Does the UK have an ‘Africa policy’? Magnus Taylor (Editor, African Arguments) and Hetty Bailey (Policy and Research Coordinator, Africa APPG) decided to find out. They have, between them, read all the main political party manifestos and summarised the main policies that will affect African countries and people from them.
Their conclusion: UK ‘Africa Policy’ is multi-faceted. Nowhere does a political party state an explicit policy towards the continent, but many policy areas such as defence, immigration, international development, tax and trade will affect the lives of people in African countries, and also those who might wish to visit or live in the UK. But the African continent, and indeed much of the rest of the world, is not a topic of major discussion in contemporary political discourse.
It is a truism to state that British general elections are decided by domestic politics. It is rare that events such as Iraq war cut through talk of domestic issues to be truly influential for the electorate. This year such a stereotype seems even more pronounced. Development policy, in particular, is relegated to the back-end of the manifestos. Foreign policy is about defending our borders or growing British trade. Africa’s non-appearance in the manifestos is a symptom of a wider disinterest in international affairs during this most insular of elections.
MT: The Conservative Party manifesto has two different, competing approaches to the outside world. First, it is a place that Britain must defend itself from: “… [we live] in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world, we will fulfil the most basic duty of government – to defend our country and keep it safe”. Policy towards immigration, defence and even the EU are influenced by this world view.
The second sees Britain as a brave mercantilist power, forging a path through choppy seas via its sharp businessmen and clever diplomats. This section is actually quite optimistic for ‘emerging economies’, into which classification, in this context, most African countries should be viewed.
For a start, the manifesto celebrates the fact that UK trade with emerging economies (particularly China) is up: “We have boosted our exports to emerging markets, opened new diplomatic posts in Africa, Asia and Latin America…to connect Britain to the fastest-growing economies in the world.” It’s a good point, the last ten years have seen unprecedented growth in African economies and opportunities exist to exploit this, both for the benefit of them and us. It also bemoans the fact that the UK is still too dependent on slow-growing European markets. British diplomacy is more than ever about ‘selling’ Britain Inc. to new buyers.
In the breezy optimism of David Cameron’s early days in opposition, a commitment to international development was used, in part, to help rid his party of its ‘nasty’ image. Five years down the road and it barely gets a look in. There is a predictable commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on international development, but this is somewhat hidden away, presumably to avoid antagonising the party’s right flank, vulnerable to being wooed by UKIP, which would drastically cut our aid commitments.
But aid, says the manifesto, should benefit us as well as its recipients: “[Aid] helps prevent failed states from becoming a haven for terrorists…builds long-term markets for our businesses…[and] reduce[s] migration pressures”.
The manifesto does have something to say on what is becoming a fashionable subject in development discourse, that of ‘tax and transparency’. This is a global problem, which cuts across definitions of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ and has created high-profile controversies in the UK itself with large companies and wealthy individuals accused of avoiding tax, mostly through sharp accountancy practises. David Cameron raised this at the G8 Summit in Northern Island in 2013. The manifesto says that a Conservative government would:
Push for all countries to sign up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Commission.
Review the implementation of the new international country-by-country tax reporting rules and consider the case for making this information publicly available on a multilateral basis.
Ensure developing countries have full access to global automatic tax information exchange systems and continue to build the capacity of tax authorities in developing countries.
On immigration, once again we see the tension between the two parts of the Tory narrative. First, the manifesto claims that “[The Conservatives] will always be a party that is open, outward-looking and welcoming to people from all around the world”. But they also boast that “immigration from outside the EU has come down since 2010” (peculiar given their stated aim to trade more with ‘emerging’ economies) and often try to talk tough, such as with statements on how they have introduced the ‘deport first, appeal later’ principle for illegal immigrants (excluding those in asylum cases.)
Oddly, the only African country that gets a specific mention in the manifesto is Zimbabwe, where Britain is apparently committed to “stand up for the rule of law and human rights”, apparently more so than in South Sudan, Somalia or anywhere else.
HB: The Labour Party manifesto puts international issues requiring a global response at the centre of its foreign policy approach. These include climate change, security and tax. Their manifesto recognises the influence that Britain has in the world and intends to utilise this to uphold and advance ‘British values’ and interests.