Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP speaks exclusively to Gary Nunn from the See Africa Differently team about myth-busting, business opportunities and the African country that will be aid independent by 2020. With permission we have republished the interview below, to read the original article click here.
Gary Nunn (GN): What would you identify as the most common myths and assumptions about Africa – and what’s the best way to challenge them?
Andrew Mitchell MP: Some of the most common – and damaging – myths and assumptions about Africa revolve around growth.
While there’s still crippling poverty in some parts of the continent, that’s not the complete picture. According to The Economist magazine, six of the world’s ten fastest growing countries over the past decade were African.
The UK is doing everything it can to show that Africa is open for business. We are clear in our development policy that aid is a means to an end but trade is what enables people to pull themselves out of poverty permanently.
As with all myths and incorrect assumptions the important thing is to produce evidence to the contrary, something both the UK Government and campaigns like See Africa Differently are hard at work doing. If we can show the UK public that areas ranging from business, trade and investment through to fashion, music and food are rapidly growing across the continent, led by strong and inspirational individuals then it will provide them with a far more accurate picture of the reality in many parts of Africa.
GN: Recent ComRes polling of 2,000 UK adults we commissioned found that less than a third (29%) of people agree that ‘Africa is an exciting business prospect’ and less than a quarter (22%) agree that ‘Africa is a future world economic player, comparable to emerging markets in Asia.’?But in a speech this year you described Africa as “a place of huge business opportunity.” Why isn’t this message getting through?
Andrew Mitchell MP: I think that it is understandable that people respond to what they see and hear about Africa. Most of what people in the UK see is through the news, and of course these are likely to be stories that focus on conflict or hunger.
But I think there’s a growing group of people – particularly business leaders – in the UK and across the world who are opening their eyes to the opportunities that come with investing in Africa.
On a recent visit to Sudan, one of my most memorable experiences was attending a meeting with a group of African, European and American entrepreneurs to discuss the business opportunities in South Sudan. I was impressed not only by the shared interest in strengthening trade and creating jobs in the world’s newest country but also by their sheer enthusiasm. It’s clear that a country full of hardworking entrepreneurs will not stay poor for long, and a place that provides good return on investment will not stay a secret for long.
Multinational companies have a huge part to play too. SAB Miller, one of the world’s largest drinks companies, has started working with small-holder farmers in South Sudan to use cassava in the production of beer. As well as this securing a healthy profit and accessing a whole new market, it has also provided employment, growth and consumer choice. Around 2,000 poor smallholding farmers are directly benefitting from SAB Miller’s decision to source ingredients locally.
I would say this is a shining example of how seizing business opportunities in Africa can benefit everyone from shareholders to smallholders.
GN: This year has seen terrible famine in the horn of Africa. It provoked the Kenyans for Kenya fund – the biggest fundraising effort of its kind – raising over £4 million through an innovative mobile phone donation system. What does this tell us about African countries working towards aid independence? Are there any other countries who will be aid independent in the near future?
Andrew Mitchell MP: You’re right to say that the famine has been terrible. The British Government has been at the forefront of the international response, feeding 2.4 million people across the Horn, providing clean water and sanitation for 1.2 million people and vaccinating almost 2 million people against polio and measles.
We all want to see a world where aid is no longer necessary. I closed a number of DFID offices last year in countries which no longer need our support and, in the case of China, are able to become donors themselves. We will walk the final mile with countries like India where our aid is making a huge impact in the three poorest states and is dwarfed by India’s own social protection schemes. But I recognise that some countries will need more help over a longer period to reduce their reliance on foreign aid.
In terms of African countries that will be able to ‘graduate’ away from aid programmes in the shorter term, I think Ghana is an excellent example. The facts speak for themselves. Sustained economic growth and political stability have helped to put the country on target to halve poverty by 2015. UK aid has helped reduce the number of people in poverty by 1.1 million from 1996 to 2005. By 2015 we’re committed to helping create 144,000 jobs created, of which 55,000 are for women, as well as supporting 118,000 more boys and girls to receive basic education. Ghana is proof that development works, and we are doing all we can to support Ghana in being independent of aid by 2020.
GN: It has recently been reported in the media that we’ll cut aid to homophobic countries, and countries with a poor record on violence against women. Is aid conditionality the best way to encourage progressiveness in Africa when some argue that internally-generated change through education (rather than externally-imposed conditionalities) is more effective in changing attitudes?
Andrew Mitchell MP: Let’s be absolutely clear, we expect governments receiving British aid to share our commitments to reduce poverty; respect human rights; improve public financial management; fight corruption; and promote good governance and transparency. These commitments are made clear to developing country governments when we are agree to support them.
We make no apologies for applying these criteria where British taxpayers’ money is concerned.
Where we choose not to deliver aid through Governments because they do not share our commitments to the respect of human rights, we will find other ways of ensuring that British aid gets through. This includes funding other groups, such as those representing civil society, to deliver vital help including food and healthcare to the poorest people.
You’re right to say that internally-generated change is crucial to changing public attitudes but where governments are failing to meet our partnership principles we are prepared to act.
GN: How do we shore up support for ongoing aid programmes when some detractors are calling for it to be cut?
Andrew Mitchell MP: As your readers will know, the Coalition Government is committed to reaching the UN target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas development assistance from 2013. But as we do this it is important that the British public knows how their money is being spent and what it is achieving.
Taxpayers rightly expect to know where we are spending their money, how much is being committed to each project and the impact we expect it to have. My first act as International Development Secretary was to order a root-and-branch review of all our aid programmes to ensure we are working in the places our money can have the greatest impact. The outcomes of the review can be found on the department’s website www.dfid.gov.uk/aidreviews along with our country operational plans which set out the results we expect to achieve in each country between now and 2015. I have also set up an independent aid watchdog to scrutinise our aid spending and I made sure DFID was one of the first departments to publish regularly all spending over £500.
We must also be prepared to highlight where British aid is making a difference. This year we made a commitment to GAVI that will see British money vaccinate a child from one of five potentially fatal diseases every two seconds; our Productive Safety Net scheme has helped to feed 1.6 million Ethiopians and mitigate the effects they felt during the Horn of Africa crisis; and we are helping 9 million children from developing countries into primary school and 2 million into secondary schools by 2015. ??
GN: What 3 words sum up a modern, progressive Africa to you???
Andrew Mitchell MP: Open for business.
Find out more about DFID’s ‘Changing Lives’ communications campaign: reporting on how people are lifting themselves out of poverty for good.