Mark Simmonds – 2014 Speech in Nigeria

Below is the text of the speech made by Mark Simmonds, the Minister for Africa, in Abuja on 27th February 2014.

Thank you, Mr President. Your Excellencies, distinguished guests: I am honoured to represent the British Government today – and to bring with me warm congratulations and best wishes from Her Majesty the Queen, on Nigeria’s 100th birthday.

It is a particular privilege to join you all as my Prime Minister’s representative, to celebrate this important day and to strengthen and renew the unique ties between Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

I am honoured, Mr President, to speak today of Nigeria and Africa. I am always struck by Nigeria’s youth and vitality. I believe strongly that your country, and the countries represented here today, should be viewed through the lens of promise and ambition. I want to take this opportunity to focus on the great future ahead of Nigeria and its African counterparts face.

It is a future that is closely linked to the achievement of prosperity, stability and democracy. And I believe that, as is the case in Europe, it is the choices African leaders make in these three areas that will determine Africa’s future.

Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, said on Independence Day in 1960 that Nigeria’s relations with the UK were “always as friends.” That is as true now as 54 years ago.

Our relationship is rooted in our joint history; in the large and important Nigerian community in the UK; the deep and expanding trade relationship; and our countless educational, sporting and cultural connections.

So it is exciting to recognize, as we stand at the dawn of a new century for Nigeria, that the future brings with it extraordinary possibilities for your country, and for many African nations.

In 1914, the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates and Lagos, brought together peoples, territory and resources that had never before considered themselves as having mutual interests. That brought challenges- and perhaps still does.

But Nigeria’s diversity has brought the Country strength, resilience and a multitude of talent. It has growing international influence as a peacekeeper, as a leader in the African Union and on the UN Security Council. The Country has become the driving economic and political force of its region.

A child born in 1914 in Nigeria, joined a population of just 17 and a half million people. Now, the population is 10 times that figure.

In Nigeria today, more than 18,000 children will be born. In their lives, they could see Africa’s population quadruple; its GDP triple; a world where one child in every three is African.

They could witness extraordinary social, political, and economic shifts, boosting this continent’s global role as never before.

But, they could also suffer from the impacts of climate change and witness unprecedented competition, at every level, and perhaps unsustainable demands on Africa’s resources and environment. They will need productive jobs and will want a political, economic and social voice. Managing these challenges will test the leadership and vision of all those here today.

I believe we share a vision that we want to see realised in our lifetime. It is the vision of independent, thriving and dynamic African countries, overcoming poverty, famine and conflict.

It is the vision of African families raised without disease; economies managed effectively, linked to open markets and providing jobs. It is the vision of African states governed with the consent and participation of their peoples and fundamental rights protected for everyone, regardless of your gender, ethnicity, belief, disability or sexuality.

Whether it is in the tech hubs of Lagos and Nairobi or the scientific innovation in South Africa, energy and ambition can be found everywhere in Africa. This is why the United Kingdom is positive about the bright future for many African nations. This is thanks in large part to the achievements that many African governments have made, over the last decade, in lifting millions of people out of poverty and conflict. I would like to put on the record my admiration for this achievement.

These achievements have brought African countries a long way. But if the vision that I have set out and which I believe we share is to be truly realised, African governments must now allow their countries to flourish. While some African governments are helping their countries to take off, others are yet to make a clear choice between building open governments, institutions and economies, or putting up barriers, oppressing minorities and ruling through fear and violence. I have no doubt about which choice Africans expect of their governments.

In 1914, as Nigeria was being born, Europe stood on the verge of tearing itself apart. Europe’s future was uncertain. Its path towards democracy, prosperity and stability unclear. It was the choices European leaders made that have brought European countries to where they are today. Many of those choices brought success. But, as we sadly know, some of the choices brought terror and devastation to millions.

If African nations are to avoid in the next century the mistakes European nations made over the last 100 years, then ultimately, African leaders – you here today – must make the right choices.

It is no exaggeration that the leaders here today hold in their hands the fate of possibly 1 billion people and their prosperity.

I have been privileged to see the ancient mosques of Timbuktu and to sit on the shores of Lake Kivu. I have been from Addis to Abidjan; from Cape Town to Khartoum. I’ve seen the mosaic of nations, cultures and histories that make up Africa’s richness.

Africa’s variety defies easy categorisation. But I believe there may be a guiding narrative that will critical to Africa’s emergence: three areas in which the success of African governments will not be judged by rhetoric, but by outcomes. They are democracy, prosperity and security.

The first choice is on democracy: African nations will need to direct themselves with determination towards democracy. This is a call from Africans themselves, who – with a smart-phone in their hand and twitter at their fingertips – want to shape and define their future; choose committed leaders and hold them accountable.

By virtue of her scale and energy, Nigeria could lead the way. Next February’s elections will be a vital milestone – Nigeria’s fifth consecutive Presidential election under civilian rule. Mr President, you have committed yourself to ensuring that the elections are free and fair. I am confident Nigerians will accept nothing less. And in doing so, you and your government could be a role model for many other African governments.

Secondly, thanks to the rising African middle class, strong growth rates, and increasing stability, African economies are on the verge of take off. But, to get the wheels off the ground, African economies will need to choose to couple transparent, capable and visionary economic management with investments in infrastructure, education and energy.

At the same time, the journey towards sustainable prosperity can only be fuelled through African governments taking strides to unlock barriers to markets; reducing the cost of doing business; and stamping out corruption.

Here, once again Nigeria is critical to success in the region and beyond. Non-oil growth is still 6%. But there’s potential for much more: genuinely transformational growth, especially if privatisation underway in the power sector delivers what it promises.

But democracies do not flourish nor do economies grow in the midst of instability. So the final area I want to highlight – for Nigeria and elsewhere – is the imperative of providing security for all citizens. Any government has the right, and indeed the obligation to defend its territory and people from terrorism. As it does so, it also has a duty to be the protector of its citizens and their universal and inalienable human rights.

The defence of Africa’s people, and the proportionate use of legal force, are mutually reinforcing. The UK will partner African governments in seeking the eradication of violent extremism. But if we ignore the values that we want our own children to benefit from, we will act as a recruiter for the likes of Boko Haram and Al Shabaab. We must not forget what it is that we defend.

The UK will continue to work with you all on African issues in the UN Security Council. We are partners in the Commonwealth, which African countries continue to join. We want to see a strong, ambitious African Union. We are opening Embassies and High Commissions across Africa, building linkages and strengthening our understanding. And we are expanding our network of trade and investment experts throughout African countries.

UK Aid has been transformative for many African countries, tackling the roots of poverty and conflict and building the foundations for countries that can flourish. Our commitment to working in partnership on development – as here in Nigeria – remains. It is right that my government made a brave decision in 2010, in spite of the UK’s serious economic challenges, not to balance our books on the backs of Africa’s poor.

We are one of Africa’s largest traders. Indeed, in Nigeria we remain the largest investor, and are making strides to meet our ambition to double bilateral trade here, from £4 billion in 2011 to £8 billion this year.

As one of the world’s largest exporters and with our global leadership in education; logistics; retailing; creative industries; hydrocarbons; agriculture; banking; renewable energy; pharmaceuticals; financial services; extractives; research and development; and with businesses that pride themselves on sound ethical governance, the UK has much to offer Africa’s emerging economies.

Some will say we are doing these things out of self-interest. Let’s be clear. It is in the UK interest to promote democracy, stability and prosperity. But it is also in Africa’s interest too. And it’s an indicator of Africa’s importance in the 21st Century that the UK, and many other nations, seeks to build and sustain the partnerships that will take African countries well into the next century.

I want to see Africa, Africans and African nations succeed. There is a bright future for this continent; fuelled by its energy, entrepreneurship and ambition. As Nigeria has shown, much has already been achieved.

Yet, the future journey will not be easy, the challenges will be great. But that opportunity that is at the fingertips of so many African people – with their governments’ help – must be seized. It is about making the right choices. It is about bringing true democracy, prosperity and stability to every one of your citizens.

Last year, we saw the parting of one of the World’s greatest leaders: Nelson Mandela. His death has left a challenge to all political leaders – Africa’s included – to meet the aspirations of our people, to demonstrate the same “servant leadership” that Mandela showed us. To choose transparency, to choose reconciliation, to choose partnership and opportunity for all.

So again I wish Nigeria a happy hundredth birthday. And I look forward to the next century of our partnership, and of Nigerian – and African – success.

Mark Simmonds – 2013 Speech at the Barclays Africa Forum

Below is the text of the speech made by the Foreign Office Minister, Mark Simmonds, on 20th June 2013.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the second Barclays Africa Forum.

I would like to thank Barclays for hosting this event. As a bank that has been operating in Africa for over a century, you are better placed than most to provide insights into the many opportunities that the continent offers.

It is particularly pleasing to see so many representatives of British business here with an interest in Africa. But it should not be a surprise, because we are discussing Africa at an important moment in its history. People have spoken for many years of Africa being at a crossroads, but I think that – finally – the talk is justified.

I say that not just because of the news coming out of Africa – which I will return to shortly. I say it because last month I was in Addis Ababa for the celebrations that marked the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity – a key milestone in the continent’s history – and because just this weekend five African Heads of State were here in London to take part in a conference ahead of this week’s G8 Summit.

As the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said at the conference, we want to “forge together a new agenda that will drive growth for us all”.

The active role played by the leaders from Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Somalia and Tanzania was one of the many signs that Africa is taking its seat at the international top table. And just as we looked back at the last 50 years when I was in Addis, so we now have the opportunity to look to the next 50, as Africa takes the key decisions that will set its future path – how it manages its resources, how it approaches peacekeeping and security and how it enables its people to realise their ambitions.

Today I want to focus my remarks on this future. To consider where Africa stands and where it’s heading. Why the UK is well placed to work with Africa on its journey. What the Government is doing to support the continent’s future. And how Government and business can work in partnership to build prosperity for Africa, and for Britain.

“Africa is hot”

At the end of April The Times ran an article that is synonymous with the new narrative of economic growth in Africa. Putting it simply, it said “Africa is hot.”

Of course, Africa’s growth story is nothing new. But I think that is telling in itself: you are all here because you know what the narrative is. You know that countries in sub-Saharan Africa fared better than most during the financial crisis. You know that growth projections are impressive and that the opportunities across the continent reflect this.

The facts speak for themselves. The economy of sub-Saharan Africa is already worth £1.3 trillion, and it is forecast to be 50 percent higher in 2017.

Let me take equity funds as a more specific example. Equity funds that badge themselves African held assets of less than $1 billion in 2006. That had risen to nearly $5 billion by the end of last year. Compare the headline figure to, say, Latin America and it doesn’t seem overly impressive – $5 billion to Latin America’s $38 billion. But compare the rate of growth and you get the real story. Sub-Saharan African funds saw an increase of close to 400 percent in just six years. In Latin America growth was less than 40 percent.

This growth is compounded by a significant demographic shift. Not only is the population of Africa growing, it’s also becoming increasingly prosperous. Standard Chartered estimated that in 2011 around 60 million Africans had an annual income of more than $3,000. They predicted that this would rise to 100 million by 2015. Again, consider the rate of increase: nearly 70 percent.

It’s not surprising, then, that the World Bank says that Africa is on the verge of an economic take-off similar to that experienced by China 30 years ago.

Yet there is still a perception problem. Even now, many companies are put off by what we call the “old agenda”. They worry that doing business with Africa is too risky. Corruption, war and famine are words I hear all too often.

There is, of course, a reason for that. As the situation in Mali, Somalia and other conflict areas makes clear, the “old agenda” has not gone away completely. But one of the key messages I make to companies in the UK and overseas is that Africa is not homogenous. Corruption, war and famine are very real in some places, but look across the continent as a whole and they are now exceptions, not the rule.

So we need to continue spreading the message of Africa’s growth story, which is why events like this are so welcome.

The UK as a partner of choice

It’s a story that the UK cannot – and should not – ignore.

And that’s not just because it’s in the UK’s interest; it’s in Africa’s interest too, because the UK has a lot to offer to support Africa’s rise. We have expertise and skills in sectors from the financial services and the knowledge economy to oil and gas, green energy, agriculture and infrastructure. These are all areas in which British firms can add value that would benefit Africa in the long term.

But we need to look beyond even our expertise and skills and make the most of all the unique levers that give us competitive advantage in the African market. And by that I mean things like our close links of history, and personal ties built up over generations. Or the vital importance of English as the language of international relations and international business – a skill that many African countries want to develop further, and one they look to us to help them with.

We must do all we can to harness this comparative advantage, because – as the Prime Minister has said – we are in a global race. Indeed, much of the foreign investment surging into Africa is coming not from the developed world but from other emerging economies, China in particular.

We need to ensure that Britain doesn’t lose out.

The Government’s response

That is exactly what the Government is seeking to do. We are working across Whitehall to support Africa’s rise, and to unlock as many business opportunities as we can in the process. But to do this successfully we need increasingly to work in partnership with business.

Part of this is about improving the UK’s diplomatic presence on the ground. Since coming into office we have opened or re-opened Embassies in Somalia, South Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar and Liberia, as well as opening the doors of a new UK Trade and Investment office in Mozambique.

And we are backing this up with more effective – and more targeted – high-level engagement.

Ministers from across Government are visiting Africa frequently – myself included – and we are supporting a growing number of trade missions, such as those led by the Lord Mayor of London to Nigeria, Angola and Ghana in April and May.

We have created a sub-Saharan Africa Task Force of key companies and stakeholders, which, under Lord Green’s chairmanship, is seeking to better respond to the needs of businesses like yours. This complements the work UKTI is doing to establish British Chambers of Commerce in South Africa and Nigeria – something we hope to emulate elsewhere.

Ministers are driving forward UKTI’s High Value Opportunities programme, which has identified five large projects in Africa where the UK can win significant business. I am personally leading our work on one of these, focused on oil and gas in Eastern Africa.

And in November the Prime Minister appointed Baroness Scotland as his Trade Envoy to South Africa. Incidentally, Lord Marland, the Chairman of our network of British Business Ambassadors, was in Gabon on Saturday, meeting government and business contacts. He will be travelling to Africa again in the autumn with a senior trade mission.

We are also changing the way we work.

Within the Foreign Office, we have, for example, established a network of around 50 staff across our Africa Posts who work on prosperity issues – which is supported by a seven-strong team of ‘prosperity champions’ in London.

We have trained our diplomats in commercial diplomacy and used programme funding to undertake projects across Africa to support British companies and improve the business environment on the ground.

And we have improved our engagement with the private sector by setting up new British Business Groups in places like Sierra Leone and Botswana, and strengthening our links with key organisations such as TheCityUK and the Business Council for Africa.

We’re already starting to see results. Take West Africa, for example, where as part of this exercise we linked four Posts without a UKTI presence to an FCO/UKTI ‘hub’ in Ghana. During its first six months in operation the four Posts concerned gave support to 113 British companies, and we saw exports over the same period increase by 60 percent.

A new approach

However, I think we can do even better.

I want us to be more ambitious, which is why I am driving a cross-Whitehall initiative to harness the Government’s resources and network to deliver a step-change in our trade agenda in key African markets.

The initiative will see us working in partnership with the private sector to undertake a range of activities – from conducting research and capacity-building projects to arranging scoping visits – focussed on agriculture, extractives (particularly the supply chain), climate change and energy, infrastructure and financial and professional services.

We identified these sectors as particularly attractive to British companies, and we will as a first step pilot work programmes in Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania. It is about a partnership so we are looking to see how we can support African governments too, as they seek to improve their business prospects and grow their economies.

The countries we have identified are those where we judge that a concerted effort by the Government could make a real difference. I hope to visit all five countries in the coming weeks to speak to their governments about how we can make this work.

Some of you may have already heard about this work, and those that haven’t will I hope do so soon. But I wanted today to highlight three key points about our approach.

First, the countries we are focused on are indicative of a broader Government strategy – namely that we are strengthening our links to countries with whom we share a traditional connection as well as those with whom we do not. I have travelled extensively around Francophone Africa during my first year as a Foreign Office Minister, for example, and earlier this year I took part in an excellent event in London, organised by UKTI, on partnering with Portuguese companies as a platform to Lusophone Africa. We should do more work like this.

Second, we want the initiative to support both British businesses and the development of Africa’s private sector.

This is as much about Africa’s prosperity as it is Britain’s, and it ties in well with the work the Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, is driving forward. As she said in a speech at the London Stock Exchange in March, we need to work “hand in hand” with business to drive economic growth in developing economies, alongside our core development work on basic services.

DFID are doing much more with business to support both domestic and international investment in African economies, and they are also working to support Africa’s aspirations to deliver a continental free trade area by 2017. A huge amount of work is underway to support the development of infrastructure, open up border crossings and develop local businesses along corridors. At the same time, we are working across Government to help Africa tackle barriers to business such as corruption – not least through our G8 agenda of Tax, Transparency and Trade, the ‘3Ts’.

And third, we want – as I have said many times before – to work in partnership with business, both here in the UK and in Africa.

Take as an example the development of small and medium-sized enterprises in Africa, something I am particularly keen that we support. British financial institutions have a clear role to play in supporting SME development as a driver of growth in African countries – and so I very much welcome the initiative Barclays launched last year which aims to do exactly that.

We want to hear from British businesses

Taken together, the actions I have outlined today are helping to ensure that the UK responds to – and supports – Africa’s rise and, by extension, that we remain globally competitive in a world of shifting economic power.

But as I have also made clear, prosperity is driven not by government, but by the private sector. By entrepreneurs and innovators, by companies like yours.

So we want to work with you, to hear your views, to support your efforts to do business and to help you help Africa on its path to prosperity and peace. Let me know what more we can do.

I wish you well in your event today and look forward to hearing the outcomes from your discussions.