The House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee has today slammed the Government for its lack of a coherent strategy for its engagement with Africa saying the ‘strategic approach’ launched in 2018 does not live up to its name, and is just a collection of broad ideas with little clarity on how to put them into action.
The Committee calls on the UK Government to develop a new approach to the countries of Africa and regional institutions such as the African Union, based on ‘genuine partnership’, including supporting reform of UN Security Council to give African nations a voice “commensurate with their size and importance”.
The Sahel ‘fertile ground for jihadists’
The Committee finds that the Government has been right to single out the Sahel region as a region of concern and welcomes the provision of 250 UK troops to the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). However, the Committee finds that the Government’s wider strategy in the Sahel is “unclear” and is concerned that the UK will not be able to add value in a highly contested space.
The report finds that the Sahel is ‘at the top of the list’ of areas of insecurity, where fundamentalist groups can often be seen by local populations as the only source of protection for the most vulnerable. Resource competition, climate change and ethnic tensions are accelerating in the region. Dramatic increases of extremism and violence in the Sahel are too often met with a military response. If sustainable peace is to be achieved, the UK needs to work closely with France and other international partners to address underlying issues of development, inequality, climate change and governance.
Long-term challenges to peace and security
Challenges to peace and security in Sub-Saharan Africa are being exacerbated by population growth, weak states, violent ideologies, COVID-19 and the climate crisis. The high number of refugees hosted in the region—6 million refugees and 17 million internally displaced people across Africa—often for long periods, pose significant challenges for development and stability.
UK military training in Sub-Saharan Africa
The Committee says that the Government should review its approach to military training for partners in the region. Reflecting on the UK’s experiences in Afghanistan, it suggests the Government should consider whether the British Army should accompany the Sub-Saharan African militaries it is training on some missions, while acknowledging that the region’s armed forces themselves sometimes contribute to instability and human rights abuses.
The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative
The Committee finds that the UK’s efforts to prevent sexual violence in conflict, once a flagship UK initiative, have waned due to “a lack of senior political leadership”. Citing the recent critical Independent Commission for Aid Impact report, it calls for the Government to review its work on this initiative.
The Committee also express regret over the Government’s decision to merge the well-regarded Department for International Development into the FCO. It welcomes the use of ODA to support peacekeeping and support work on addressing the underlying causes of insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa, but says the Government should provide urgent assurances that it will continue to spend UK aid in line with the definition of official development assistance agreed by the OECD, for the promotion of the economic development and the welfare of developing countries.
Commenting, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Chair of the Committee, said:
“Despite a significant fanfare when it was launched in 2018 the Government’s ‘new strategic approach’ to Africa has failed to live up to its name. It is time to press the reset button and use the timing of the UK’s exit from the EU and the Integrated Review of foreign, defence, security and international development policy to develop an action plan for a new relationship based on genuine partnership.
“We are asking the Government to ensure the Integrated Review includes a focus on using UK resources to prevent conflict, and to better engage local Sub-Saharan African partners, including civil society groups, in this work. Improving security for the citizens of Sub-Saharan Africa is an essential part of supporting significant economic development in the region.
“We welcome the contribution of UK troops to the UN mission in Mali, but the Government needs to be clearer about its strategy in the Sahel, to ensure the UK is really adding value and contributing to a long term solution to what is a dangerous situation in which multiple international actors are engaged.”
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