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May vows post-Brexit UK will be leading investor in Africa

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AFP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday pledged to prioritise investment in Africa as she started a three-nation visit to the continent to drum up trade deals ahead of leaving the European Union.

But her diplomatic efforts threatened to be overshadowed by mixed reviews of her tentative dance moves as she was greeted by singing pupils during a visit to a Cape Town school.

Her tour of South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya — May's first to Africa since becoming premier in 2016 — is part of a campaign to promote 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.

The G7 groups major industrialised nations but does not include China, which is one of the biggest investors in Africa.

“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.”

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.

On her journey to South Africa, May suggested to travelling British press that a no-deal Brexit would not be a disaster for Britain and played down warnings of serious consequences for the UK economy.

DIPLOMATIC DANCE

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 used her speech to stress that Britain was wellplaced and had many companies ready to invest in Africa.

She announced a new four-billion-pound (US$5 billion) Africa investment programme, though there were no 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.

The prime minister had earlier gamely — if awkwardly — joined in dancing with pupils at the ID Mkhize Secondary School in the Gugulethu district of Cape Town, wearing her trademark leopard skin shoes.

May also presented President Cyril Ramaphosa with the bell from the troopship Mendi, which sank off the British coast in 1917, drowning more than 600 mainly South African troops who were set to join Allied forces fighting in World War I.

It was the worst maritime disaster in South Africa's history, and became a symbol of its Great War sacrifice.

Ramaphosa described the gift of the bell as “like returning their souls back to the land of their birth.”

SOUTH AFRICA URGES

After talks with May, Ramaphosa welcomed Britain's role in his efforts to secure US$100 billion of foreign investment to revive South Africa's sluggish economy and soaring unemployment.

But he added that he hoped Britain would soon conclude Brexit negotiations in a manner “that restores stability to economic and financial markets... as their exit also has an impact on our economy.”

May also headed to Robben Island to visit the cell where former President Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for decades.

The prime minister will travel to Nigeria today 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.

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