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.
Labour’s approach to trade is focused on benefiting British business, as is evident in the title of its foreign policy section: “Standing up for Britain’s interests in Europe and the world”. This section includes plans to support access to international markets with the aim of reasserting Britain as an international leader. As such, African countries could be encouraged to enter more bilateral trade deals with Europe, whilst focus on the private sector and its role in Africa’s development will be secure.
There is, however, space in the manifesto for some explanation of the effects prioritising British interests and business would have on Labour’s goals to “unite the world to eradicate extreme poverty, tackle growing economic inequality, and place human rights at the heart of development”.
Labour also intends to reform the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) but doesn’t elaborate on how CAP would happen or who would benefit. It is commonly argued that CAP is detrimental to African agricultural markets as the subsidies provided to European farmers result in African agriculture left unable to compete.
As noted in our profile of the Conservative manifesto, there has been much recent NGO-led discussion regarding the negative impact of illicit flows and tax avoidance on African economies. In response, Labour pledges to make it harder for tax dodgers to conceal their identities and make country-by-country reporting information publicly available. Consequently, African countries may find much greater cooperation with the UK on tax transparency as well. The UK would also use its position to champion this issue internationally.
Labour endorses a “˜proactive’ approach to issues of UK security; as such it is possible that African countries facing instability would be offered more military and technical support to their anti-terror units. Historically Labour has not shied away from foreign interventions, but is now likely to display some reticence in committing to further intervention given that the political mood has changed following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Labour emphasises that climate change is “at the heart of [their] foreign policy” and promises to push for a goal of net zero global emissions by 2050 at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in December 2015. It will support ambitious emissions targets for all countries. African countries are already feeling the impacts of climate change and could also feel the burden of reducing emissions, which could hinder their own economic development. However, the negative effects of this could be reduced by the manifesto proposal of an equitable deal where richer countries support poorer nations in combating climate change.
The manifesto follows the negative discourse around migration amongst the dominant parties. Labour wants to reduce low-skilled migration and believes “much stronger action [is needed] to stop illegal immigration”. Migrants would not be entitled to benefits for the first two years and would be unable to send child benefit to children resident outside the UK. There is evidence that the status quo is damaging UK-Africa relations, especially within business and education. It also contributes to the erosion of the human rights of Africans who migrate across the Mediterranean – rights that Labour pledges to place at the heart of its approach to international development.
Finally, Labour champion LGBT rights globally by committing to create a Special LGBT Envoy in the Foreign Office.
The Liberal Democrats
MT: The Lib Dems set out their vision of Britain’s role in the international sphere with an ambitious statement: “Britain will be a force for good in the world, leading global action against climate change, tax avoidance and international crime, working to prevent conflict and offer humanitarian aid, and promoting trade, development and prosperity.” But then, apart from a section on economic liberalism entitled “An open, trading nation”, we don’t hear anything about the outside world until page 126 (and this is about immigration).
In this section, entitled “Restoring Confidence in our Borders,” the Lib Dems recognise the many benefits that the UK gets from immigration, but also stress the need to tackle “weaknesses…which threaten to undermine confidence” in the system. Generally they seem more interested in maintaining Britain’s position in the EU, including the free movement of people, than forging new relations with non-traditional partners.
In the “Britain and the World” section (p.141), the Lib Dems state that “All aspects” of government (foreign) policy will “focus UK policy on conflict prevention”, including strengthening the UN, supporting the UN principle of Responsibility to Protect and improving global arms control mechanisms. Such a level of detail was largely absent from Tory and Labour manifestos, in part because the Lib Dem one is almost twice as long.
The Lib Dems claim to have “led the way on international development and aid” whilst in government and specifically make reference to the Sustainable Development Goals, which are set to follow the end of the Millennium Development Goals this year. They are of course committed to maintaining the 0.7% of GNI allocated to international development. They will conduct a full Bilateral Aid Review too.
Like both the Conservatives and Labour, they say that they will “lead international action” to ensure companies pay taxes in the countries where they operate.
Whilst the Lib Dem Manifesto is much more detailed than either Labour or Conservative, in truth I get little more from it on Africa-related issues than a professed “internationalism” and greater interest in the global south. Sticking the major foreign policy section at the fag-end of the document pretty much sums up how most parties view foreign policy as a campaign issue.
Africa mentions: Nigeria (Boko Haram) and Sierra Leone (Ebola).
The Green Party
HB: The Green Party is the only party that would increase the UK’s international development budget (from 0.7% to 1% of GNI). They want to end conditional “˜paternalistic’ aid to allow more political space for recipient countries and support writing off the international debt of poorer countries or limiting repayments.
In recognition of the “interconnected world” the Greens argue for a holistic approach to foreign policy taking into account all the UK’s activities abroad including in defence, trade and investment to “make the UK a force for international good”. The manifesto argues that previous UK foreign and military policy has “contributed to challenges to our [global] security today”. International trade can be a negative or positive force depending on its nature. In particular, the Greens would take a firm step away from “˜free’ trade agreements and take action to end tax avoidance practices.
The private sector is generally viewed with caution. They would end funding of the G8’s controversial New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in East Africa and would ensure UK companies do not violate human or environmental rights or encourage corruption.
On global terrorism and security, the Greens favour proportionality, prevention and regional solutions. They would clamp down on the sale of military equipment and scrap Trident. Africa could expect less or no military support from the UK, which would instead favour political, diplomatic and economic solutions.
On climate change, the Greens argue that because richer countries made their wealth through fossil fuel powered development, they have a responsibility to reduce their carbon emissions proportionately to allow poorer countries to use the energy they need from such resources and therefore reducing the burden on African countries.
The Greens advocate for a “restructuring of our global economy, with power held at the local and regional level”. As such, some of the centralised power the UK and others currently wield would be dismantled by reforming the UN to make it more representative. This would include abolishing permanent seats on the UN Security Council.
Whilst recognising the need for immigration controls, the Greens would ease some of the rules whilst trying to reduce causes of involuntary migration long-term and would introduce an amnesty for irregular migrants who have been in the country for over three years. For African diaspora in the UK this could mean easier visitation by family members from their home countries along with family reunification.
UK Independence Party (UKIP)
MT: As anticipated, UKIP’s manifesto is heavy on immigration. The biggest bug-bear is with the EU, but the proposal to introduce an “˜Australian-style’ points-based system will affect potential entrants from all countries. Some attempt however has been made to couch immigration policy in more progressive language. For example, UKIP says it want the UK to “treat all citizens of the world on a fair and equal basis as a welcoming, outward-looking country.”
Most of the UKIP manifesto manages to avoid the characterisation that, in the words of Nigel Farage, suggests that “every UKIP voter is a retired half colonel living on the edge of Salisbury plain desperate for the re-introduction for the birch.” However, there are a few eccentric moments. For example, the idea of creating “the Anglosphere” – a sort of post-imperial block of countries that all speak English. For what purpose is not entirely clear.
On international development, UKIP is clear that “removing barriers to trade is a far more effective way to tackle poverty than giving hand-outs.” The manifesto states that if Britain escaped the malign clutches of EU protectionism “which has a negative impact on international development” this would give developing countries “free access to the British market”.
UKIP would also get rid of DfID, returning to a pre-Labour era of a Minister for Overseas Development within the Foreign Office.
Scottish National Party (SNP)
HB: The SNP, like the Greens, support a full audit of outstanding debt with debt relief being granted as appropriate. They are explicitly against aid being used for defence-related expenditure and say that international development assistance should not undermine public services in developing countries by providing an alternative to the public sector. Integral to their foreign policy would be LGBT rights and they, along with Labour, would establish a special envoy on LGBT rights within the Foreign Office.
HB: Plaid would like to see more diplomacy and peacekeeping during conflict with more being done to address inequality at the global level. They would attempt to uphold inclusiveness and tolerance in their manifesto and would also champion LGBT rights internationally. They pledge t0 “always offer sanctuary to those displaced from their countries during times of extreme crisis”. This could enable more African migrants and refugees to settle in Wales and find employment in certain sectors where needs are identified.
Magnus Taylor is Editor, African Arguments. Hetty Bailey is Policy and Research Coordinator, Africa APPG.