London's new African best friends

Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania are to form “High Level Prosperity Partnerships” with the UK. But this odd collection of new partners has one thing in common: all have oil or gas deposits.

“I want to get away from the narrative of coups and corruption,” Britain’s African Minister, Mark Simmonds told businessmen, as they tucked into a full English breakfast at Simpsons on the Strand.

It was the Minister’s chance to provide the first glimpse of what is being described as “High Level Prosperity Partnerships” in Africa. A full launch will take place (this evening) at Glazier’s Hall, on the bank of the Thames, appropriately looking North to the City of London. The initiative is being sold by the Foreign Office as a “cross government initiative”. Led by the Foreign Office it will include the ministry’s commercial arm, UK Trade and Investment and has the backing of the development ministry, DFID.

The government has singled out are Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania for this treatment. Each has agreed to put up a named minister with whom Britain can link up, to develop trade and investment.

So what about London’s traditional "best friends" on the continent – Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa? “We have a big footprint there already,” a spokesman told the New Statesman. “The idea is to work with business to develop new markets.”

This odd collection of new partners has one thing in common: all have oil or gas deposits. Angola has long been a major partner for BP. Ghana is important for London-based Tullow oil. Mozambique and Tanzania both have gas fields. So too does Cote d'Ivoire. As the North Sea runs down Africa is becoming an important source of hydrocarbons and an excellent place for Britain to sell its oil expertise.

The list also raises other questions. What role will DFID play in these relationships? Justine Greening, Britain’s development minister, will be at the launch. The suggestion that aid money would be used for military ends has already raised eyebrows. Should it now be channelled into winning new markets?

And what of the choice of partners? Mozambique is facing a fresh challenge from the Renamo rebels, who have begun attacking government targets. Mark Simmonds said this morning that he’d personally phoned President Armando Guebuza, calling on him to spread Mozambique’s wealth more evenly and allow room for dialogue.

Angola, which is reputed to be among the most corrupt and least equal country on the continent, also presents difficulties. There is little room for dissent and journalists have been routinely beaten up and jailed. Responding to the news that Angola was to be on the list, Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch tweeted: “Angola?? Presumably the criteria for the partnership doesn't include transparency or respect for media and civil society.”

Tanzania and Ghana present fewer government issues, but Cote d'Ivoire is just emerging from an appallingly divisive civil war. Laurent Gbagbo, the country’s former president, is now in the Hague, facing charges before the International Criminal Court.

Africa has grown rapidly in the last decade and there are certainly greater opportunities for trade and investment. This has been seized on by China, which is moving rapidly to shoulder older partners from Europe and the United States out of the way. Developing a “High Level Prosperity Partnerships” backed by diplomatic muscle and with the wheels oiled with aid funding is David Cameron’s answer to this emerging challenge.

An oil platform off the Angolan coast. Photo: Getty

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

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Why did the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

It is a fitting that in a tumultuous year for global peacemaking, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the little-known Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a coalition made up of the union federation UGTT, the employers’ institute, the Tunisian human rights league and the order of lawyers . Over the past few years, the Quartet has been quietly shepherded in democracy to the country that lit the fuse of the Arab Spring. In part thanks to the efforts of this broad cross-section of civil society, Tunisia has stayed the course in transitioning from an authoritarian past to a democratic future, even in the face of terrorist violence and as other revolutions in the region have faltered.

The award comes at a time of escalating sectarian conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Islamic State’s campaign of terror has uprooted Iraqis and Syrians alike, driving desperate refugees into small boats to battle the waves of the Mediterranean. They join others fleeing to Europe from political and economic crises in Africa and Asia, forming a stream of humanity symbolising failures in leadership in three continents.

Among all this, it is not hard to identify why the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the world’s most coveted peace prize to the Tunisian Quartet.

First,Tunisia deserves to be celebrated for its momentous achievements in consolidating democracy. Unlike other countries in the region, it has trodden a path that is slow but solid, adopting a comprehensive and consensus-building approach to decision-making.

In this it provides a rare and extremely important example, not only for the region but also for the world. Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

Civil society steps up

Second, the role of civil society is fundamental for bringing about sustainable peace. Political leadership is important, but the scale of the challenge in transitional societies means that we cannot simply leave things to political leaders to sort out.

At local level especially, peace feels a lot more real when it comes with tangible improvements to quality of life. Citizens want to see the economy motoring again and to have confidence in the state’s institutions. They want to know that they can sleep soundly and safely, without fear of violence, persecution or poverty. Governments often lack the capacity and credibility to deliver these dividends alone. Civil society must step up to the plate – particularly the associations of trade, justice and human rights of which the Quartet is formed.

And third, the Quartet’s work relies heavily on forming constructive relationships across the political spectrum – from secularists to fundamentalists. It has walked a fine line, keeping disparate groups with diverging interests invested in an inclusive national process of dialogue. It has, in the words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, laid the “groundwork for a national fraternity”.

Politicians are often the most cynical of creatures, yet the Quartet has managed to build a sense of collective endeavour among them. It has encouraged them to put the country’s best interest ahead of personal or sectarian interests, making this the guiding principle for decision-making.

Other bright spots

The transition in Tunisia is a work in progress and there will be more setbacks and successes. The country was left reeling from two terrorist attacks earlier this year, when 22 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and another 39 people died during an attack on a tourist resort in Sousse. But the message today is clear – Tunisia has made remarkable progress since 2010, despite the odds. This is in large part due to a credible and engaged civil society, a remarkable achievement in a new democracy. The country has forged a path of inclusive national dialogue from which many lessons can be learned.

Elsewhere this year, Myanmar goes to the polls in November – the country’s first free national ballot since 1990. Colombia is closer to lasting peace than ever, ending half a century of war that has taken 220,00 lives and uprooted six million people.

The US restored diplomatic relationships with Cuba, and also struck a landmark agreement with Iran over its nuclear programmes. And the UN has adopted the sustainable development goals, explicitly recognising peaceful and inclusive societies as a development priority for the first time. Behind every step forward there is an individual or institution worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, but only one can win and the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is a worthy laureate.

Laura Payne is a Research Fellow and Director of RISING Global Peace Forum, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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