May scrambles for African goodwill ahead of Brexit with trip to sub-Saharan countries

May scrambles for African goodwill ahead of Brexit with trip to sub-Saharan countries

Theresa May will vow to help Africa achieve “its incredible potential” when she jets in for a three-day trip this week.

The prime minister will make her first visit to sub-Saharan Africa, for talks focusing on trade and security in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

Ms May will lead a 29-strong delegation of UK business leaders exhibiting “British expertise in technology, infrastructure, and financial and professional services”, Downing Street said.

Despite the looming challenge of Brexit, No 10 is keen to stress the “mutual benefits” of strengthened ties with a continent boasting four of the world’s six most dynamic economies.

The visit is also likely to be viewed as a riposte to Emmanuel Macron, with the French president targeting Africa in his soft power mission to boost Paris’s global influence. 

Explaining the trip, Ms May said the decision to leave the EU meant it was “time for the UK to deepen and strengthen its global partnerships”.

“Africa stands right on the cusp of playing a transformative role in the global economy and, as longstanding partners, this trip is a unique opportunity at a unique time for the UK to set out our ambition to work even closer together,” she said.

“A more prosperous, growing and trading Africa is in all of our interests, and its incredible potential will only be realised through a concerted partnership between governments, global institutions and business.”

It will be the first trade visit to sub-Saharan Africa by a British prime minister since 2011 – a trip David Cameron was forced to cut short because of the phone hacking crisis.

Ms May will begin her trip in Cape Town, where she will meet Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president, as well as young people and business leaders.

She will present the president with the bell from the SS Mendi, a ship which sank off the Isle of Wight during the First World War, in South Africa’s worst maritime disaster.

More than 600 troops, the majority of them black South Africans, died on their way to join the Allied forces on the Western Front in the tragedy.

The bell is thought to have been stripped from the wreck by divers and was left anonymously in a plastic bag on Swanage Pier last year.

The tragedy went on to become a symbol of racial injustice in South Africa, with successive white led governments discouraging annual Mendi Day commemorations.

In Nigeria, Ms May will meet President Muhammadu Buhari and victims of modern slavery – having championed the fight against the crime while in government.

As the first UK prime minister to visit Kenya for more than 30 years, she will meet President Uhuru Kenyatta, and see British soldiers training troops to destroy improvised explosive devices in Somalia.

The businesses represented on the trip will include the London Stock Exchange, the Scotch Whisky Association, Midlands manufacturing giant JCB, a Cardiff-based cooling technology firm and a northeast solar tech provider.

Trade minister George Hollingbery and Harriett Baldwin, the Africa minister, will accompany Ms May, with Alun Cairns, the Wales secretary, joining them for the South African leg.

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