Boris Johnson’s Africa summit condemned for ‘corporate hijack’ of aid budget

Friday, 17 January, 2020
  • Open letter condemns UK aid spending on £15 million summit

  • Campaigners to stage ‘Empire 2.0’ protest outside luxury hotel

  • African civil society ‘frozen out’ of attendance

Global Justice Now is among twelve civil society groups who have written an open letter to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, condemning Monday’s flagship UK-Africa Investment Summit for using UK aid money to promote business opportunities for British corporations and the City of London.

The event, at the Intercontinental Hotel in London’s Docklands, will be hosted by the prime minister, and will convene around 1,000 people including heads of state from up to 20 African countries, representatives from the City of London, UK businesses, business leaders from Africa, international financial institutions and some UK civil society invitees.

It has a budget of £15.5 million from the Department for International Development. No representatives of African civil society groups have been invited.

The letter, signed by twelve organisations including Global Justice Now, criticises the business focus of the summit, arguing that international development funds should be spent on fighting poverty and inequality, not attempting to “expand the UK’s economic and political power over the African continent”.

The summit, on the eve of Brexit, is seen by the government as a chance to showcase its ‘Global Britain’ agenda on the international stage. In December it announced £150 million of aid money will be spent through a Prosperity Fund to ‘facilitate free trade’, helping Britain sign post-Brexit free trade deals.

It comes as discussions continue in Whitehall over the possible merger or effective merger of the Department for International Development with the Foreign Office – a move which has been heavily criticised across the political spectrum.

Daniel WIllis, policy and campaign manager at Global Justice Now said:
“This is what ‘Global Britain’ looks like: spending millions of pounds of aid money on a lavish summit which does more to help the City of London, and secure Britain post-Brexit trade deals, than help fight poverty in Africa.

“While merging DFID into the Foreign Office would undoubtedly make things worse, this has been going on for years, with more and more aid money diverted to privatisation projects, poured into the City of London and used to help big business gain new markets. Of course investment could be useful in Africa, but only if done in the right way. High growth African countries are currently among the most unequal on earth, because that growth is not helping the vast number of impoverished people. Rather it’s being creamed off by those at the very top.

“If this is Boris Johnson’s approach to international development, then it hardly matters whether he scraps the department itself – he will be locking in the corporate hijack of the aid budget. We must stand against this approach which amounts to a new scramble for Africa, with British banks at the helm.”

Global Justice Now campaigners will hold a ‘No to Empire 2.0’ protest outside the summit at 2pm on Monday.

Notes to editors

1. The UK-Africa Investment Summit will take place on Monday 20 January 2020 in London, https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/uk-africa-investment-summit-2020. The £15.5m of spending is listed on the Department for International Development DevTracker at: https://devtracker.dfid.gov.uk/search?query=uk+africa+investment+summit&includeClosed=0

2. Read the open letter at: https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/resources/an_open_letter_to_the_government_on_the_uk-africa_investment_summit_-_jan_2020.pdf


Photo: Boris Johnson discusses Global Britain as Foreign Secretary. Credit: Chatham House

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