Thursday, May 7, 2015

Are UK’s Top Two Parties Disinterested in Africa?

Are the UK’s Top Two Parties Disinterested in Africa?

Aikande Kwayu’s Goodbye Two-Party System in #UK! is of particular interest to those of us who are tired of ‘duopoly’ in  multiparty politics. I am tempted to agree with its argument about the “decline” of the ‘two-party system’ and, in terms of style, I like the way it concludes with the “reason for” versus “manifestation of” what is referred to as the “inward-looking politics” in the UK.

However, I am still having the same problem about Kwayu’s earlier argument on Africa in Is the UK’s diminishing its place in the global sphere? that subtly resurfaces. This time she has cited Magnus Taylor and Hetty Bailey’s post on Election 2015: What’s in the party manifestos for Africa? to buttress her assertion. Let revisit their post.

In the introduction that is written in the ‘third person’ though it is safe to assume it is Taylor who wrote/co-wrote it as he is the editor of African Arguments, the post says it “is a truism to state that British general elections are decided by domestic politics.” This is to say in elections this is generally the deciding factor. It qualifies this by saying it “is rare that events such as Iraq war cut through talk of domestic issues to be truly influential for the electorate.” Then it thus presents Kwayu-like argument: “This year such a stereotype seems even more pronounced.... Africa’s non-appearance in the manifestos is a symptom of a wider disinterest in international affairs during this most insular of elections.”

What is problematic is that, like Kwayu, this introduction divorces the UK’s “foreign policy” from (also being primarily a matter of) the UK’s (strategic) ‘international trade’ hence these lines therein that also brief us on why, comparatively, domestic issues matter more in this election: “Development policy, in particular, is relegated to the back-end of the manifestos. Foreign policy is about defending our borders or growing British trade.”

As I stated in my earlier responses to Kwayu – i.e. Is the UK retreating from Africa? and
Are China and the US sidelining “UK’s space in Africa”? – Africans cannot afford to ignore the centering of trade in foreign policy as evidenced in the case of the UK and Tanzania. Taylor’s entry on the Conservative Party shows how it matters even if his views – or theory of International Relations (IR) for that matter – may not be informed by its overarching centrality to foreign policy in the case of Africa. He writes: “The second [approach of the Conservative Party’s Manifesto to the outside world] sees Britain as a brave mercantilist power, forging a path through choppy seas via its sharp businessmen and clever diplomats. This section is actually quite optimistic for ‘emerging economies’, into which classification, in this context, most African countries should be viewed.”

Taylor then cites this statement from its Manifesto: “We have boosted our exports to emerging markets, opened new diplomatic posts in Africa, Asia and Latin America…to connect Britain to the fastest-growing economies in the world.” Tellingly, this is his take on the quote: “It’s a good point, the last ten years have seen unprecedented growth in African economies and opportunities exist to exploit this, both for the benefit of them and us. It also bemoans the fact that the UK is still too dependent on slow-growing European markets. British diplomacy is more than ever about ‘selling’ Britain Inc. to new buyers.”

Bailey’s entry on the other major party is thus also revealing in relation to what I have termed the Corporate-State-Civil Society (CSC) Tripartite Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Setup: “Labour’s approach to trade is focused on benefiting British business, as is evident in the title of its foreign policy section: “Standing up for Britain’s interests in Europe and the world”. This section includes plans to support access to international markets with the aim of reasserting Britain as an international leader. As such, African countries could be encouraged to enter more bilateral trade deals with Europe, whilst focus on the private sector and its role in Africa’s development will be secure.”

Are these the signs that the UK is retreating/withdrawing from (global) Africa?


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