Chuka Umunna recently led a British delegation to my two home countries. He also half belongs to one of those countries. I knew he was going but I didn't follow the news of his travels because frankly I wasn't too bothered.
My sister then sent me an article of his post-trip analysis:
By ADAM GREEN
The UK’s shadow business secretary sees opportunities for British business in Africa, but warns against the repeat of past mistakes
From his busy office in London’s Portcullis House, rising star of the UK Labour Party Chuka Umunna has plenty of domestic issues cluttering his in-box - from a heated debate over corporate tax to the status of the UK in the European Union. But the young MP still found time to fly to Nigeria and Ghana this month, banging the drum for UK business abroad.
“The UK is running to catch up in the pursuit of opportunities in the Bric economies, but they are at risk of repeating the same mistakes in the past, by taking their eye off the ball in this huge, amazing emerging story - which is Africa,” says Mr Umunna, a half-Nigerian whose last visit to the country was in the troubled days of early 1992; the dawn of the Sani Abacha regime. “This time, I returned to a very different place. Nigeria tangibly feels as if it is on the up.”
But Mr Umunna is disappointed that British companies are not playing more of a role. “The response from the Nigerian and Ghanaian business community is: “Where are the Brits? Where have you been? You are historically, and still are, our preferred partner. You are reliable, you produce a quality product, we like your legal system and you deliver on time. But where have you been at the time when the Chinese, the Brazilians, the Turkish have all been coming to invest here?”
The British brand abroad “is much stronger than we realise,” says Mr Umunna. “People see it as a badge of quality and reliability.” He highlights infrastructure and finance as key comparative advantages of UK businesses in Africa. “Nigeria is estimated to have infrastructure investment need of over $12bn for each of the next five years. There, I think, the City of London has a big role to play in providing unparalleled access to the markets and money for different companies,” he says, pointing to interest rates in Ghana and Nigeria which are in the region of 20-25 percent. In infrastructure, meanwhile, “we’ve got one of Europe’s biggest infrastructure projects in the form of Crossrail...with huge expertise in project management experience”.
Trade is the other side of the commercial coin, and there is progress to be made in this domain too. The Economic Partnership Agreements - the proposed trade agreements between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states - are stalling and the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Round is faring little better. Right-wing critics of the UK’s membership of the EU believe Britain could better engage with emerging market opportunities if it turns its attention away from Europe. But Mr Umunna - whose Labour party is pro-Europe - has no truck with this view.
“We are in a far better position to negotiate trade agreements with these other markets when we are sitting on one side of the table with our European partners - a collective of over half a billion people - negotiating with some of these very large countries, than we are if we are sitting there alone, on our own. Our membership of the EU can be the key that unlocks to the door to these emerging economies,” he argues.
He rejects the “defeatist” notion that the UK might find itself stuck in an EU status quo which fails to acknowledge changing global power structures, or to recognise the need for a fairer trade framework between developed and developing countries. “I am not satisfied that the trade playing field at the moment is totally fair. I think there is a consensus behind that view, and that is why it is really important to see some of these issues addressed at the WTO level and I’m really excited to see the appointment of the new head from Brazil,” he says.
Mr Umunna does not fear being stuck within the institution’s conservative tendencies. “Usually on issues - say, if you look at financial services, which is subject to qualified majority voting on the European Council - we usually always win. We manage to coalesce a majority around our position. It is only in recent times - given the detached approach at times that the government has adopted around Europe - that we haven’t been quite as successful. I refuse to accept the premise that somehow we will be inevitably defeated in this.” Reaching these emerging market opportunities, Mr Umunna believes, is better done with Europe than alone.
I like to give my opinion to my sister in my most basic vernacular. There's no point to politics if people don't understand it. So this was my very simple response to the article.
He's right on one thing, the UK need to be in Europe if they are gonna take Ghana and Nigeria economically. The EU is pushing some agreement that is supposed to lower tariffs for European goods and also obviously provide return passage to some goods. France has successfully convinced the Franco-states but the anglophone states are not so quickly swayed obviously because the UK is really crap at making friends and influencing people, mainly because they think they will be fine alone (clearly bullisht).
I think Chuka shows himself very clearly and the African diaspora orgs in the UK should stop being carried by the Obama comparisons. He's as privileged as half the Tory party, clearly the party like him since they let him take the lead on this trip (they have their own token West Africans).
I just don't believe his analysis on the ground. Every African leader is singing from the same hymn book, China is a more preferential friend for investment. The Brits just can't come to Africa without the we-know-better attitude, they don't know how. They are trying now by using Chuka but the fact remains that they don't understand the politics of partnership when it comes to Africa. Would be interesting watching them try, with Brazil, China, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Iran, Turkey taking all but the last morsel of what Africa has to offer and countries like Japan, Singapore and Canada reading the patterns much earlier (and the US obviously having an advantage by virtue of who they are). That's a lot of established competition to fight through even if you do believe the clients "like your [imposed] legal system"!
So that's my opinion. Tell me if you think I've read the UK in West Africa situation all wrong. I don't tend to think like other people. :) *Update* In this case I think I am thinking like other people check this little article out here!