The British Prime Minister, Theresa May visited Nigeria in her 3-day African tour last week, which also included South Africa and Kenya with a view to bolstering cooperation with the Africa States. In this piece, KINGSLEY OPURUM examines the significance and implication of her recent Africa’s visit.
Nigeria and Britain last Wednesday in Abuja signed two agreements on Defence and Security partnership as well as Economic Development Forum.
The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, said following the exit of the UK from the European Union, there would be need to seek more economic ties with Nigeria.
She pledged that the United Kingdom would assist Nigeria in the fight against terrorists as well as human trafficking.
“I’m delighted to be able to here in Abuja and to continue the very good discussions we had when you were in London in April.
“As you say we already have very good cooperation between the UK and Nigeria which include education, defence, security and trade relations.
“We are ready to cooperate together on global and regional issues; to strengthen that cooperation and partnership, I have with me a business delegation, as we look to enhance our ties in future and explore more trading opportunities.
“We will also be looking to work together to step up efforts against security threats from Boko Haram, human trafficking and the likes.
“And of course also cooperate to fight corruption and lifting people out of poverty,” she said.
Meanwhile, analysts have described her visit to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya as “very important”, where she is the first British Prime Minister to visit in 30 years and also, the first to visit the continent since 2013.
Since June, 2018, Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, President of Turkey, and Xi Jinping, President of China, have all made African forays. Emmanuel Macron, President of France, has visited the continent three times since November last year.
The 50 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a combined output of $1.4tn, less than half the size of France’s economy, according to International Monetary Fund estimates for 2018.
Speaking to an Abuja-based Foreign Affairs Commentator, Dr. James Obolo, he said that Theresa May’s trip to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya last week was an important signal of renewed British political and economic interest in Africa.
He said, “This august visit was long overdue. A British Prime Minister has not visited Africa since 2013, and there has been a comparative decline in the UK’s visibility in many parts of the continent over the last decade, just as many other states, including France, Turkey, China and Japan, have been upgrading their Africa engagement.
“Remember that a planned trip by David Cameron was cancelled in 2016 with just five days’ notice because of the Brexit referendum and its results.
“Theresa May understands that Brexit compels her to focus on neglected partnerships and new alliances – a point undoubtedly pressed in her interactions with African leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in April.”
Dr. Obolo also said that African influence in global affairs should not be underestimated – where African governments can achieve a common position, they can be a powerful force, as African support for the Paris climate change agreement showed.
Renewed relations with African states can be seen as an important part of the Britain’s efforts to shore up its international relevance and influence after it leaves the European Union.
It is believed that Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are currently obvious destinations. They are priorities for British foreign policy and key members of the Commonwealth.
Recall that the UK is an important development and security partner of Nigeria and Kenya. Britain conducts military training in Kenya, with six infantry battalions per year carrying out annual exercises, and in 2016 pledged £40 million of counterterrorism and counter-extremism support to Nigeria to combat Boko Haram.
Nigeria is among the top five recipients of British aid globally, receiving the second-highest assistance in Africa after Ethiopia, and the UK is Kenya’s largest travel market, with over 168,000 British visitors in 2017.
Also, Nigeria and South Africa are the Britain’s biggest trading partners in Africa, with trade worth $3.3 billion and $8.7 billion respectively in 2016, and are the continent’s two largest economies; Kenya ranks ninth. All three exert significant economic influence across their sub-regions and are key gateways for investment into the rest of the continent.
It is worth of note that the UK is not alone in seeking to build partnerships in Africa. The Presidents of France and Turkey have made far more visits to Africa since 2010, and even geographically distant Japan has managed more than British heads of government.
However, the Commonwealth Development Council is the largest single investor in private equity funds in Africa, and the UK retains a reputation for pushing the envelope of smart development assistance.
On the other hand, pundits dread that UK’s visa regime, which makes it difficult for Africans to visit Britain could pose impediment to its effort to renew maximum interest in Africa.
So the road to renewed partnership with Africa will not be smooth – and the UK’s effort to reboot its Africa engagement may in any case fall victim to the vagaries of domestic politics, as it has in previous years.