Boris Johnson: ‘Corruption deprives a nation of its rightful resources and stifles growth’

By Nicholas Norbrook

Posted on Monday, 20 June 2022 08:09
British PM Johnson meets with Portugal's PM Antonio Costa
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street, London, Britain, June 13, 2022. Aaron Chown/Pool via REUTERS

The UK sees the post-Brexit moment in Africa as an opportunity to rebuild commercial ties to the continent, says Boris Johnson.

But a recent heavily-criticised migration deal signed with Rwanda has given relations with the continent a different edge.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government conference — to be held in Kigali 20-26 June — may provide a chance for the UK to reset the narrative.

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson provided written answers to questions.

Is the new migration deal between the UK and Rwanda a sign of things to come, are we likely to see the UK doing processing of migrants outside national UK borders?

There is no single solution to tackle dangerous people traffickers who are fuelling unsafe and unchecked migration. I’m proud of our partnership with the Government of Rwanda, which is helping to counter the work of criminal smuggling gangs.

But it’s only one part of our wider strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system and ensure people can access safe and legal routes of migration. It’s been clear for a long time that the current way of doing things, with desperate people paying their life savings to smugglers and crossing the ocean in flimsy dinghies, isn’t working.

Increasingly tight visa restrictions are preventing Africans with valid reasons from visiting the UK – doesn’t this undermine the promise of ‘Global Britain’?

The United Kingdom is open to the world. Our businesses and universities are welcoming the best and brightest from across the globe, under a new post-Brexit visa system that breaks down disparities for non-European visitors – we’re already seeing an increase in skilled immigration from outside Europe.

The Ukraine refugee crisis has created some delays in visitor visa processing times recently, but African businesses visitors and tourists are welcome and valued in the UK.

Africa will lose out multiple times to climate change – unable to fully tap hydrocarbon wealth, prevented from getting cheap energy to industrialise, worst affected by the effects of rising temperatures. Because self interest is a powerful lever, is it worth reminding Europeans nations what a climate exodus of migrants would really look like?

It is the great tragedy of the climate crisis that the countries which have belched out the least emissions face some of the biggest threats from rising global temperatures.

The good news is that we now have the solutions to climate change at our fingertips. We know what works, and how to marry new green technologies with rapid economic growth. The potential for this in Africa – to transform the continent’s vast natural sun, wind and hydropower resources into clean energy for its people – are limitless.

The UK is helping to mitigate the impacts already being felt on the frontlines of climate change, including shoring up flood defences and supporting drought-resistant agriculture. And we are working with governments and industry to reverse the terrible loss of natural habitats and ensure that Africa’s future transport networks and power grids protect people and planet.

French economic diplomacy in places like Nigeria and Kenya is leaving UK counterparts in the dust. Can’t Brexit be an opportunity for UK companies? Current efforts appear small beer.

Free trade is the key to unlocking economic progress and drives peace and prosperity in societies.  I want the UK to be at the forefront of working with African partners on business innovation and clean green infrastructure development – and we’re backing Africa’s vision for a continental free trade agreement which the World Bank predicts will lift 98m people out of poverty by 2035.

Leaving the European Union has offered British businesses and investors huge opportunities to increase trade with key economies like Nigeria and Kenya, which I’m pleased to see them grasping with both hands. The facts speak for themselves. Trade between the UK and Africa is up nearly 30% from 2020, and we’ve now agreed trade deals with 18 countries on the continent – more than we had under the EU.

But we’re not resting on our laurels, I’m determined to see more UK companies out in Africa bidding for contracts and fostering talent and innovation.

The latest report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development estimates that some $88bn in illicit financial flows (mainly tax evasion and deliberate trade mispricing schemes) left Africa in 2021, much of this money was routed through UK dependencies, such as British Virgin Islands, or tax-havens such as Jersey and Guernsey. Why doesn’t the British government better finance its anti-corruption and investigative agencies, given that cutting these flows would strengthen African economies and boost their capacity for legitimate trade with industrial economies such as Britain’s?

Corruption deprives a nation of its rightful resources and stifles economic growth. It’s odious. We are working to tackle financial corruption worldwide, upping the settlement for the UK’s National Crime Agency to £760m last year and providing direct technical assistance to governments in Africa to address money laundering.

Where funds are recovered, they can be ploughed back into development –earlier this year, for example, £4.2m stolen by the governor of Nigeria’s Delta State and recovered by UK agencies was returned to Nigeria to be spent on key public infrastructure works.

It’s worth noting that the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies have their own elected governments who are responsible for their financial services policy. They have committed to introduce publicly accessible registers of who ultimately owns companies registered there, which is a welcome and progressive step.

Your predecessor David Cameron described Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt” then was subsequently criticized by the Treasury Select Committee for lobbying ministers in a text message campaign on behalf of Greensill Capital in which he had a significant personal interest. Do British politicians have any moral right to lecture African governments on accountability and good governance?

I don’t believe in lecturing other governments and leaders. Every country can do more on accountability, but the reality is that the UK has robust institutions, free and fair media and an independent judiciary to hold government to account.

We’re working in partnership with a number of African countries as they work to improve governance – in Tanzania for example the UK is supporting the government to deliver their strategy for public financial management, and in Zambia we funded a civil society-run voting tracker in the recent elections.

Does the UK support Lady Scotland for a second term in charge of the Commonwealth?

We are of course grateful to Baroness Scotland for her service to the Commonwealth, but after consideration, I have decided that the UK will support Jamaican candidate Kamina Johnson Smith to be the next Secretary-General. She has the vast experience and support across the Commonwealth to unite our unique family of nations. As we come out of the pandemic and deal with the global fallout from Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, a new Secretary-General can address challenges head on and seize the many opportunities the Commonwealth offers.

With the growing influence of Russia in the Sahel, and waning ability of France to hold the line, what can the UK offer either African governments in the Sahel or international efforts to promote peace and development?

It’s important that the international community doesn’t take its eye off the Sahel, with Russian mercenaries and Daesh offshoots sowing insecurity and suffering. I discussed this with my friend President Akufo-Addo in London a few months ago – the UK is committed to strengthening security cooperation with our allies in West Africa.

We’re funding the humanitarian response, providing £160m in aid to the region since 2019, and using our diplomatic presence across the region to promote peace and stability – through troop contributions to the UN mission in Mali, for example, and conflict resolution work in Niger.

How can UK positively affect peace talks in Ethiopia?

The crisis in Tigray has been deeply concerning, threatening to set back recent democratic and economic progress in Ethiopia. The UK is committed to working with the parties to support the peace process, and my Africa Minister Vicky Ford has been working with the government in Addis to drive progress.

The only way to end the violence and alleviate the humanitarian crisis is through a negotiated, political solution; we would like the see the parties get round the table for meaningful talks.

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