What are the Tories Playing At With Empire 2.0

Or Does Africa Need Friends Like Us

By John Anderson

The Tories have launched what is being billed as “Empire 2.0” — a valiant effort to demonstrate the government’s ability to forge new trade and capital-raising relationships around the world. Unfortunately, the early manifestations of such empire building bear an eerie resemblance to days long ago when the colonial effort lacked a certain empathy for human rights and the long-term stability of the effected countries.

First stop for this effort is Africa — a continent that can be most easily and accurately described as teeming with potential, populated by some of the most gracious people on the planet, yet doomed to exist within the construct of embedded corruption and an inclination to use violent force for political purposes.

The opening salvoes in this one/two trade and capital push were seen last week on two fronts.

First, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is promoting an effort by UK businesses to promote free trade deals with African countries.

And secondly, the London Stock Exchange has also announced it is making a concerted effort to have African companies list on the exchange.

Now what could be wrong those two things. Free trade and equity capital on offer for a continent so desperate for something to get its economies out of the holes they have been in for decades.

There is plenty wrong when you look beyond the press releases and the hype that attached itself to both efforts.

Consider the following:

n In its most recent league table on corrupt countries, Transparency International ranked most of the Sub-Saharan nations at the top.

n In a corrupt nation, decisions on trade deals aren’t typically made with the best interests of the people in mind.

n As a matter of fact, when indiscrimate trade deals are made involving natural resources or agriculture, the results can often be devastating. Leading politicians pocket the money, environments are destroyed and cultures crippled.

n The London Stock Exchange has a rather mixed track record of floating emerging market companies on its AIM platform.

n And amazingly the LSE chose to highlight corporate activity in Nigeria as a prime place from which companies could come to market in London. This on the heels of a report that says the Nigerian oil industry lost $100 billion between 2010 and 2015 through outright theft and dodgy deals.

The good news, I suppose, is that Empire 2.0 with any luck will dissolve as quickly as it was born. The bad news is that governments acting in such a panicky fashion can arrive at initiatives with inherent negative consequences for both its own people and others.

Put another way, Africa doesn’t need another Empire at its door. And the United Kingdom better stop panicking.

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