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Theresa May pledges Africa investment boost after Brexit

BBC Africa/Maximilian Kasseh, Jr.
Theresa Ma
Theresa Ma

Theresa May has announced plans to boost Britain's investment in Africa after Brexit, during her first trip to the continent as prime minister.
In a speech in Cape Town, she pledged £4bn in support for African economies, to create jobs for young people.

She also pledged a "fundamental shift" in aid spending to focus on long-term economic and security challenges rather than short-term poverty reduction.

She will also visit Nigeria and Kenya during the three-day trade mission.

On her way to South Africa, the prime minister played down warnings from the chancellor about the economic damage a no-deal Brexit could cause.

Talking to journalists on board RAF Voyager on Tuesday morning, Mrs May reiterated that she believed a no-deal Brexit was still better than a bad deal - adding no-deal "wouldn't be the end of the world".

Last week Chancellor Philip Hammond warned in a letter that a no-deal Brexit could damage the economy.

Mrs May's trip - which will see her meet the presidents of all three countries - aims to deepen economic and trade ties with growing African economies ahead of Britain leaving the EU in 2019.

Arriving in South Africa on Tuesday morning, Mrs May said she wanted the UK to overtake the US to become the G7's biggest investor in Africa by 2022.

Image copyright PA Image caption Mrs May said young people were the future of the continent

She promised to continue existing economic links based on the UK's EU membership - including an EU-wide partnership with the Southern African Customs Union and Mozambique - after Brexit next year.

Promising an extra £4bn in direct UK government investment - which she expects to be matched by the private sector - she said while the UK could not match the "economic might" of some foreign investors - such as China or the US - it offered long-term opportunities of the "highest quality and breadth".

She defended the UK's aid spending in Africa, a target of criticism from some Tory MPs, saying it had "worked" to give millions of children and women an education and immunize millions against deadly diseases.

But she said she was "unashamed" that it had to work in the UK's own interest and pledged a new approach in future, focusing on helping British private sector companies invest in fast-growing countries like Cote D'Ivoire and Senegal while "bolstering states under threat" from Islamist extremism such as Chad, Mali and Niger.

"True partnerships are not about one party doing unto another, but states, governments, businesses and individuals working together in a responsible way to achieve common goals," she said.

The UK's overseas aid budget totaled £13.9bn in 2017, an increase of £555m in 2016.

UK direct investment in Africa was £42.7bn in 2016, compared to £44.3bn from the US, £38bn from France and £31bn from China, according to data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
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UK no longer dominant

The UK's historical relationship with many African countries still counts for something, but, as Prime Minister Theresa May will find on her trip to the continent, the UK now vies for attention with larger economies offering greater riches.

The continent's leaders need to decide who to prioritise: an ambitious but friendly China, the huge European Union bloc, the potential riches of the United States, or the historically-linked United Kingdom.

The prime minister's trip comes a week before the huge Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing. Dozens of African heads of state are expected there and China may offer new trade and finance deals.

Mrs May's trip seems rather low key in comparison.

Tunji Andrews, an economist based in Nigeria's commercial hub Lagos, says the UK has lost its once dominant place in Africa's largest economy.

"While Britain remains a viable trade partner, it just doesn't hold the same value to Africa as China and to a lesser extent, the US."

Mrs May said national self-interest and global co-operation were not in conflict and the UK could play a key role in harnessing the "innovation and creativity" of young people in Africa, 60% of whose population is under the age of 25.

"The challenges facing Africa are not Africa's alone," she said. "It is the world's interest to see these jobs created."

BBC political correspondent Ben Wright said like other European leaders the PM saw "huge economic potential to tap" in Africa and was keen to support economic stability in the region in order to "stem the flow of migration".

Sharon Constancon, chair of the South African Chamber of Commerce in London, said the UK's aims were ambitious given that it currently ranked seventh and eighth respectively in terms of exports and imports to South Africa, the continent's largest economy.

"It is going to be quite a challenge to beat the US and China into that space," she told BBC News, adding that Brexit - unlike other factors such as language and the rule of law - was not a "natural advantage" for the UK.

Security issues will also feature on the PM's agenda and she is expected to discuss the threat of Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the role of British troops based in Kenya who are helping countries fight al-Shabab militants in Somalia

.

The visit is the first by a British leader to Sub-Saharan Africa since David Cameron attended Nelson Mandela's memorial service in 2013.
Mrs May's visit to Nairobi will mark the first by a UK prime minister to Kenya since Margaret Thatcher in 1988.

During her time in South Africa, Mrs May also presented a World War One relic - linked to one of the worst maritime disasters in English waters

- to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The PM's diary


Tuesday - Mrs May will fly into Cape Town where she will meet young people, before delivering a keynote speech on trade and how UK private sector investment can be brought into Africa.

After a bilateral meeting with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, she is expected to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

Wednesday - Mrs May intends to meet Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital Abuja before meeting victims of modern slavery in Lagos.

Thursday - In Kenya, Mrs May will meet President Uhuru Kenyatta before visiting British troops and a business school. A state dinner hosted by Mr. Kenyatta will conclude the trip.

 


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