May’s Africa trip: was the sole achieve­ment a dance move?

The Guardian Weekly - - Uk News - Dan Sab­bagh

Theresa May’s de­ci­sion to go danc­ing not once but twice in a week sug­gests a sur­pris­ing level of con­fi­dence on the part of the em­bat­tled prime min­is­ter. Her three-day quick­step around Africa last week may be the last time be­fore Christ­mas that a week in pol­i­tics will be dom­i­nated by any­thing other than Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions and ques­tions about lead­ers.

But the re­al­ity is her short stay in the con­ti­nent un­der­lines the scale of the task Bri­tain faces in rein­vent­ing it­self as an in­flu­en­tial global player af­ter quit­ting the Euro­pean Union.

In Africa, there is lit­tle doubt­ing the op­por­tu­nity. The con­ti­nent boasts five of the world’s fastest grow­ing economies – in Kenya, the growth rate has been 5% to 6%. Poverty and, in­creas­ingly, in­equal­ity re­main prob­lems; so is the need to cre­ate jobs – about 18m a year – in a con­ti­nent full of young peo­ple.

It is this kind of think­ing that prompted May to em­pha­sise a trade-first strat­egy in her key­note speech in Cape Town, and even the op­ti­mistic goal of over­haul­ing the US as the lead­ing G7 in­vestor in Africa, dur­ing the first visit by a Bri­tish prime min­is­ter to Africa since 2013. Bri­tain, for all the his­toric links, has lat­terly been in­creas­ingly ab­sent from eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, al­low­ing others, most no­tably China – not a G7 mem­ber – to seek to ex­pand their in­flu­ence by build­ing in­fra­struc­ture and trade. A week af­ter May’s visit, which took in South Africa, Nige­ria and Kenya in three days, Bei­jing will host a two-day China-Africa sum­mit chaired by pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

There are con­cerns about the debt load African coun­tries are tak­ing on to ser­vice Chi­nese in­fra­struc­ture projects, such as the Mom­basa-to-Nairobi line in Kenya, com­pleted last year to re­place the old Bri­tish-built rail­way, and the new air­port ter­mi­nals be­ing con­structed in Nige­ria’s cap­i­tal, Abuja, and else­where. Yet while May did bring con­struc­tion com­pa­nies in her trade del­e­ga­tion, her pitch was fo­cused on a mix­ture of se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion – train­ing for sol­diers fight­ing Is­lamists in Nige­ria and Kenya – and pro­vid­ing fi­nan­cial and pro­fes­sional ser­vices, mean­ing the City of Lon­don. Dur­ing a three­hour stop at Lagos in Nige­ria, May briefly met Aliko Dan­gote, Africa’s rich­est man, soon af­ter the gov­ern­ment had high­lighted a com­mit­ment he has made to list his $10bn ce­ment busi­ness in Lon­don.

It is too much to ex­pect a three-day tour to trans­form Bri­tain’s post-Brexit trad­ing prospects in Africa, but the fact that the most mem­o­rable as­pect of the trip was May’s at­tempts at danc­ing demon­strates the lim­its of what can be achieved on most for­eign tours. But No 10 was not un­happy that her awk­ward ef­forts made her seem at least more hu­man.

PA Wire

Theresa May breaks into dance while with scouts in Nairobi

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