The Role of the FCO in UK Government

Written evidence from Professor Tony Chafer

Professor at University of Portsmouth specialising on UK/French/EU Africa policy.

The perception I have gained from my research on Africa policy in London, Paris and Brussels is that policy relating to Africa is often short-termist and preoccupied with meeting, often annual, targets, with the result that a long-term view of the strategic importance of Africa is not taken and that the resources deployed in support of UK Africa policy by the FCO/MoD/DfID are not deployed in a strategic way (eg initiatives launched one year and then abandoned a year or two years later, leading to waste of effort and resources).

On Africa policy, both London and Paris are confronted by what one might describe as the ‘ends vs. means’ dilemma: in other words, both the UK and France wish to remain key players in Africa but increasingly do not have the means (financial and personnel) of their ambitions. In order to retain their position and influence in Africa, and against the background of expensive commitments in other parts of the world, they are therefore obliged both to cooperate with other external powers and build partnerships within Africa (eg with regional organisations such as ECOWAS) in order to achieve their policy goals within Africa. The former is especially important in terms of mobilising support (and, at EU level, resources) for the pursuit of such goals.

The question that therefore seems to arise in the context of a research project I recently undertook with Dr Gordon Cumming (Cardiff University) is the following:

- do the FCO (together with the DfID) and the Quai d’Orsay (together with the Elysée) have an institutional framework for the pursuit of common goals in Africa? While we have found examples of France and Britain working together on certain issues, notably in the security field, this often seems to be on an ad hoc basis, depending on personalities on the ground or on good personal relationships between politicians or officials in London and Paris, rather than on any systematic commitment to cooperation at Ministry level;

- to what extent do the FCO and the Quai d’Orsay have a shared understanding of key issues confronting Africa and of the most effective ways of addressing these? Again, we have found examples of such understanding, again notably in the security field, but this often appears to be at ‘operational level’ and born of circumstances – eg the need to address immediate problems – rather than any systematic commitment to cooperation.

- how systematically is the ‘ends vs. means’ dilemma being addressed by the UK government with respect to African policy? The French government seems both more committed to, and more successful at, mobilising the support and resources of other countries, at EU level in particular, in pursuit of its policy objectives in Africa, than the UK has been to date.

- following on from this, what are the opportunities for policy coordination and cooperation between London and Paris on African policy and how might they best be pursued? The UK and France, by their history, have an exceptional depth and breadth of both knowledge and experience of the African continent. Yet, Anglo-French cooperation has so far been limited and restricted largely to the security field. Are there not other policy areas where France and the UK have common policy interests and where there might be benefits to be derived from working together?

- The UK needs to move beyond a policy of focusing its engagement on its traditional interlocutors (eg Nigeria in West Africa, Kenya in East Africa) and on the AU, and should look also to increasing its engagement with regional organisations in Africa (eg ECOWAS).

- in the context of new external powers (China, Brazil, India, Japan, Turkey) becoming increasingly active in Africa, the UK risks losing out in terms of its influence in Africa if it does not adopt a more strategic approach to cooperation with other key partners (eg France) with an interest in Africa and if it does not work more closely with its partners to mobilise resources at EU Level (European Council, Commission) in pursuit of HMG’s goals on the continent.

29 November 2010