Brexit best for UK-Africa ties, British Africa minister claims
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Africa will benefit from a stronger relationship with the UK if Britain votes to leave the European Unon in this month’s Brexit referendum, the British minister for Africa has told RFI. The UK will no longer be forced to view Africa through the “prism” of the EU but will “deepen” its direct relations with African countries and other countries which play a significant role on the continent, says James Duddridge.
“We'll be able to focus more on our bilateral relationships with Africa and with our traditional partners,” says Duddridge, an MP for the ruling Conservative party, which is split over whether to leave the EU or stay.
Q&A James Duddridge
The minister is campaigning for the Leave vote in the referendum and claims that on issues of security, trade and development the EU is a "wholly inappropriate way to define the UK-Africa relationship".
Duddridge envisages more focus on coordination with France and the US because “that's the where diplomatic clout lies in Africa, not with some distant European External Action Service”.
“Sometimes we wrap up the UK-French relationship on Africa in a guise, a blanket, of the European Union to give it a bit more credibility beyond the two nations,” Duddridge told RFI in a telephone interview. “But in reality the principle European relationship in Africa is one between the French and the United Kingdom.”
Duddridge, who previously worked as a banker for Barclays in Africa, is critical of the EU position on security in Africa and outlines recent decisions which have gone against British government policy.
“In Somalia, against British wishes, the European Union reduced the amount of money available to Amisom, the peacekeeping force, by 20 percent. So that's a very clear negative impact of the European Union on a UK priority area, and the UK stepped up and put more resources in there to make up for the inadequacies of the European Union,” he says, referring the recent deployment of British troops to Somalia.
“The complexities of Africa and crossover of issues probably mean that the UK is going to play a more active role in African security and play a greater role in Africa militarily regardless of whether we remain within the EU or whether we exit.”
Focus on France, US to tackle African crises
When helping to deal with other African crises, besides the EU, the UK can focus on its relationship with France and the US, says Duddridge, who was previously chairman of the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group.
“In Mali - where we'll need to put more effort given terrorism, migration and a number of other issues - those relationships there are with the French, not the EU,” the MP says. “In north-east Nigeria specifically, the international community and indeed the Americans look to the British lead and we have a very strong relationship with President (Muhammadu) Buhari,” he adds, referring to Nigeria’s security challenges with Boko Haram as well as the country’s economic development.
With Brexit, the UK can take advantage of “greater opportunities in the Commonwealth”, says Duddridge, talking about the club of mainly former British colonial possessions. “There will be a reassertion of the Commonwealth's relationship”, while the UK would also continue to support the continental African Union bloc “at all levels” because of the “very positive” role it plays.
Promote inter-African trade
On trade with Africa, Duddridge is keen to encourage more intra-African trade and is a believer in more liberalised international trade with the continent.
“Africa is much better looking at a freer form of trading that will allow them to add value to commodities before they leave their shores,” he says.
Although Duddridge says he has been a supporter of the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements, which negotiate trade and development deals with different African regions, he says Africa “could be much bolder looking further afield”.
He is also critical of the European agricultural policy's impact on Africa, claiming that “the Common Agricultural Policy [the EU subsidies system that critics say hurts farmers in developing countries] has distorted trade to the disbenefit of African countries over decades."
UK development aid channelled through the European Development Fund is allocated “a lot less efficiently” than British aid assigned directly to African countries via “very good organisations” like the Department for International Development, says Duddridge, who has worked in both Botswana and Côte d’Ivoire.
He lists international organisations such as the UN, World Bank and International Monetary Fund as possible alternatives for the provision of multilateral aid that is currently dispersed through the EU.
Whether on security, trade or development aid, Duddridge is confident that British ties to Africa will be better off with an exit that will enable the UK to do things on its “own terms” rather than weakening its position to the “lowest common denominator”.