other African countries grew at more than 5%. We want to help them to bounce back to those levels as quickly as possible.
As the Prime Minister reiterated at the Africa Investment Conference in January, our ambition is to be Africa’s investor of choice. These are competitive markets—as they should be—but we have much to offer and are working hard to increase trade and investment with and between African countries. We are supporting the African Continental Free Trade Area, as your Lordships’ report recommended, and strengthening our trade agreements; my noble friend Lady Anelay asked about that.
The African Continental Free Trade Area is the African Union’s most ambitious regional economic integration initiative and is a potential game-changer for Africa’s economic growth, driving industrialisation, jobs and prosperity. As well as delivering increased prosperity for Africa, if implemented fully, it could also generate new trade and investment opportunities for UK businesses, for example by reducing the complexity and cost for businesses of operating in multiple countries. That is why the UK is a strong supporter of it and why, on 3 September, my honourable friend the Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, signed a memorandum of understanding with the secretariat. The MoU is the first of its kind with a non-African country and will facilitate UK collaboration with the African Continental Free Trade Area across a number of areas, including investment and trade facilitation.
At the UK-Africa Investment Summit last year, we announced more than £15 billion of commercial deals between British companies and African partners. The summit was followed up earlier this year with the Africa Investment Conference, highlighting our goal significantly to increase trade and investment with the region, which your Lordships’ report recommended; the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, touched on this in his contribution. Supporting UK investment in Africa is a priority for Her Majesty’s Government. In 2019, using ONS statistics, UK investment stock was £50.6 billion —an increase on the previous year of almost 15%. Last year, when many investors in Africa were withdrawing, UK development finance committed more than £800 million of investment. To touch on the points made by my noble friend Lord Sarfraz, as others were withdrawing from Africa during the pandemic, the CDC Group stepped up to provide much-needed, impact-driven, targeted capital and liquidity to investment partners in the region.
In June, as G7 president, we committed the group’s leaders to working with their development finance institutions and multilateral partners to invest at least $80 billion in the private sector in Africa over the next five years.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, pressed for specific details about our trading arrangements. We have successfully signed nine agreements with 16 countries in Africa, representing bilateral trade worth £21.7 billion—
My Lords, there is a Division in the Chamber. The Committee will adjourn for five minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I was saying in response to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that the nine agreements we have signed with 16 countries in Africa represent bilateral trade worth £21.7 billion in 2019. There are also 12 trade envoys to Africa covering 15 countries, four of them Members of your Lordships’ House.
A number of noble Lords raised visas. We have designed our new visa system to support our business and trade ties with Africa. It treats people from every part of the world equally, welcoming them based not on the continent they come from but on their skills and the contribution they can make to the United Kingdom. I know that my honourable friend the Minister for Africa has had correspondence with your Lordships’ committee on this, including giving the reassurance that he raised many of the issues highlighted in your Lordships’ report with Ministers at the Home Office, but this is a new system. As we build it, we will of course keep reviewing it and ways that it could be improved to ensure it has the confidence of those we want to welcome to the UK. We would welcome continued feedback from your Lordships’ committee on this issue as we do that.
For growth to be sustainable, we must address security threats that could undermine it and harm our interests and those of our African partners. There remain pockets of violent conflict across Africa, and our second priority is to tackle them, working with affected countries, the African Union and the UN Security Council. We have expanded our diplomatic presence across the Sahel, one of the poorest regions on the planet and one suffering from growing insecurity and violent extremism. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about that, particularly whether we have changed our shift to the Sahel in the light of recent events. Since 2018, we have significantly expanded our presence in the region, with resident ambassadors in Mauritania, Niger and Chad for the first time, and an increase in the size of our embassy in Mali. We have also increased staffing in London, set up an advisory hub in Dakar and appointed an envoy. We are playing a prominent role in the Sahel Coalition and the Sahel Alliance.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, and others raised peacekeeping. We provide 300 troops to MINUSMA, the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali, and four Chinook helicopters to the French counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, noted. We also use our £12 million Conflict, Stability and Security Fund programme to build stability and bolster conflict resolution in Mali and the wider Sahel.
We are working to tackle terrorism in west Africa and the Lake Chad basin through a £12.6 million support package to counter Daesh in the region. We continue to support conflict resolution in Somalia and Sudan, and their transitions to democracy. In addition to pressing Somalia to hold rapid and credible elections, we are using our £24 million CSSF programme to seek to reduce current and future threats by focusing on building and delivering capability in its security sector, supporting stabilisation efforts and our efforts to counter al-Shabaab.
We are working with our partners and through the UN Security Council to end hostilities in Tigray. We have used our G7 presidency to amplify our calls for unfettered humanitarian access, a dialogue to resolve the conflict and accountability for atrocities. My noble friend Lady Helic mentioned some of these. Thanks in large part to her work in government, the UK is a global leader on tackling sexual violence in conflict. We have deployed the UK team of experts more than 90 times since 2012 to build the capacity of Governments, the UN and NGOs, including most recently in Tigray, to investigate crimes of conflict-related sexual violence and to hold perpetrators to account. This year, the UK will publish the three-year PSVI strategy, which will focus UK efforts on strengthening pathways to justice for all survivors and enhancing the support available to them, including tackling stigma.
Our third priority is to nurture open societies. That means supporting human rights and democratic values and supporting civil society groups to provide African-led solutions to the continent’s challenges. It means building institutions that can stave off authoritarianism and corruption, and it means supporting democratic values and institutions through diplomacy. In Kenya, for instance, we have supported the reform of the police and strengthened independent institutions such as the judiciary and elections commission. It also means holding those who violate human rights to account, including through our sanctions regimes. In Zimbabwe, we used our new autonomous sanctions regime to hold to account four security officials who were responsible for some of Zimbabwe’s worst human rights violations under the Mnangagwa Government.
Providing developmental support is our fourth priority. We are determined to end preventable deaths, improve sexual and reproductive health, and help more girls to receive 12 years of quality education. Between 2015 and 2020, more than 37 million young children, women and adolescent girls in Africa were reached through our nutrition programmes, and we supported more than 26 million people in Africa to gain access to clean water or better sanitation. Over the same period, we enabled an average of 25 million women and girls each year to access modern methods of family planning, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
We will continue to invest in stronger health systems towards saving the lives of mothers and children, including bilateral programmes in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, the DRC, Malawi, Uganda and Mozambique. Our bilateral programmes will be enhanced by multilateral investment and partnerships. The UK will continue to support the large-scale delivery of vaccines to children through GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and scale up the prevention and treatment of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria through the Global Fund.
A number of noble Lords made points relating to Covid and the provision of vaccines. I am mindful that the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, has secured a debate on that very subject in your Lordships’ House tomorrow so I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I go into only some detail on it now; I will be responding to that debate and will be able to go into further detail with the extra time allowed there. We continue to support the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines in Africa, where we have contributed £548 million to COVAX. Forty-two African countries have received a total of 31 million doses through the initiative. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has announced that the UK will share 100 million vaccine doses by June next year. However, I will take back the point made by my friend Lady Fall about further discussions at UNGA and discuss it with colleagues.
In July, we hosted the Global Education Summit in partnership with Kenya, advancing our commitment to 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030 and supporting education across Africa. This was an extraordinary demonstration of global solidarity, raising more than $4 billion to help the world’s most vulnerable children. The UK made our largest-ever pledge of £430 million to the Global Partnership for Education fund, maintaining our position as its top bilateral donor. However, we must acknowledge some of the difficult decisions that have been taken because of the economic impact of the pandemic.
Many noble Lords raised—as we have debated many times before—the need temporarily to reduce our development spending from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI. This was a difficult decision, and the Prime Minister has committed to returning to 0.7% as soon as possible. However, we will still spend more than £10 billion around the world this year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health. We remain the third-largest G7 donor and will spend close to half our bilateral aid budget this year in Africa. We are targeting our support where human suffering is most acute. Our focus is on preventing deaths, getting girls into school, boosting science and technology and tackling climate change.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, asked some questions about VSO in the light of that. We have agreed funding with VSO for the V4D programme until the end of this financial year, and officials have started discussions with VSO on our future relationship.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Anelay, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lords, Lord Grocott, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Collins of Highbury, raised the issue of remittances. The Government recognise the importance of remittances sent from the UK to low and middle-income countries. We are committed to achieving G20 and SDG targets, seeking to reduce the average cost of remittances to 3% of the total being sent and with no send costs in excess of 5%. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the decline in remittances. They declined by 1.6% globally in 2020, which is a fall but a lot less than was predicted earlier by the World Bank and others.
Our fifth priority is to help African countries to become low-carbon economies and shield them from the worst impacts of climate change. We are working with countries and the African Union to prioritise climate, nature and a green recovery from Covid-19, including through the African Union’s Green Recovery Action Plan, which was launched in July this year. We will use the COP 26 summit to address the disproportionate impact of climate change on Africa and turbocharge global action. We are pressing donor countries to live up to the $100 billion climate finance commitment made at the Paris climate summit. For our part, we have committed to doubling our climate finance to £11.6 billion. This is helping developing countries to pursue sustainable low-carbon futures.
Like my noble friends Lord Lilley and Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, we recognise the importance of reliable, affordable and clean energy to African nations’ development. Low levels of access to electricity present a major barrier to development and an opportunity to leap-frog to low-carbon economies, driven by renewable energy. That is why the UK launched the COP 26 Energy Transition Council, which will help to accelerate the transition from coal to clean energy across Africa. It will bring together the global political, financial and technical leadership in the power sector to seek to improve the international offer in support of an equitable transition from coal.
In the time available, I have given just a glimpse of the work we are doing across Africa. We have one of the largest diplomatic networks—
I am indeed. I was not yet winding up, simply saying that I have been able to give but a glimpse of the soft power work that we are doing across Africa. We have one of the largest diplomatic networks across the continent, strengthening partnerships with African countries and creating further people-to-people links. In working towards our goals, we will make the most of our considerable soft power assets, which were noted in your Lordships’ report and its recommendations. We have a rich array of creative, cultural and sporting links to build on, whether through scientific collaborations, tech start-ups, Africa Fashion Week London or BBC Africa.
The education sector is another vital link in this area. More than 30,000 African students are studying here in the UK. The British Council supports better knowledge of the English language through a number of programmes, including English Connects, which engaged with more than 1.3 million 18 to 35 year-olds through digital resources in the last academic year. Our Chevening programme, which was mentioned, has an extraordinary record of accomplishment in helping to educate future and current African leaders. We have increased funding for the programme and the 2019 intake of 1,100 was the largest ever.
A number of noble Lords talked about the importance of the diaspora communities here in the UK. We are looking to make better use of the knowledge and expertise of our African diaspora communities in strengthening our partnerships. Already, this approach has helped to identify trade and investment opportunities in countries such as Ghana and Nigeria. There are important ways in which the diaspora communities can build bridges with civil society and communities in their countries of descent to support action on priorities such as open societies and climate change. The noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, mentioned COP 26, and of course we want everybody in the United Kingdom to be engaged with that important summit.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford both raised China. As the Government’s response to your Lordships’ report made clear, the committee’s recommendations reflect the Government’s current approach. China is an important source of aid, trade and investment for many African nations. However, we are clear-eyed about the potential risks that this poses vis-à-vis issues such as debt sustainability and China’s economic and political influence. We take a nuanced and differentiated approach. We seek to maximise the positive impacts that China might have, especially in multilateral fora, while working to mitigate any risks. We distinguish carefully between the threats and opportunities China poses in Africa, and proactively engage where doing so is in the national interest and supports our Africa objectives.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also raised the case of Leah Sharibu. We remain deeply concerned about Leah’s welfare. Our officials in Abuja raised her case with the Nigerian Government in March this year. The Nigerian Government have provided assurances that they are doing all they can to secure her release, and the release of all those still held in captivity.
Cameroon was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and others. The Government remain deeply concerned about the situation in the northwest and southwest regions of Cameroon. We are aware of reports of human rights abuses in those regions and have made representations to the authorities about the importance of timely and transparent investigations into such reports. Indeed, we regularly raise our concerns about the crisis with the Government of Cameroon at the highest levels. The Minister for Africa visited Cameroon in March this year, met both President Biya and Prime Minister Ngute and set out the UK’s commitment to supporting a peaceful resolution.
The UK has also shared our experience of conflict resolution with the Government of Cameroon, and we work in conjunction with international partners, including France, as the noble Lord said, to raise the crisis in multilateral fora. During my honourable friend’s visit in March, he met the American, French and Swiss representatives to share assessments of the crisis. We also welcome the active conflict resolution role that can be played by faith leaders, both locally and globally, and welcomed the visit by the Vatican’s Foreign Minister, Cardinal Parolin, in June.
The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked about trade in the light of all this. The UK-Cameroon economic partnership agreement ensures continuity of our trading arrangements, but the Government’s approach is clear: using trade to support development is not mutually exclusive to the rule of law, protecting human rights and democratic principles. We continue to press the Government of Cameroon to uphold these important principles, which underpin the economic partnership agreement.
I am now, however, running out of time, and must conclude—
I recognise the time too and wish to ask a question, because the Minister has not answered at all the two points most frequently raised in this debate: visas and our trade policy, going beyond simply running to stand still. Does the Minister, on behalf of the Government, accept that within six months they will bring forward an overall approach to improving trade with African countries, as was called for by the noble Lords, Lord Lilley and Lord Hannan of Kingsclere? Is he unable to give us any information about visa policy, which, as a large number of noble Lords pointed out, is probably the biggest single impediment—apart from the cut in aid—to our improved relationship?
I am very sorry if the noble Lord missed it, but I did address the points that many noble Lords raised about visas. I noted that my honourable friend the Minister for Africa responded to the committee about that and gave the reassurance that he had raised the points mentioned in your Lordships’ report with Ministers at the Home Office as we implement our new visa arrangement, which welcomes people from around the world, based not on the continent they come from but on the skills they provide and the contribution they can make. I repeat what I said earlier: we welcome further discussion with the committee and the experiences of the people with whom noble Lords come into contact as they use the new system. We want it to enjoy the confidence of all those who use it.
I also outlined the Government’s approach to trade vis-à-vis Africa with the investment summit and the work we have been doing with the trade envoys, which continues, but I will certainly revisit the official record and, if I have missed some of the points that the noble Lord, in particular, raised, I will ensure that he gets the response he wants.
On a point of clarification, can the Minister assure the Grand Committee that the MoU with the Africa trade area will be referred to your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee and will be published? I declare an interest as a member of that committee.
If the Committee will permit me, I will take that back and provide a response once I have been able to discuss it with colleagues at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I will ensure that the Committee has an answer on that point.
In conclusion, the Government greatly value the interest of your Lordships and the committee in our relationship with sub-Saharan Africa and ensuring that Africa is a key part of the long-term approach of global Britain. We recognise the enormous potential that comes with the continent’s young demographic and growing markets. We are very grateful for the report and this debate, which has been a welcome opportunity to discuss it in depth and to cover some new ground as well. I know that the debate will continue, but for today I end by again thanking everyone for their participation and my noble friend for the way that she opened the debate.
My Lords, I also begin with thanks to all noble Lords who participated in today’s debate, as well as to those who rotated off—it is horrible phrase, is it not? It sounds like something to do with a rotisserie—in January and those who have rotated on. I thank those who have such a deep knowledge and interest in Africa and see beyond what the red tops—okay, I read the Daily Mail, but noble Lords know what I mean—say about it; they have a much deeper understanding than so many. It was great to be able to listen to noble Lords; thank you very much indeed.
It was a great privilege to introduce this report because it was the first time I have been able to do so since I became chair in July 2019, taking over from my noble friend Lord Howell. Without him, this committee would not have existed in any event and this House would have been the poorer for it. He is possessed of an enviable quality of analysis and clarity of presentation. I always used to enjoy listening to him in the long, cold years of opposition when he was our Front Bench spokesperson—the Treaty of Lisbon? We were there—and when he was the Minister at the Foreign Office and subsequently served this House so well.
I very much agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that the purpose of our committee was to move the dial—a horrible phrase, but the noble Lord made it much better. He said that it is important to change the narrative about the region. That was picked up by my noble friend Lord Hannan, who talked about the stereotypes stuck in the some of the minds of not just younger people but older people, if I can speak like that. Too often we think about Live Aid as describing all of Africa. We think of poverty. There is a difficult nexus here. We must try to encourage people to be generous, and to realise the value of overseas development and of contributing, both financially and through hours of work for voluntary organisations to assist across Africa. However, we must also be sure that we can be clear about the opportunities, as my noble friend Lady Fall set out so clearly. We have to look at the strengths in Africa and build on them while not being doe-eyed and ignoring some of the vile practices that go on in, say, the middle of the mining areas of the DRC, as well as the ways in which Presidents and Prime Ministers seem to ignore their constitutions and try to go on for ever. We must be clear-eyed about the difficulties too.
My noble friend Lady Helic made a really important point about that: not so long ago, we saw Ethiopia as the way forward for the future, with the great success when Abiy Ahmed became its leader. I went there with the Inter-Parliamentary Union in February 2019. It was very much a case of meeting people who were excited about this new environment in which people of different religions and regions were coming together. You could feel the dynamism. Science parks were being thrown up all over the place; the Chinese were investing there a great deal, of course. At that time, I had the privilege of having a meeting with Ethiopia’s equivalent of our upper House. The Speaker of that House, who was a Muslim and the first woman Speaker of their upper House, was from Tigray. Now, she is no longer there. She left immediately after the conflict began and made it clear that she would stand in Tigray with those being oppressed.
I think the conflict in Tigray has made us realise far more carefully that we should never take anything for granted in Africa. We need to be able to work in partnership, but we also need to ensure that we do not tell Africans how to behave, because there is such diversity, and it would make it look as though we were going back to our old ways of trying to foist our views on them.
On the other hand, if we do not assist with conflict resolution, why will businesspeople invest in Africa and ensure that there is a way forward that is good for them—but my goodness, it would be good for us, with a hard-edged idea about the increase in a population who have been increasingly well educated, who are motivated and with whom we really should be able to share innovation, as my noble friend Lord Sarfraz said. There are the ideas about how entrepreneurial work should occur in Africa.
When I visited many countries in Africa as a Minister, I met entrepreneurs who were longing to have better trade links with us. My colleague on the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and I visited a regional economic community when we were in Botswana on a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit. We saw its determination to make the African continent free trade agreement work, against the background that the regional economic communities have had their own cross-border issues in their activities too, so it is not a straightforward matter.
Throughout all this, there is so much that we can achieve as the UK in partnership. We will be watching the way forward in what the Government do—my noble friend Lord Parkinson will know that. I thank him for stepping in at very short notice to take this debate. He has done that astonishingly well—although that sounds terribly condescending; I apologise for that. We will be watching, because one of the roles of any Select Committee in holding the Government to account is to ensure, when the Minister is wise enough to say in winding up that he will follow up on any points that he has not answered, that we remember and press him on that. He knows that here before him is a group of Peers who are trying to ensure that the United Kingdom is successful in its relations with all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We are ambitious.
Committee adjourned at 7.48 pm.