British Prime Minister Theresa May said she will make major investments in Africa. While on a three-day tour of the continent, May pledged 4 billion pounds ($5.1 billion) of support for African markets. May’s goal of deepening trade ties with Africa, the world’s second most populous continent, comes ahead of Britain’s departure from the European Union next year.
Britain’s post-Brexit goal is to “strengthen its global partnerships,” May said in a statement. “This week I am looking forward to discussing how we can do that alongside Africa to help deliver important investment and jobs as well as continue to work together to maintain stability and security.”
Britain’s direct investment in Africa will mark a fundamental shift in focus from short-term poverty reduction to long-term economic growth. May said the U.K. will treat African nations as “equal partners” and help British companies boost trade with countries such as Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal.
“True partnerships are not about one party doing unto another, but states, governments, businesses and individuals working together in a responsible way to achieve common goals,” May said.
A main goal of Britain’s investment will be to harness the “innovation and creativity” of the young people of Africa, May said. “The challenges facing Africa are not Africa’s alone,” she said. “It is the world’s interest to see these jobs created.”
While speaking at a grade school in Cape Town, South Africa, May also announced the expansion of an educational scholarship for African students to attend college in the U.K. A video of the British prime minister dancing with teachers and students at the I.D. Mkize Secondary School has gone viral.
Another focus of Britain’s investment, May said, will be to address security challenges in Africa, “bolstering states under threat” from Islamic extremism in countries such as Chad, Mali and Niger.
May says the U.K. will carry over the EU’s existing trading arrangements with the Southern African Customs Union, which includes the countries of South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and Mozambique. The union allows these countries easy access to British and European markets.
During her trip to Africa, May has tried to downplay fears of the economic damage Brexit might cause the U.K. On Tuesday morning, May told reporters a no-deal Brexit is better than a bad deal, and no deal “wouldn’t be the end of the world.”
While May said the U.K. could not match the “economic might” of some investors, she vowed that by 2022 the U.K. will overtake the U.S. as the biggest investor of the G-7 countries in Africa.
But some critics say the U.K. is late to the party when it comes to support of African economies. Lord Boateng, chair of the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, which awards grants to private sector companies to support new and innovative business models in Africa, told BBC Radio 4 Britain has a lot of catching up to do:
“The reality is that the Chinese, the French, the Indians, indeed Korea, Japan, Germany even, tend to have had a much more proactive response to business in Africa than we traditionally have had.
“We have a lot of catching up to do if we are to make the most of what is an historic opportunity to recast the relationship between Africa and the U.K. away from it being seen solely as a philanthropic exercise, a basket case suitable only for [overseas aid], to an opportunity that requires investment, that requires risk taking and support by government for British companies.”
Later this week May plans to visit Nigeria and Kenya. Both countries are former British colonies. May’s trip to Nairobi marks the first by a U.K. prime minister to Kenya since Margaret Thatcher in 1988.