May’s trade trip to Africa: what will she come away with?

Theresa May's trade trip to Africa, August 2018
The UK is clearly signalling that trade and investment in Africa will be a key component of the nation's success post-Brexit

The UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed that, post-Brexit, the UK will be a leading investor in Africa. But can she deliver on this promise?

Perhaps not, according to Dr Phil Clark, a SOAS expert in Comparative and International Politics with reference to Africa.

Speaking in relation to the current trade visit taking place, Clark said:

“Theresa May is trying to refashion the entire relationship between the UK and Africa – from one of aid and handouts to a more equal partnership. This is driven by the UK’s need to find new economic partners before it confronts the full impact of Brexit. African leaders will welcome this message but will want to hear the UK’s concrete plans to make this new partnership a reality. The UK is already the second largest foreign direct investor in Africa, narrowly behind the US. Given the uncertainty around US international trade and tariffs, the UK will probably soon become the largest investor in Africa, even without new trade initiatives. Britain is already a major economic player in Africa, so African leaders will want to know what is new in this proposed new and more equal relationship. Meanwhile, African states will enter these discussions from a position of strength. They understand fully well the UK’s predicament and they have a multitude of other trade partners, including China, India, Russia and the UAE, wanting to invest on a massive scale. If the UK’s offers don’t stack up against those from these other international partners, May will come home empty-handed. The UK’s promised investment to create millions of jobs across the continent is extremely welcome, given the problem of youth unemployment across the continent. But African leaders will bargain strongly this week for deals that suit their needs – rather than deals designed only to benefit foreign donors and investors, which they believe happened in the past.

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