UK’s May pledges to boost Britain’s investments in Africa

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Dancing gamely with schoolkids and meeting with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, British Prime Minister Theresa May Tuesday launched her three-nation African tour by pledging to make Britain the biggest investor in Africa from the developed world.

With Britain due to leave the European Union in March 2019, May is seeking to bolster Britain’s ties with other regions around the world, notably Africa. As part of that strategy, May is visiting three of Africa’s largest economies — South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya — along with her trade minister and a delegation of 29 business leaders.

May used her visit to Cape Town to announce her government’s first post-Brexit trade pact. She confirmed that Britain intends to carry over the EU’s current partnership with six southern African countries — Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique.

She also announced that the British government would invest 4 billion pounds ($5.1 billion) in African economies, without giving details.

“I am committed to Africa and committed to using every lever of the British government to support the partnerships and ideas that will bring benefits for generations to come,” May said in a rainy Cape Town at the start of her tour that is being promoted under the slogan “U.K.-Africa: Partners For Opportunity.”

May has high ambition, envisioning Britain becoming the biggest investor in Africa from the world’s major industrial economies — the Group of Seven that also includes the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. Only China would be ahead of Britain.

“By 2022, I want the U.K. to be the G7’s number one investor in Africa, with Britain’s private sector companies taking the lead in investing the billions that will see Africa’s economies grow by trillions,” said May.

In response to questions, May endorsed South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s controversial land reform plans.

“The U.K. has for some time supported land reform in South Africa that will be a legal, transparent and democratic process,” said May.

She said that from previous discussions with Ramaphosa, she is convinced it will not be a “smash and grab” process but one responsibly designed to encourage economic growth. May’s support for Ramaphosa’s plans for land redistribution is dramatically different from U.S. President Donald Trump, who last week was critical of the policies in a tweet.

May later met with Ramaphosa in Cape Town.

Earlier Tuesday, May visited the I.D. Mkhize High School in Gugulethu township where she was greeted by singing and dancing students. May briefly joined them in a shuffling, swaying kind of dance.

May is trying to refashion the relationship between the U.K. and Africa from one of aid and handouts to a more equal partnership, said Phil Clark, of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Britain needs to find new economic partners before it confronts the full impact of exiting the European Union, he said.

“African states will enter these discussions (with Britain) from a position of strength,” said Clark. “They understand fully well the U.K.'s predicament and they have a multitude of other trade partners, including China, India and Russia, wanting to invest on a massive scale. If the U.K.'s offers don’t stack up against those from these other international partners, May will come home empty-handed.”

May’s trip is the first working visit by a British leader to South Africa since 2011.