UK-Africa Strategy Post-Brexit

On Tuesday 26th June the British Foreign Policy Group co-hosted the UK-Africa Strategy post-Brexit event  in collaboration with British Expertise International and sponsored by Africa Matters. This event bought together a wealth of policy, security, diplomacy, business, and trade experts, to discuss how the UK can strengthen ties with Africa in a post Brexit Era. In doing so,the event generated constructive ideas on how British foreign policy can evolve around the following themes: prosperity, security and development, and influence and soft power.

Keynote address: Minister of State for Africa at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Minister of State for International Development – Harriett Baldwin MP

The keynote covered four key areas: Africa’s current economic situation, international trade and the UK, The G7 and UK International presence. The Minister highlighted the importance of understanding African youth, key social challenges such as family planning, and national crime, as well as the importance of re-thinking how to build strong diplomatic ties within certain parts of Africa.  For a full transcript of her speech click here.

Prosperity panel: Jonathan Evans VP-Africa New Ventures, BP,

Nigel Boardman – Partner, Slaughter and May,

Peter Davis – Head of Engagement for Prosperity Fund Project, WYG,

Giles French, Assistant Director, Economic Development Office at the City of London Cooperation

Chaired by Africa Matters’ Dr Margarita Dimova, the prosperity panel provided an important overview into what a future trading relationship with Africa could look like. Panellists highlighted the importance of being respectful of and better understanding the vast array of cultures, and political structures that exist within Africa. In doing so, emphasising how having a high degree of cultural awareness would allow medium to small sized UK firms to thrive. This panel touched on the UK’s ability to engage fluently with societies where traditional and formal structures exist in parallel. Understanding the structures that already exist across African societies to capitalise on building good relationships should also be a key priority for the UK. Whilst large multinational companies may already have a good grasp of this, it is key that this knowledge is shared with UK SMEs to promote greater economic cooperation between the UK and Africa.

As a significant middle class emerges throughout the continent there is a growing appetite for financial services, accountancy, corporate law, and insurance companies of the type that the UK excels at exporting globally. The focus therefore should be on understanding people and adapting to the needs of the growing population. The UK can do this by working with key African partners who can help prioritise the needs of UK and African businesses across African countries. To achieve this however it is fundamentally important that the UK works through a strong ethical framework in order to promote its credibility in the region as an honest partner.

In addition to this the UK must realise how current events and context affect societal structures and the effect this has on trade should also be a key priority for the UK. Issues such as low productivity and a growing population present real challenges, but also opportunities where the UK has expertise. For instance, aspects of the British Industrial strategy such as energy and mobility could be useful mechanisms for helping to boost productivity in Africa. The UK may also be advantaged in some respects post Brexit, for example due to the fact that broadly speaking, British business and trading laws might be more adaptable than the EU currently allows.

The audience were keen to point out that as the UK aims to increase trading links with Africa, it should consider how to mitigate corruption. Addressing this, as well as issues of sustainability might support the UK’s reputation and influence. Questions were also asked around how to encourage SMEs to export more, in particular to markets they see as less culturally familiar such as those across Africa.

Security and Diplomacy panel: Joel Kibazo – Partner, JK Associates,

Myles Wickstead CBE – Visiting Professor (International Relations), King’s College London, Formerly DIFD and FCO,

Tara O’Connor – Founder and Executive Director, Africa Risk Consultant.

Dr Nicholas Westcott – Director at the Royal African Society

The overall political stability that Africa has developed over the last 20 years has created a wave of new opportunities for UK collaboration. Traditional British brands associated with colonialism have declined. This presents an opening for more modern UK brands to position and herald a new era of relations between the UK and Africa post Brexit. There are however, major obstacles to achieving this, for example tight visa regulations that currently exist between the UK and Africa do not allow for the level of connectivity that many African states would hope for. An innovative approach to diplomacy and security is key to achieving sustainable long-term influence across the region. As with other regions across the globe, it is naïve to assume that the English language serves as a reliable means of generating connectivity between the UK and Africa on its own. The UK has done little to prioritise having a British presence in the region. In the absence of this, African states have looked elsewhere to China, India and Turkey for instance to forge close political and economic ties.

Given these challenges, there are other routes for cooperation between the UK & Africa. The UK should do more to reassure Africa that it can help mitigate key security threats such as terrorism rooted in a lack of growth and development. The UK could do this by responding in three ways. The first is via multilateral agreements at the UN. This would be one of the most efficient and strategic ways for the UK strengthen its ties with Africa, as in doing so, it would also allow the UK to boost its credibility at the UN. The second route would be for the UK to continue funding the Joint Africa-EU strategy to combat terror threats. Finally; the UK should also focus on bilateral relationships via the highly regarded British Military Assistance Training programmes.

International development remains as an important avenue of cooperation between the UK and Africa. 193 countries signed up to the UN sustainable development goals including the UK. As such, a relationship between the UK and Africa in the post Brexit era should encompass five key principles: the central importance of people, inclusive prosperity, welfare of the planet and mindfulness of the planet and peace. The UK must foster greater cooperation with Africa across diplomacy and security in order to achieve these goals.

The audience highlighted that by shifting away from focusing on UN Sustainable Development Goals the UK was discrediting the work it has already done with Africa to foster development, security and diplomacy. Issues around visa restrictions and migration within and out of Africa in Europe generated a dialogue around UK immigration policy with regards to Africa post Brexit.

Influence & soft power panel – Tom Cargill – Executive Director, The British Foreign Policy Group,

Jon Townley – Head of Wales for Africa, Welsh Government,

Ayan Mahamoud – Resident Representative of Republic of Somaliland to the UK & Commonwealth,

Simon Conway – Director of Strategy, Halo Trust.

One key highlight from this panel was the important role of the African diaspora community in the UK in shaping UK-Africa relationships in the post Brexit era. This is significant because it echoes the shared values between the UK and Africa. These common values are key to ensuring that the UK is able to reach out to young people across Africa. The key to achieving close ties with Africa in a post Brexit era is therefore to nurture the talents of Africans in the UK and across African Commonwealth countries. This is why the role of soft power is increasingly important.  The increase in engagement amongst African diaspora communities and collaboration with British African youth revealed that soft power is an important and versatile tool, that can serve as a key to generate close ties with Africa in a post Brexit era. Panellists stressed that, any vision for a Global Britain must be coherent and consistent with all that Wales, England and Scotland have to offer. Existing partnerships between Welsh and African universities have helped to create an ambitious global vision for Wales incorporating soft power. Similarly, Scotland has secured a strong partnership with Malawi. This has also been achieved via Scotland’s philanthropic school partnership programme. Such initiatives exemplify how soft power can strengthen relationships across generations, cultures, within the UK and Africa.

The audience re-iterated the need to understand what soft power means to people across Africa. Also highlighted was the need to re-define UK-Africa relations via nurturing key talent and understanding how to build connections through universities both in the UK and in Africa.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the BFPG. The BFPG is an independent not for profit organisation that encourages constructive, informed and considered opinions without taking an institutional position on any issue.
BFPG Admin