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Why resolutions at UK-Africa summit remain a game of smoke and mirrors

By Mbatau wa Ngai | February 4th 2020
By Mbatau wa Ngai | February 4th 2020


The UK-Africa Summit held in London recently did not live up to its billings despite the hyped publicity.

While reasons for its shortcomings may be attributed to the hurry in which it was organised, ostensibly to assuage anxieties raised by Britain's departure from the European Union, African leaders bear the blame.

It is noteworthy, for example, that there is no evidence that African leaders had gone to the summit with proposals of their own for discussion with their hosts. Instead, the narrative from the summit seems to have been one whereby British firms placed their investments on the table with little discussion.

These were then trumpeted as new commitments. The £1.2 billion (Sh156 billion) investment announced by Tullow Oil in Kenya is a good illustration of the double-speak at the summit.

The London-based oil firm made the announcement despite, together with its partner Total Oil, already having contracted French Bank Natixis to sell its entire investment in its oil project in Kenya. An analysis of British investments demonstrate that while they are good investors, they are rarely beneficial to the host country or community.

The investments in extractive industries are notorious for turning what should have been a blessing for host countries and communities into a curse.

Indeed, except in a few countries such as Botswana, African communities have come to rue the day oil and other minerals were discovered in their backyards. It is not surprising that the most corrupt countries are the leading mineral and oil producers and exporters.

This leads to the emergence of super-rich individuals working or associated with those in government. Nigeria, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo provide examples of the kind of development models the rest of Africa needs to steer away from if their resources are to benefit citizens.

Indeed, this business model has come under sustained criticism from groups and individuals who care about the welfare of ordinary people. A new report by British Charity War on Want details how Kenya and its peers are losing billions of shillings from their mineral and oil wealth to firms domiciled in London.

Tullow Oil, which has major investments in Ghana, is among these firms. The charity accused the UK of helping firms loot Africa, leaving little to be shared among local competing interests. The wanton looting is also common in agriculture.   

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