AFFORD gives evidence in report calling for fair visa policy, lower remittance costs and more trade
The House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee has criticised the lack of a coherent UK strategy on Africa saying the current approach is just a collection of broad ideas with little clarity on how to put them into action.
In a new report published today – The UK and Sub-Saharan Africa: prosperity, peace and development co-operation – the Committee calls on the UK Government to develop a new approach to African countries and regional institutions such as the African Union, based on ‘genuine partnership’.
Onyekachi Wambu, AFFORD’s Executive Director, and Professor Gibril Faal OBE, former Chair and current member of AFFORD’s Investment and Bond Advisory Committee, were among scores of individuals and organisations – politicians, NGOs, academic institutions, thinktanks – who gave evidence to the committee as it compiled the wide-ranging report.
Mr Wambu and Professor Faal’s critical evidence included:
– telling the Committee that diaspora-led business and investment were frequently driven by the need for broader social impact and contributing to the development of their countries of heritage.
– stressing the link between remittances and family businesses and other micro, small and medium enterprises – vital because the SME sector provides more than 80 per cent of jobs.
– stating that ‘decent jobs are the answer to the route out of poverty’.
– highlighting diaspora financing opportunities to the Government, citing AFFORD’s Diaspora Finance Initiative programme and its nascent Rwanda RemitPlus Diaspora Bond, which will see investment in affordable housing
. urging the UK to support the AU’s African Diaspora Finance Corporation and its investment fund
UK visa policy ‘arbitrary, expensive, time-consuming and humiliating’
The report finds that UK visa policy, as well as the ‘hostile environment’ and Windrush scandal, have damaged the UK’s reputation in sub-Saharan Africa and are making it harder to build strong relationships in the region. In some cases, visa policies ‘fall below the standards of basic human decency’. The Committee calls on the Home Office to urgently review how visa policy is operating for people from Africa who wish to come to the UK.
Unfairness in UK visa policy, the UK’s colonial legacy and the ongoing issue of structural racism in the UK are a difficult backdrop to the UK’s engagement with sub-Saharan Africa, which the Committee says the UK Government must address. The lack of a coherent UK strategy for engaging with sub-Saharan African nations risks the UK failing to develop deeper relationships in a region of strategic and geopolitical importance, in which countries such as China are already active.
Committee urges lower remittance costs
The Committee finds that in 2018 money sent to sub-Saharan Africa from diaspora communities globally was three times higher than the combined official development assistance they received. In the region of £6bn was sent from the UK in remittances, providing essential economic support and encouraging entrepreneurship. The report identifies remittances as an important part of the economic relationship between the UK and the region and urges fuller engagement with the diaspora by UK policymakers.
. In his evidence, Mr Wambu said the UK should seek to identify incentives which could ‘encourage remittances services providers to lower cost of sending remittances’ and ‘improve the infrastructure for domestic and cross-border payments’. Mr Wambu added that during the COVID-19 pandemic, remittances should be treated as an essential service and flows maintained.
Trade with the region has ‘flatlined’
The report says that sub-Saharan Africa has many of the world’s fastest-growing economies, but UK trade and investment in the region has ‘flatlined’. A concerted strategic effort from the UK to reinvigorate its trade links with countries in the region and a plan to build on the on the UK-Africa Investment Summit in January are urgently required. The Committee identify an opportunity for the UK in developing its own trade policy post-Brexit to also explore ways of giving better access to Africa’s agricultural exports to the UK market.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Chair of the Committee, said it was ‘time to press the reset button’ and ‘develop an action plan for a new relationship based on genuine partnership’.
‘There are concrete steps the UK can take now to deliver that including tackling unfair charges on money African diaspora communities in the UK send back to the continent, and using our exit from the EU to open up our domestic market to a new fairer trade relationship with African countries,’ she said.
‘We heard worrying evidence that the UK’s reputation in sub-Saharan Africa has taken a real hit as a result of unfair visa policies and the ‘hostile environment’. We have a lot to do to overcome that damage and develop the kind of future relationship that is in the interests of both the UK and the nations of sub-Saharan Africa.’
Onyekachi Wambu added: ‘The report provides a set of clear recommendations of how the UK can build a meaningful trade relationship with Africa. This needs to be built on the basis of mutual respect and access to markets.
‘In all of this, the role of the diaspora is vital and we are happy to hear the report contains good recommendations suggested by AFFORD to strengthen the diaspora’s role.’
Key recommendations from the report relevant to the work of AFFORD include:
– Reform of the unduly onerous visa regime for students from Africa, acknowledging that education is an important sector for UK–sub-Saharan African trade.
– More information on Government action to facilitate the sending of remittances to Africa from the UK diaspora and to work to lower the cost of remitting money to the region.
– The Government should explore co-funding and support the AU’s new African Diaspora Finance Corporation.
– The Government should embed consultation with the diaspora into policy making towards sub-Saharan Africa, in particular with regard to trade and investment.
– The Government should consider how it could better encourage diversity on UK boards. It should work proactively with diaspora communities to make progress on this.
– Although the objective of providing smaller amounts of funding to SMEs in the region is understood and supported, concerns remained about CDC Group’s investment in private equity funds. Alternative ways should be sought to invest in smaller companies.
– It is essential that CDC Group is able to demonstrate the development impact of its investment to ensure that it generates jobs which have a meaningful and sustainable impact on economic development.
A full copy of the report is available here
NOTES TO EDITORS:
1. Copies of the report are available to the media on request. Please email email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Baroness Anelay and other members of the committee are available for interview. To request an interview, please contact Owen Williams on 020 7219 8659.
3. Onyekachi Wambu and Gibril Faal are also available for interview. To request an interview, please contact Chris McWilliams on 07793 535435 or email@example.com.
3. To find out more about the work of the committee, please visit the committee website https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/360/international-relations-and-defence-committee. The work of the committee can also be followed on twitter here https://twitter.com/lordsircom?lang=en