Harder Brexit: Softer Aid?
We will keep our promise to the world’s poorest through our overseas aid budget.” (UK Chancellor Philip Hammond, Autumn Statement to Parliament, November 23 2016)
How will the UK's impending exit from the EU impact Africa? The dominant narrative revolves around the knock-on effects from a likely growth slowdown in both the UK and EU which is likely to press on trade, tourism and investment flows.
There are also worries that both European parties will be preoccupied with negotiating trade agreements with each other, and, in a commercial sense, more important players such as the US, India and China. Indeed, in the very week of Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was visiting India for trade and investment talks.
In my view UK aid flows to Africa should be added to the list. Over 2013-15, the Cameron government hit its pledge to meet the UN target of delivering 0.7% of Gross National Income in overseas disbursements to promote development. This equated to a little over £12bn last year and outweighed the contributions of all other G7 nations with the exception of the US which gave around £20bn. According to the latest figures, Pakistan was the largest recipient (£374m), followed by Ethiopia (£339m), Afghanistan (£300m), Nigeria (£263m), Syria (£258m) and Sierra Leone (£218m). As a whole, Africa received a little over half of the UK’s region-specific spending with about 13% of this is channelled towards strengthening governance and the rule of law.
A significant wing of the ruling Conservative party has long railed against these outlays as a waste of taxpayer money which could be better spent at home. While Chancellor Hammond’s remarks indicate that such concerns have been resisted for the next financial year, with the UK’s fiscal worries set to intensify these voices could gain greater traction.
It is certainly interesting to note that the Chancellor did not repeat his Autumn pledge in yesterday's Spring Budget. Instead, he left it to the fine print of the accompanying documentation to confirm that plans for meeting the 0.7% target in the next financial year. Nonetheless, prudency would dictate that Africa should prepare itself for less assistance from Her Majesty’s Government in the coming years.