Foreign Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 86-II

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 3 December 2013

Members present:

Richard Ottaway (Chair)

Mr John Baron

Mike Gapes

Mark Hendrick

Sandra Osborne

Andrew Rosindell

Mr Frank Roy

Rory Stewart


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mark Simmonds MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Tim Morris, Head, Sahel Task Force and Whitehall Sahel Co-ordinator, and Catherine Inglehearn, Deputy Head of Africa Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, gave evidence.

Q241 Chair: I welcome witnesses to this session of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which is the fifth and final evidence session for the Committee’s inquiry into the UK’s response to extremism and political instability in North and West Africa. It is with pleasure that I invite Mr Mark Simmonds, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, and his two colleagues, Tim Morris, head of the Sahel Task Force and Whitehall Sahel Coordinator, and Catherine Inglehearn, Deputy Head of East and West Africa Department. May I give a warm welcome to you both and to you, Minister.

Is there anything you want to say by way of an opening remark, Minister, because I have a fairly general first question?

Mark Simmonds: We have been trying to organise this for some time, so shall we proceed with the questions? I am very pleased to be here at the Committee.

Q242 Chair: And we are very pleased to see you here.

Minister, the Western Sahel is the front line against extremism and instability. We have poverty, weak government, poor border control, sectarian tension, organised crime and unsustainable population growth; what do you think should be the international community’s single biggest priority if it wants to make the region safer and more stable?

Mark Simmonds: It is very difficult and very challenging to hone all those complex and multifaceted challenges that the Sahel region faces-

Chair: We will be coming back to them individually.

Mark Simmonds: To synthesise them down to one particular, overriding and important priority is difficult, but for me the overriding driving force behind what happened in Mali and in the Sahel region is the fact that there are limited and weak institutional governance structures in many of these countries, which are generically described as in the Sahel region. That has to be a key priority both for bilateral relationships between the UK and other countries and for regional solutions-the role played by ECOWAS and the North African organisations, as well as the multilateral organisations-so as to ensure that there is governance, and that people feel connected to government structures as a way of airing and resolving their grievances.

Q243 Chair: I agree with you. Do you think that it is a question of beefing up existing regional and institutional structures, or does it need a fresh approach?

Mark Simmonds: The regional structures need to be bolstered, but so do all the other frameworks that will be used, we hope, to create lasting security and stability in the region. Of course it varies from individual country to individual country. What might be appropriate for Mali is not necessarily the same as would be appropriate for finding a satisfactory resolution to the ongoing challenges in Libya, for example. There needs to be a very sophisticated approach.

While you are absolutely right, Mr Ottaway, to highlight some of the key aspects that range across all of the countries in the Sahel region, there are also issues that cannot be resolved by the regional organisations alone. I will highlight one example, which is the significant amount of organised crime and trafficking that takes place through the Sahel region-not only narcotics, although that is a significant part. Clearly, multilateral organisations and multilateral co-operation and co-ordination will play a significant role in resolving that, if we are to be successful.

Q244 Chair: Are you satisfied that we have the right amount of resources allocated towards beefing up these regional and multilateral institutions? I note that we do not have embassies in Mauritania, Niger, Chad or Burkina Faso. Is there a case for reviewing this?

Mark Simmonds: As you will be aware, Mr Ottaway, we keep our diplomatic missions under constant review. Certainly, one of the things that the coalition Government have done through the Network Shift is to increase the amount of embassies and high commissions around the world. As you are aware, some new missions have been opened in Africa. We opened our embassy in Mali back in 2010, which I think gives us traction and an ability to understand in more detail what is going on in this particular region.

We have more than 1,000 people in this part of Africa, many of whom are very knowledgeable and have particular language expertise, both French and Arabic-certainly with the opening of the language school. There are other issues that you are aware of, with the new academy to build diplomatic excellence and the new African cadre that is being put in place to pull people from within the Foreign Office who have African experience in this particular part of Africa-so when a crisis blows up we can pull people in as and when necessary.

Of course we keep things under constant review, but we also have the relevant expertise, particularly to pull together the North and West Africa strategy document that we have done, but also to make sure that we follow through and exchange thoughts and ideas with other key bilateral partners, who perhaps have more historic residence in and understanding of this part of Africa.

Q245 Chair: The French and the USA put a lot in there at the moment. Is there any angle that we have that differentiates ourselves from them?

Mark Simmonds: I think we have particular areas of expertise that we can disseminate to our key bilateral allies. They are in key areas of counter-terrorism-building capacity in counter-terrorism-as well as some of the excellent work that the Department for International Development is doing, not just in Mali but across the Sahel region, to resolve conflict, build post-conflict stability and create democratic institutions. I think there are key areas in which we have expertise and which we can lend to a bigger, multilateral framework.

Q246 Andrew Rosindell: Good afternoon, Minister. Clearly, terrorism in Africa is not static; it finds the weak countries to embed itself within. Do the British Government have a long-term strategic plan on this? Are we looking at countries that are potential havens for terrorists and working with those countries to prevent the spread of these kinds of evils?

Mark Simmonds: You are absolutely right, Mr Rosindell. There is a growing anxiety about the way in which those involved in terrorism of this type can cross traditional geopolitical boundaries. They are much more transient and have a much greater ability to move quickly than has perhaps been the case in the past, and they make contact with each other.

One of the key aspects that the coalition Government put into place when they came into power was what is generically called the "building stability overseas" strategy, which details and analyses through a whole range of information sources, trying to predict where problems would occur. Obviously, trying to predict where terrorists will appear is a key part of trying to establish whether a country is going to be stable in the future, with the idea of, once that prediction has been made, putting in place prevention strategies to stop that country tipping over in the way that we saw in Mali.

With what happened in Northern Mali, while we predicted the Tuareg challenges quite accurately, it took everyone in the international community by surprise, particularly the speed with which the Tuareg rebellion in the North turned into a coup in the capital, which was then followed by the jihadist-supporting Tuaregs coming down through Mali. Even those countries that have a far bigger footprint than we did in Mali at the time failed to predict the speed with which the situation developed.

Q247 Andrew Rosindell: Following on from that, based on the fact that many of the countries that potentially have the ingredients for terrorism to evolve in those countries have links to Britain through the Commonwealth-countries such as Nigeria, where there is already a serious problem, and others, where there could be in the years ahead-what are the Government doing now to work with some of those countries and their Governments to pre-empt the spread of terrorism, particularly with countries in the Commonwealth, with whom we have so much historical linkage and so many things in common?

Mark Simmonds: You ask a very good question. We have a significant programme of providing support. If the Committee is interested, I could provide a detailed breakdown country by country on exactly what we are doing.

Chair: That would be helpful.

Mark Simmonds: That would inform the Report, particularly because it relates to West Africa and the Sahel region-whether it be providing support through the Ministry of Defence to build capacity in Sierra Leone; assisting the Nigerian authorities with counter-terrorism and to ensure that judicial processes are in place to be able to try people properly on the basis of the rule of law; or training the Malian armed forces through the European Union Training Mission to ensure that ultimately they are capable of providing security and stability themselves domestically rather than relying on outside assistance. In my view, that will take some time to deliver in practice, as will infusing all the time in that training the importance of human rights and humanitarian law so that we try to stop some of the atrocities that you will no doubt have heard about.

So we provide significant support. Certainly in Nigeria, in a whole range of areas, we are helping to build capacity in the Nigerian state, not just in the armed forces, but assisting in other areas as well-for example, the national crime agency and making sure that aviation security and safety are in place for the Ministry of Transport. Colleagues from HMRC are involved in trying to make sure that the appropriate tax is paid in the appropriate place, as well as a whole range of other issues. DFID and the Foreign Office are also heavily involved.

Q248 Andrew Rosindell: On Nigeria, we were there in September and one concern that was raised with us by those in the Nigerian armed forces who are fighting terrorism was that there is a restriction on what the British armed forces can do to assist the Nigerian armed forces, due to human rights concerns, in tackling Boko Haram. If there are obstacles, what is being done to overcome them so that we can assist the Nigerian authorities in tackling that appalling terrorist group, which is destroying that country?

Mark Simmonds: In Nigeria, we do not provide any "boots-on-the-ground" support for dealing with the terrorist insurgency in the Northern part of Nigeria. What we do provide is training for the Nigerian military, primarily back in the UK, for middle-ranking and junior-ranking officers, as well as helping to build counter-terrorism capacity in the way that I described a moment ago.

I want to draw a distinction, if I may, between two different aspects of what you are referring to. Clearly some of the atrocities that Boko Haram have been committing in the North of Nigeria are appalling, and have caused the deaths of both Christians and Muslims-indeed, they have killed more Muslims than they have Christians. I sometimes hear it said that this is a religious conflict, but in my view that is not true; it is mainly about economics, often under a veil of religion. Then there is the normal impact of conflict. So you may have seen, Mr Ottaway, a report in the Herald-Tribune this morning of a Boko Haram attack on a military base in the North of Nigeria, in which it is estimated that approximately 25 Boko Haram fighters were killed. That, of course, was in the normal course of conflict, with the Nigerian security forces trying to protect a Nigerian asset.

That is one aspect. The second aspect where human rights and the rule of law is very important is what happens if one or several Boko Haram terrorists are captured or suspects are picked up and put in detention. If someone is in detention, it is important that the Nigerian Government or the Nigerian authorities apply what we would understand as the rule of law, ensuring that there are no extra-judicial killings and that people are not tortured in detention. You will be aware from Amnesty and other human rights organisations that in their view, that is not always the case. It is incumbent on us as the UK Government to make sure that we lobby the Nigerian Government, as indeed we do privately, to ensure that they comply with international human rights obligations in the context that I have just outlined.

Q249 Mike Gapes: We have, as a country, a huge bilateral interest in Nigeria. We have large numbers of British Nigerians and we have some significant economic, educational, and other links, as well as historic links. Isn’t there a problem that for perfectly understandable reasons-you referred to detention, human rights and so on-we are doing less to support Nigeria than we are doing to provide training and assistance to some other countries? For example, I understand that we are helping Mali, Kenya, Afghanistan and even Libya with training, but we are not helping Nigeria because of the concerns you have expressed. Is there not a danger that, potentially, the Nigerian military will go somewhere else and get support and training from countries that might have less human rights standards than we do?

Mark Simmonds: First, you are absolutely right to highlight the importance and significance of the bilateral relationship. Not only are there significant links, but there is a large Nigerian diaspora based in the United Kingdom. There are 40,000 UK citizens living in Nigeria. We have substantial business interests there in terms of oil, gas and other extractives, and also other businesses as well.

I do not accept the premise of your question, if I may say so, that we do not do enough in Nigeria. DFID, for example-

Q250 Mike Gapes: I am talking about military training, not DFID.

Mark Simmonds: But DFID does get involved in some of the funding of the human rights work that I referred to earlier-more than £900 million.1 Some of the other countries that you referred to would have to meet certain human rights standards and obligations that we hold dearly in this country to enable us to participate and engage with them. For example, we engage heavily with the Kenyans on human rights standards, and where those standards are not applied, it creates big challenges for us. One of the things that we have been working on with the new Somalian Government-another example that you gave-is how we can enable them to meet our human rights requirements, particularly in relation to those who may be detained or incarcerated in prisons.

Q251 Mike Gapes: But is there not an argument that, given that we have perhaps a more consistent approach, we could do more than we are currently doing? The Nigerian military clearly have all kinds of issues, problems and difficulties. As I understand it, they have only 80,000 military personnel in a country that is huge in terms of its geography. It also has a much bigger population than we have. The quality of the training and equipment is quite poor, so is there not an argument that we should be doing far more to make them more effective than they currently are in their struggle against Boko Haram and others?

Mark Simmonds: We are doing quite a lot. Perhaps I can outline it very briefly. The UK is using its expertise to strengthen the ability to deal with counter-terrorism. We are providing judicial training. We are providing advice on CT strategies, legal frameworks, crisis management, bomb scene management, and anti-terrorist finance training to make sure that they can follow the money. We are also providing assistance to the Office of the National Security Adviser. We are providing training to the police, the military and the judiciary. DFID runs a large stabilisation reconciliation programme in Nigeria. I have seen myself, particularly in Northern Nigeria, some of the work that is being been done to try to bring the religious communities together. Ultimately, stability and security is the only way to resolve this. So we are doing a great deal already in terms of supporting the Nigerian Government in trying to ensure that they get control of the situation in the North.

I would quickly add that in my view, there are other strategies that need to run alongside the military strategy in Northern Nigeria. That is only one part of the solution. There have to be economic and developmental strategies as well to ensure there is a complete solution, because there is no doubt that part of the problem is the lack of economic hope, economic aspiration, social mobility and opportunity. That needs to be tackled as a fundamental part of the solution.

Q252 Mike Gapes: I agree with that, but is not the issue here that we have a very effective military and we could be doing far more? The Nigerian officers and others come through the British military training system, but we are deterred because of concerns that we will have perhaps reputational damage by association. Can we not do more? Could you have a word with your colleagues in the MOD, so that they realise the importance of doing more in this area?

Mark Simmonds: I will certainly pass on your views, Mr Gapes, because it is in the interests of all of us to remove terrorism where it exists, but I reiterate that I think the United Kingdom is doing a lot to help the Nigerians build capacity for a whole range of areas at the moment.

Chair: I think we have got that. If you would like to elaborate on that point, perhaps you could drop us a line.

Q253 Rory Stewart: Minister, you have spoken a great deal about your belief in governance, capacity building and stakeholding as a long-term response to the problems of instability in the region. Could you tell us how you would objectively measure success or failure?

Mark Simmonds: I think there are several issues to highlight here. One of the most interesting dinners I have had since I have been doing this job was when I met representatives of Northern Malian civil society. It was a dinner hosted by the Danes at the African Union conference. I asked the Tuareg leaders who were there why the Tuareg and jihadists both came to be part of this insurgency in Northern Mali. The response I got was that there were no mechanisms by which the respective communities in the Northern part of Mali could air their grievances. There were no governance structures.

So I think the easy response would be to say that if the successors of the Committee today and my successor in five or 10 years’ time are having this discussion about problems in Northern Mali or elsewhere in the Sahel region, then the international community will not have been successful. If we can build resilient, stable, secure states-ultimately that has to come from within but with the support of the international community-that provides the best measure of success. The progress that has been made on the other side of Africa in Somalia in the last 15 months is good testament to what can be done when there is international focus backed up by determination and sufficient resourcing. One of the challenges I feel that needs to be looked at, particularly as it relates to Mali, is that a huge amount of developmental finance has gone in over the last 10 or 15 years with minimal impact.

Q254 Rory Stewart: Your objective is resilient, stable, secure states. A lot of research suggests that your capacity to build those things is very dependent on variables such as GDP per capita, literacy and poverty. It is quite difficult to do this in a vacuum. We have really struggled to build a resilient, stable, secure state in Iraq which has huge advantages such as thousands of dollars’ GDP per capita and literacy rates at about 92%. What is it that makes you think that we should be able to do it in countries with GDPs per capita of hundreds of dollars, where the literacy rates are at about 50% and where our diplomatic presence on the ground is minimal?

Mark Simmonds: I certainly don’t say it is easy. Nor do I think that there are not examples or lessons that could be learnt from elsewhere, be that Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia. But what I detect recently, and certainly since the jihadists came into Northern Mali and Operation Serval, is that there is a renewed determination among the international community to do everything possible to try to resolve what is a multifaceted challenge in this part of Africa to build both stable and secure states, but also to enable them to participate in the international trading mechanisms in a legitimate way. I don’t think there has necessarily been the focus in some of the countries in the Sahel region to build Government capacity to enable them, for example, to deal with potential increases in revenue streams that may come into their exchequer and that they can spend on their people.

Q255 Rory Stewart: Minister, to take a concrete example just off the Sahel, which would be the Central African Republic: you have said in the past that you are worried about the situation. Laurent Fabius has described it as a breeding ground for extremism. But so far the only thing the UK Government have really done about this instability-it would seem to tick a lot of the boxes of the other kinds of issues and countries you are worried about-is to commit a very small, £5 million-worth of independent development aid and to support a resolution in the United Nations. If we are serious about these things, what are we proposing to do in the Central African Republic?

Mark Simmonds: Regarding the Central African Republic, the Development Secretary announced on 30 November that the figure would go from £5 million to £15 million. We are extremely concerned about the breakdown of law and order and the human rights abuses that are taking place. We are in discussions with our partners, both at a bilateral and a multilateral level, and I am hopeful that a United Nations Security Council resolution will probably be passed later on this week.

I have discussed the situation in the CAR with the commissioner for the Peace and Security Council of the African Union. I think there is a feeling at the moment that the African Union should be responsible for regional troop deployment, supported by the French, and we have been asked by the French whether we would provide assistance and logistical support. While I cannot go into the detail of that today, what I can say is that I anticipate that the Secretary of State for Defence will be making an announcement shortly.

Q256 Rory Stewart: You said to the Chairman that we had thousands of people in the region with expertise.

Mark Simmonds: Yes, 1,000.

Rory Stewart: Can you tell us how you measure that expertise? How many of them have passed operation-extensive examinations in the languages? How can you have an objective measure of their deep-country expertise?

Mark Simmonds: As you will know, we have refocused and will be re-energising and reopening the language school, which is a key element in this part of the world. We have made sure that the FCO’s diplomatic excellence initiative is working to raise the skill sets of staff language skills throughout the organisation at the FCO, and to make sure that the speaker positions across North and West Africa-of which 29 are French and nine are Arabic-are actually filled by people with the requisite speaking skills.

We are also trying to upgrade those speaking skills, so if somebody has French to GCSE level, we can raise those skills up to degree level or indeed higher, to make sure that the requisite language skills are in post; and to make sure that this cadre of people back in the Foreign Office who have worked in Africa and have the requisite language skills are there to ensure that the skill sets they learnt are not lost in the system, but are still there to pull on as and when required.

Q257 Rory Stewart: So of the 1,000 people that we are talking about, how many of them can currently speak any relevant language apart from French?

Mark Simmonds: I do not have the breakdown of figures but of course, of those 1,000, some will be local staff anyway so they will speak the local and relevant language. I could certainly provide you with the specific language skills that relate to the specific posts, but it would take too long for me to reel them off now.

Q258 Rory Stewart: Minister, would I be correct in saying that, of that 1,000, if you actually break it down to UK-based staff, the real answer to the question of how many people there are currently on the ground in that region who have deep-area expertise would probably be less than half a dozen?

Mark Simmonds: No, you wouldn’t. I think, of the 38 language posts-29 French and nine Arabic-25 are already operational, and certainly all those who would go into those slots in the next rotation will meet the language criteria because of the upgrading of the language skills, and because of those who are in the pipeline.

Q259 Rory Stewart: So the answer is, of 1,000 UK-based staff, about 29.

Mark Simmonds: Well, they are the heads of post or other senior posts in those 14 missions which require specific language skills. You mustn’t forget, Mr Stewart, that of those 1,000, not all of them are Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There will be people in there from HMRC, the Department for Transport and the crime agencies. Of course, they tend to be there for a point in time to deal with a particular project, so it is not necessarily as important for them to have the language skills we are talking about as it is for the Foreign Office.

Q260 Rory Stewart: Finally, to clarify the point, how many of those 29 people are actually in the Sahel region, as opposed to being spread throughout the rest of West Africa?

Mark Simmonds: It depends how you define the Sahel region. I would argue that, of the 14 posts, 10-all 10 heads of post who cover the non-English speaking countries of the North and West Africa region-are in the region. I have not got the exact numbers on how many of the 25 are in the breakdown of the Sahel, but I can certainly provide you with that.

Chair: Minister, I hope you will be able to help me in the next few minutes. We have only about 12 minutes left and we have three groups of questions.

Q261 Mark Hendrick: Minister, you mentioned the success you felt we had had in East Africa; in Somalia in particular. Obviously, that has taken a good number of years and resulted in thousands and thousands of deaths. The relative stability we see at the moment is very hard won. Advantages are such that you have got the African Union based in Addis Ababa, and countries such as Ethiopia neighbouring Somalia. There has been a lot going in to find stability in Somalia.

In West Africa, the FCO is obviously on a much steeper learning curve. You said earlier that you predicted that the Tuareg will be challenging in Northern Mali, but you did not realise that they would go on so quickly to Bamako. It would seem that the UK in particular has not had a close eye on it and has left it very much to the French. Obviously, we cannot keep our eyes on everything, but are there any lessons we can learn from that? Should the UK and the rest of Europe look to share more of the diplomatic and intelligence burden in francophone Africa with France, rather than thinking it is just a French responsibility?

Mark Simmonds: Yes, I think there are lessons to learn. I will briefly rattle through them. I think the evidence of what has happened in Somalia is the significant contribution that Africans have made, with AMISOM being in Somalia but supported by the UK and others, with training and financing to enable them to do the job. That is one lesson that could be learned.

The second lesson is that there needs to be greater international co-operation and co-ordination, perhaps on exchanging intelligence, but also on potentially monitoring cross-border movements. I know that is something you got into on a previous occasion with Mr Robertson. You will be aware that some work is being done on that to monitor movements where possible.

I also think that not just the UK but our allies at a multilateral level need to co-ordinate our efforts perhaps to a far greater extent than in the past. Of course, while those involved in terrorism and those involved in organised crime have separate ambitions, where those combinations come together and those interests align, I don’t think the international community has done enough in the past to unwind that and tackle them separately.

Q262 Mark Hendrick: What is the FCO doing and what has it done to make changes in staffing, training and administration to deal with the environment you have just described?

Mark Simmonds: Obviously, we have put a team together to put the North and West Africa strategy together. We are holding discussions in great detail with our allies, at both bilateral and multilateral level. We have a whole addition of new people who have gone into the area. In Mali, we have got two people in post. We also have a number of people who are allied to the EU training mission as well as the UN deployment there. There are UK people embedded in those organisations. In Mauritania, we have a UK citizen in the EU structures there,2 and we have people in Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Chad,3 so I think we are now getting to grips with the challenges faced by the Sahel region. We will therefore ensure that we have a much greater understanding, and that we are able to react far faster than not just the UK but the whole of the international community did in failing to predict what happened in Northern Mali.

Q263 Mark Hendrick: On predicting what happened, if you recall, a significant amount of development aid was flowing into Mali. Do you accept that the way that aid was dispersed before the coup ultimately made Mali a less stable and secure country? If so, do you agree that it should be for the FCO and not just DFID to monitor how well development programmes are aligning with foreign policy objectives?

Mark Simmonds: DFID and the FCO work very closely together anyway, but of course, most of the DFID support going into the Sahel region and into Mali has historically gone through multilateral organisations, not though bilateral relationships.

If I could refer to the point I made before, it is true to say that there weren’t sufficient outcomes from the development funding money that had been put into Mali before the events earlier this year. That is something the international community is very aware of-making sure that the outcomes are very focused, but also that there is a fair spread of the resource allocation throughout the whole country, not just in the Southern part. I have been to Timbuktu in the North and have spoken to civil society representatives there, and they told me that even now, they feel detached from what is happening in Bamako. That is part of the important reconciliation process that the new President has set in train.

Q264 Mark Hendrick: If we look at our rivals in Africa, particularly the Salafists, they are spreading their arguments, ideas and ideology across West Africa and bringing their own targeted development assistance. When we asked the FCO about that last month, Simon Shercliff, the head of counter-terrorism, said that they were still "getting to grips" with the problem and working towards a joint strategy with international partners. Is there not a need for more urgency on the issue? As you said yourself, with what is happening in Mali and what we have heard about Boko Haram in Nigeria, things are getting worse, not better.

Mark Simmonds: The point you make is right, Mr Hendrick. Certainly, the majority of Muslims in the Sahel region are historically more Sufi and moderate in their views. External influence has brought the Salafist theology into parts, although certainly not everywhere. I can assure you that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes the challenge very seriously. It is a priority in terms of trying both to understand the surrounding complexities and to provide support to the more moderate Muslims who live in Mali and elsewhere in the Sahel region, in order to enable them to ensure that their traditional way of life and religion can continue.

From the discussions I have had, in both Mali and Northern Nigeria, that is exactly what they want us to do-to prioritise their own moderate form of Islam. However, it is immensely complicated and the influences tend to come from outside the region, particularly from the Gulf. Of course, with modern day technology and the greater transience of populations, people and individuals, it is much more difficult to control than we might think from the surface.

Q265 Mark Hendrick: As I am sure you are well aware, China is doing a great deal to develop many of the countries in Africa. The aid and support given tends to be different from ours, in that there are no strings attached in terms of governance and the way projects are managed. What might the FCO be doing in that direction-if anything at all-to try to get the Chinese more involved in sharing the burden of security and stability for West Africa in particular, but also elsewhere?

Mark Simmonds: I shall make three or four quick points, if I may. The Chinese model tends to be not gifts, but soft loans. China tends to build a stadium or a road and requires the money to be paid back over a period of years at a very low interest rate. That is not quite the same sort of model as ours, but I think that Chinese engagement in Africa has been positive, both in terms of building and developing infrastructure and as an active and hungry market for many of the goods, not just extractives, that emanate from Africa.

I also think that the Chinese are much more engaged and willing to participate in joint ventures, and there are already some very good examples of that, such as in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Chinese have built a road using JCB equipment to do it and using our expertise in environmental impact assessments to ensure that the road is built in an environmentally friendly way. There is growing capacity and enthusiasm for cross-country engagement.

You are absolutely right on China’s participation in security, Mr Hendrick. China is beginning to participate in peacekeeping, for example, which I see as a growing trend. Certainly from the discussions that I have had with the Chinese, they are keen to participate and play a role in ensuring security and stability, and China contributes to that security and stability.

Chair: Minister, I gather that you have to be at the DUP debate at 4 o’clock. Is that right?

Mark Simmonds: It is.

Chair: There are 14 minutes to go, and you have travel time, too.

Q266 Mr Roy: I have some specific questions. First, would the UK support supplying non-lethal equipment to armies in fragile African countries and using the European development fund for any such purchases?

Mark Simmonds: That is a very difficult question to answer simplistically and generically. Each case would have to be looked at on its merits. As you are very well aware, we have a sophisticated and thorough export licence regime. Anything that is potentially challenging, depending on exactly where it is going and the purpose of its use, has to come up for ministerial approval. There is a very detailed mechanism to ensure that-

Q267 Mr Roy: Is that a yes or a no?

Mark Simmonds: It is neither. The question cannot be answered yes or no, because the answer depends on where it is going and exactly what sort of equipment you are talking about.

Q268 Mr Roy: Secondly, would the UK Government be willing to explore the precise parameters of the OECD criteria on development aid to determine the sort of security link that aid could provide-for example, on border management? Could border management come out of development aid?

Mark Simmonds: My understanding is that that was raised when my ministerial colleague, Mr Robertson, was before the Committee, and I think a letter has been sent to the Committee clarifying that. My understanding is that we think it probably can do. The letter is here, and I do not know whether-

Q269 Mr Roy: It was not a total clarification, Minister. It was kind of grey, which is why I am asking.

Mark Simmonds: I am very happy to go back and provide further speedy, expeditious clarification.

Q270 Mr Roy: That would be fantastic. Thirdly, should the UK or the EU be seeking to support the setting up of an African stand-by force by the African Union and offering assistance to that force?

Mark Simmonds: That is something that I have discussed with the African Union Commissioners, and they are keen to develop it. They are not yet ready to come to talk to countries such as the UK about how we might assist building capacity, but I certainly believe that African problems should ultimately have African solutions. I see having an AU rapid reaction force, with AU countries participating in troop deployment, as potentially a significant step in that direction.

Q271 Mr Roy: One more point on US disengagement. Do you perceive the US as disengaging from involvement in African security and defence? If so, what consequence does that have for our engagement with Africa?

Mark Simmonds: No, I don’t see that. I would say the reverse, actually. I think that there is significant and growing understanding and engagement on the importance of the United States participating both in bilateral relationships and as part of multilateral solutions. Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the Sahel region. I am sure that you will be aware-some of the Committee went to Africa to see it-of the work that the Americans are doing. Certainly from the conversations I have had with them, my opposite numbers in the White House and the State House are very engaged, and indeed exercised, by what is happening in some parts of Africa.

Q272 Mr Baron: Minister, I am tail-end Charlie with the questions. I know that you have to be somewhere by 4 o’clock, but I hope you have time for a couple more minutes. If not, say so.

Mark Simmonds: I don’t know what the time is.

Mr Baron: It is exactly 10 to 4.

Mark Simmonds: I am happy to.

Q273 Mr Baron: May I pick up where you left off, on AFRICOM? The Committee visited AFRICOM in Stuttgart. The Americans would describe the situation as they see it as trying to shoot the crocodiles in the swamp. They know that the long-term solution when it comes to terrorism is to drain the swamp, but their job is to shoot the crocodiles closest to the boat. They were concerned, however, about the lack of international co-ordination on the issue at hand. Various countries are taking different initiatives, but there is a lack of co-ordination generally, from the West in particular, on how to deal with the issue. Do you share that concern? If not, can you point the Committee to areas where good co-ordination is taking place and having an effect on the ground?

Mark Simmonds: There are very good examples of significant co-operation and co-ordination in terms of having an impact on the ground. The most obvious example, again, is on the other side of the continent in Somalia, where international co-ordination-both at the UN on the multilateral level and with the region; I referred to AMISOM earlier-has made significant positive progress. There are also examples elsewhere in Africa that I could give you, on the development side, where there has been greater development co-operation and co-ordination to make sure that there is no unnecessary duplication and that important areas do not fall between respective donors.

Should there be and could there be greater co-ordination? Of course. Certainly one of the other challenges, to skip for a moment to another part of Africa, is in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the main reasons why conflict has consistently reoccurred is that the international development community has not co-ordinated as perhaps it should. Certainly, under the auspices of the new UN special envoy, Mary Robinson, and the new determination of the DRC’s Prime Minister Matata, there is a serious effort going in to make sure that is not replicated.

Q274 Mr Baron: You have correctly highlighted some of the good that has taken place, but also some of the examples of where improvements are required. This will be my final question, as I know we are all short of time. Can I put it to you that, actually, it is far too little and far too piecemeal, given the geography involved, the number of countries and different peoples, tribes and so forth, and the economic and social challenges faced by the region generally? What is needed is a step change in co-ordination from the West, looking at everything from socio-economic policies, as you rightly highlighted, to the fact that many Governments lack infrastructure in their countries, which does not help. We need a step change in our approach, and certainly in our co-ordination, and there is very little evidence on the ground of that taking place, or indeed cognisance of the fact that it is required.

Mark Simmonds: These are very complex, multifaceted environments. Where I think we in the UK have reason to be proud is the fact that we have led the way in assisting and trying to co-ordinate donor co-ordination and the co-ordination required in the way that you described, but we have also led from the front. One example is the Prime Minister at the G8 and his emphasis on the tax, trade and transparency agenda and on co-ordination at the G8 level on non-payment of ransoms to terrorists, which not only provide an incentive for further kidnapping, but fund terrorist activities. All G8 leaders have signed up to that, and hopefully it will continue over the next period.

Do I think there should be greater co-ordination and co-operation in specific examples? Yes, I think that is a fair criticism, but we are certainly doing what we can to ensure that at the UN and in other multilateral organisations-as well as regional organisations in Africa that are going to continue to grow in importance in terms of finding satisfactory solutions to some of these conflict areas, but which will become even more important to becoming regional trade blocs-they have the capacity both to be able to deliver humanitarian aid and resilience and to address the drivers of conflict and instability.

Q275 Chair: Minister, it is 3.55 pm, so I think you had better go. Thank you very much indeed. We have cut the last few questions a bit tight. If we think of anything-if you do not mind-we may reserve the right to drop you a line with further questions.

Mark Simmonds: Of course.

Chair: If you think of anything else, please drop us a line. Thank you very much for your help, and that of your two colleagues.

[1] FCO have pointed out that this figure is total spend, and not just on Human Rights work.

[2] Note from FCO: The UK’s Head of Mauritania is based in the EU office, but does not work for the EU

[3] Note from FCO: These are all Honorary Consuls, rather than UK based officials

Prepared 20th March 2014