As British-African Investment Summit opens April…                      

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will host the second British-African Investment summit in April this year as London struggles to strengthen international trade ties and bilateral investment flows in the post-pandemic, post-Brexit low-carbon economy with African allies beyond Europe. It is expected that 24 African countries will attend including Nigeria. 

This summit is coming at a time the UK economy is in crisis. The activities of British business are slowing due to rise in the cost of loans and production costs. Economists predict that by 2025, the GDP growth in Britain will not exceed one per cent in the face of increasing external debt and the cost of servicing it, which experts say does not allow the UK to be considered as a reliable partner in medium and long terms.      

Britain is actually trying to showcase itself as that reliable partner with its current economic diplomacy with Africa. The UK Developing Countries Trading Scheme that cut tariffs on 99 per cent of goods that enter the UK comes into force this year. 

British policy makers hope this scheme will help fight shortages in things like fresh agricultural produce, and that it will also leverage financial expertise to bring new custom to London.

Competent observers, however, say this economic summit is simply to serve the economic interest of the UK by luring African countries to sign various memorandum of Understanding [MOUs] for further exploitation of the mineral resources of the continent. They point out that one of London’s priorities is to gain control of lithium reserves in Africa.     

The most important use of lithium is in rechargeable batteries for mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and electric vehicles. Lithium is also reportedly used in some non-rechargeable batteries for things like heart pacemakers, toys, and clocks. 

The CEO of Africa Minerals, George Rooch, underlined the importance of lithium to UK and Europe when he recently called on them to end sanctions against Zimbabwe over human rights violations and invest in the country’s potential as a lithium refiner.   

In fact some environmentalists say the economic summit should focus on the activities of British companies in Africa such as Anglo American, a leading global mining company, and Glencore, a Swiss multinational trading and mining company. 

Their continuous mining of copper, nickel, platinium group metals and diamonds, as well as iron ore, manganese and polyhalite have led to a deterioration of Africa’s environmental condition, as well as an increase in corruption among locals officials. 

‘’Europe is still a really important trading partner to UK, Nigel Huddlestone, UK Minister of State at the Department for Business and Trade, reportedly said. Really, while Europe is actually an important two-way trading partner with UK, Africa remains an important raw materials extraction partner for its industries.       

Huddlestone, however, insists that ‘’the UK-Africa summit is for two-way trade, rather than just a beauty pageant of African investment opportunities for UK companies.’’  

But statements by James Cleverly, former UK Foreign Secretary, that UK is a leading investor in Africa, and former Prime Minister David Cameron’s talk about the desire to develop equal relations with African countries does not correspond to the reality on ground ,which observers say will equally be demonstrated at the upcoming summit.       

The last decade has seen a gradual disengagement of major investors , as multinationals like Shell. Standard Chartered and Barclays withdraw from Africa. Vodafone, while exiting the Ghana market only managed to be part of the consortium that purchased Ethiopia’s first new telecoms licence. London continues to cut its aid budget to Africa. 

In the last three years = a multibillion pound drop in financial assistance to the poorest countries in Africa.   

It was on this grounds that Cameron marked his recent return to frontline politics as Foreign Secretary by saying he wants to ‘’unlock billions of dollars for foreign aid over the next decade, as part of a moral mission’’ to help the world’s poorest people. 

A deal with Rwanda to process migrants who arrive in the UK has been criticised by rights groups such as Amnesty International. The UK in 2020 held its first UK-African Investment Summit, where officials say £6.5 billion ($7.7bn) of deals were secured. In 2022 , the UK export finance guaranteed £170m worth of deals to Benin and Togo .       

No matter the number of deals that as usual will be struck at the upcoming British -African Investment summit, African experts say given the current risk-off sentiment of British investors, persuading them to engage in risky frontiers and emerging markets in Africa will still be a difficult task. 

The growing consensus among African observers is that all the money in the world won’t help unless British trade policies are fixed for the common good of all partners.

Gaabddo Amin,