(EurActiv) — British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to prioritise investment in Africa as she started a three-nation visit to the continent to drum up new trade deals ahead of leaving the European Union.
Her tour of South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya — May’s first to Africa since becoming premier in 2016 — is seen as an effort to reinforce Britain’s global ambitions after Brexit.
“By 2022, I want the UK to be the G7’s number one investor in Africa, with Britain’s private sector companies taking the lead,” May told business leaders in Cape Town, South Africa.
The G7 groups major industrialised nations but does not include China, which has become a big investor on the African continent.
“As prime minister of a trading nation whose success depends on global markets, I want to see strong African economies that British companies can do business with,” she said.
“I want to create a new partnership between the UK and our friends in Africa built around shared prosperity and shared security.”
May is facing pressure at home from so-called Remainers sceptical of her ability to forge trade deals once Britain severs ties with the EU, as well as from Brexiteers fearful she will not deliver a complete break.
“As we prepare to leave the European Union, now is the time for the UK to deepen and strengthen its global partnerships,” she said in a statement as she arrived in South Africa.
Former foreign minister Boris Johnson, whose July departure from the cabinet brought May’s government to the brink, said in his resignation speech that May’s current Brexit policy would hamper London’s ability to strike independent trade deals.
But May said Britain was well placed and had many companies ready to invest in Africa.
She announced a new four-billion-pound ($5 billion/€4.4 billion) investment programme. There were no immediate details about the initiative.
May added that Britain would also host an African investment summit next year, and would open new diplomatic missions across the continent.
May later on Tuesday presented President Cyril Ramaphosa with the bell from the troopship Mendi, which sank in the Channel in 1917 drowning more than 600 mainly South African troops who were set to join the Allied forces fighting in World War I.
It was the worst maritime disaster in South Africa’s history, and has become a symbol of its Great War sacrifice.
The bell was given to a BBC reporter in 2017 following an anonymous tip, according to the broadcaster.
The prime minister is also expected to visit Robben Island where former president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for decades to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth.
May will head to Nigeria on Wednesday for meetings with President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital Abuja and with victims of modern slavery in Lagos.
On Thursday she will meet Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, shortly after his return from seeing US President Donald Trump in Washington and before he travels to China to meet President Xi Jinping.
The prime minister will also see British troops in training action and tour a business school, before concluding the trip at a state dinner hosted by Kenyatta.