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Column: Brexit and the path to African economic freedom

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Moving on from the successful Brexit vote, UKIP is working towards presenting an even more solid and wide-ranging manifesto at the next general election than the excellent one put together by a large number of people in 2015.

Looking outwards from our limitations as EU members, we can see how our new status can benefit not only our own country, but those we deal with in the wider world.

A lot of the focus on these new opportunities will, rightly, be on re-building our global brand and forging new trade deals on our own terms – but we should not only look at the financial windfall Brexit will bring us in the coming decades; we should also look at the developing world and how our interactions with them could change many countries for the better.

“Trade not aid” has been a UKIP mantra for almost as long as the party has been looking at more than simply leaving the European Union. Based on solid, traditional free-market principles the idea is if we remove trade barriers to products from the developing world it would empower economic development and stimulate self-sufficiency, removing reliance on so-called “structural aid”.

Structural aid is defined as the money we send to other countries so they can improve infrastructure such as road and rail networks, build schools and hospitals and otherwise spend on big infrastructure projects that might otherwise be impossible.

While this sounds great, what it has produced is an unhealthy level of reliance on this aid as well as empowering governments to spend their own money on weapons or generally misuse it while spending our money on things their people actually need.

In her book “Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa”, Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo, a critic of Africa’s dependence on aid, likens it to addiction:

“Africa is addicted to aid. For the past sixty years it has been fed aid. Like any addict it needs and depends on its regular fix, finding it hard, if not impossible, to contemplate existence in an aid-less world. In Africa, the West has found its perfect client to deal to.”

I worry that:

“Too many African countries have already hit rock-bottom – ungoverned, poverty-stricken, and lagging further and further behind the rest of the world each day; there is nowhere further to go down.”

Other voices, such as Professor Patrick (PLO) Lumumba, the Director of the Kenyan School of Laws and previously Director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, see African solutions to African problems as the key to the continent’s future.

Both Moyo and Lumumba make it plain that African countries need to be self-sufficient, to have the self-respect and confidence to create prosperity and long term economic and social security. By spending our aid money more wisely and effectively, the UK can do far more to help African countries accomplish this for themselves and free them from dependency on other countries for expertise and funds.

Many voices in both Africa and donor nations have made compelling arguments at the immorality and inefficacy of structural aid, which is why in 2015 the UKIP manifesto pledged to cut all structural aid, amounting to approximately £9 billion, or 75% of our aid budget. Purely humanitarian aid, such as medical interventions and disaster relief, would of course be maintained as they have a real and positive impact on a number of levels.

While the £9 billion could most definitely (and arguably should) be spent on UK programmes, the likelihood is our foreign aid budget, enshrined in law as 0.7% of GDP, is not likely to be reduced any time soon. With this in mind, we should look at spending this money more effectively with more clearly defined and targeted goals.

The UK only hit its 0.7% GDP target by including the UK’s contribution to the European Union’s development aid budget (€56.5 billion in 2013), much of which goes to EU states but is also allotted as structural aid delivered as the EU saw fit. This is why UK taxpayers’ money ended up as structural aid to Zimbabwe, via the EU, despite a block on all such from the UK itself. At the moment, a good portion of our aid money is not managed according to our priorities and is disconnected from our taxpayer’s oversight.

Once we regain control of that money, we should use it to pilot schemes with one goal – the economic empowerment and independence of African countries, particularly those in the Commonwealth.

This would not be traditional structural aid, with its vulnerability to corrupt wastage or embezzlement. These would be targeted programmes with extensive oversight and auditing from the UK.

One focus should be on the education and training of African women. In the modern African economic model, many women are left in the rural areas while men go to the cities to work. These women raise the children, engage in subsistence level farming and otherwise hold the “home front” together. Urban women have more varied roles, but still often languish behind men in terms of skills, training and opportunity.

Both demographics would benefit from this realignment of aid focus. Rural women, trained and equipped, could move beyond subsistence level agriculture and into small-scale commercial farming, possibly through cooperatives. One of the biggest trading opportunities for African countries post-Brexit is in commercial agricultural goods.

At the moment, in an effort to protect continental European farmers, the EU imposes harsh quotas and a punitive 18% import tariff on agricultural products from non-EU countries. This keeps food prices in EU member-states higher than they should be as well as stifling the prosperity of agriculture-based African economies.

Urban women, with the right training and support, are encouraged to open micro-businesses to better their personal circumstances as well as provide opportunities for their children. This model is very successful in the UK, with more than a million micro and small businesses led by women, contributing £75 billion to the economic output of this country.

This improvement in the skills and prospects of African women would provide an overall economic stimulus to their countries, as well as advancing gender equality. Simply by diverting a portion currently spent on structural aid, multi-generational improvements are possible.

There is of course a need for wider skills improvements beyond the empowerment of African women – the position of many young African men also needs to be addressed. We also have an opportunity to improve the lot of British young people at the same time.

We should require any UK company who wins a tender for a project financed by structural aid to provide a large number of proper apprenticeships and training positions, split equally between UK nationals and citizens of the country in which the project is taking place.

This would improve the work-skills base in both countries to their mutual long-term benefit, as well as encouraging self-sufficiency in the recipient nation.

The UK will be committing 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid for years, possibly decades, to come. The political and social will to change the law is almost entirely absent. As our economy grows, we will be spending progressively more on foreign aid and we need to make sure it is spent sensibly.

We should be spending it with more than short-term goals and self-righteous back-slapping “aren’t we generous and progressive” hubris. After Brexit we will have more control over all the allotted funds and the capacity to really make a difference when we spend them – we must make sure what we do has a lasting, improving, empowering impact which has not always been the case in the past.


Margot Parker is an MEP for the East Midlands, representing UKIP.