1.UN Secretary-General António Guterres has committed to “helping change the narrative about Africa, so that Africa is rightly seen for its dynamism and enormous potential, as a continent of opportunity”.
2.Baroness Amos, Director, School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), said that the “narrative” about Sub-Saharan Africa had “been about poverty and philanthropy, without recognising the totality of what these countries and their peoples are about”. David Lammy MP said that “the world’s fastest-growing economies” were “largely African: Ghana, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Tanzania.” Recognition was needed of “the dynamism and upward mobility of youth, the explosion in higher education”, the role of “innovations, technology and social media” and the continent’s “active creative arts industry”.
3.The Royal African Society said that life expectancy had “improved dramatically” in the region, and the working-age population had expanded significantly.
4.James Duddridge MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Africa, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Department for International Development (DfID), said that the population of Africa was “expected to double to 2.1 billion … by 2050, taking up a quarter of the world’s population”. This projected growth made the continent “massively more important than it has been historically”. He said that “an expanding middle class” and “some of the biggest growing economies”—before the COVID-19 pandemic—made Africa “an important trading partner” for the UK. It was also “the biggest bloc at the United Nations”.
5.The UK has an interest in stability and peace on the continent. Search for Common Ground said that “Transnational challenges, such as climate change, migration, and arms flows” connected Africa and the UK and posed “new challenges that threaten global stability”. The Minister said that Africa’s projected population growth presented opportunities, but could be destabilising: “an expanding poor underclass that does not have work and is vulnerable” would require support; these people could be “much more predisposed to extremism”.
6.The Minister said that another reason for the UK to “reposition” itself towards Africa was that the continent was “attracting a lot of interest from our international partners and competitors”. Dr Nick Westcott, Director, Royal African Society, described “a struggle … for influence in Africa”, which Dr Comfort Ero, Programme Director, Africa, International Crisis Group, said reflected increasing “multipolarity” in Africa’s international relations. Countries including China, Japan, India, Turkey, Russia and the Gulf states were all increasing focusing on Africa. Dr Ero said the continent was “no longer dependent on or always open to its traditional partners, the UK being one, or to the West”. African states had “become a lot more assertive in insisting on respect and wanting a seat at the table”.
7.There are major trends, opportunities and challenges facing the 49 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Dr Terence McSweeney, Southampton Solent University and the London School of Economic and Political Science, cautioned that “while it is relevant to talk about general trends across the continent, at the same time it is vital to understand that Africa is not a homogenous entity and that the diversity of nations, religions and communities should be taken into account more than has been done in the past”.
8.First, population growth. Sixty-two per cent of people in the region are under 25. By 2050, “one in four of the world’s consumers will be in Africa”, and by 2100 the continent will account for “just under 40% of the world’s population”. Dr Dambisa Moyo, author and economist, said that “a young, vibrant African population” was needed “to support economic success and for future generations”. The continent would need investment, training and skills development, the development of IT and manufacturing, and “jobs for perhaps as many as 100 million young people annually”.
9.A second trend is uneven economic growth. Dr Dirk Willem te Velde, Principal Research Fellow and Director of Programme, International Economic Development Group, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), said that in the last decade the continent’s GDP had grown by around 33%, and this was likely to increase due to population and income growth. However, the African Development Bank’s Africa Economic Outlook 2020 showed that economic growth had been accompanied by a reduction in poverty for the majority of the population in only one-third of African countries. The continent was unlikely to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030; there were over 400 million people living in poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.
10.Professor Tim Murithi, Head, Peacebuilding Interventions and Extraordinary Professor of African Studies, University of Free State, South Africa, said Africa was “not a poor continent”; it had “been impoverished by the extractive agendas that have been played out over a very long time”. African politicians and business leaders had exploited the extractives industry—for example minerals and fossil fuels—”for their own benefit”, and there was a concern that non-African countries’ interest was likewise based on this agenda.
11.Dr Moyo said that to “put a meaningful dent in poverty in one generation”, economic growth of 7% per year was needed. Annual growth before the COVID-19 pandemic was around 3.5%. We heard of a number of economic challenges to increasing growth and making it more inclusive, including the limited amount of intra-African trade and its poor integration with the global economy. We heard that there was sometimes a link between a lack of economic opportunity and instability, including violent extremism.
12.A third trend is migration. Witnesses said that most African migration was within the continent; in 2019, over 21 million Africans were estimated to be living in another African country. Dr Will Jones, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, said that “almost all migration flows are ‘mixed’ in character (i.e. a combination of economic, security, and personal motivations)”.
13.Jane Edmondson, Director, East and Central Africa Division, DfID, said that intra-African migration was in part the result of “increasing urbanisation”, which presented potential risks “but also some huge opportunities”. Dr Moyo said that, if Africa’s growing population could not find employment, this would be likely to result in increased “disorderly migration across the rest of the world”.
14.A fourth trend is climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that “Africa as a whole is one of the most vulnerable continents due to its high exposure and low adaptive capacity”. Witnesses said that, while Africa produced just 2% of global emissions, the impact of climate change would be significant, in particular given the reliance on agriculture in the region.
15.Dr Carl Death, Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy, University of Manchester, said that impacts were already being felt, such as floods in Mozambique and drought in northern Kenya. The Minister said that Togo, Benin, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire were experiencing rising sea levels, while changes to rainfall patterns in Southern Africa, highland East Africa and coastal West Africa were raised by the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich.
16.Witnesses drew a connection between climate change and instability: it could drive conflict for resources, as seen in Darfur, and could increase vulnerability to natural shocks.
17.A fifth trend is insecurity and weak governance. There are many areas of instability and conflict, including the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region. There are 6 million refugees and 17 million internally displaced people across Africa. Andrew Mitchell MP, former Secretary of State for International Development, said that economic problems—from resource competition to lack of employment—often contributed to instability, and conflict “mires the poorest in the world in endless demeaning poverty”. Witnesses said that the reliance of many countries on natural resources, and weak institutional capacity, often led to corruption, and contributed to instability and conflict.
18.A final trend is the rising level of debt across Sub-Saharan Africa, after the implementation of the debt-relief efforts of the late 1990s and 2000s, principally the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. Witnesses said this was a potential risk factor in the event of a major economic shock; the COVID-19 crisis put this into starker relief.
19.There have been 337,315 recorded cases of COVID-19 in Africa to date, with 8,863 deaths and 161,254 recoveries.
20.The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said that the region was “likely to face particular contextual challenges” from COVID-19, including “economic, social and cultural inequalities, lack of personal protective equipment … and the additional health burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases”. It cited three factors which could worsen the impact: “overcrowding and large household sizes”, which increase transmissibility, a “high baseline prevalence of co-morbidities”, and “lack of intensive care capacity”.
21.Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, African Union (AU) Special Envoy to mobilise international support for Africa’s efforts to address the economic challenges African countries will face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, said that COVID-19 had “come with a huge exogenous shock”. Box 1 outlines some of the major impacts.
The African Trade Policy Centre of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said that “the price of oil, which accounts for 40% of Africa’s exports, has halved in value, and major African exports like textiles and fresh cut flowers have crashed. Tourism—which accounts for up to 38% of some African countries’ GDP—has effectively halted, as has the airline industry that supports it.”
UNECA projections showed that “in the best case scenario, Africa’s average GDP growth for 2020 will fall 1.4 percentage points, from 3.2 percent to 1.8 percent—equivalent to a loss in GDP growth of $29 billion in 2020. In a worst-case scenario the projections indicate Africa’s economy contracting by up to 2.6 percent in 2020—equivalent to a loss in GDP growth of $120 billion.”
Oil and mineral-dominated economies—Angola, Nigeria and South Africa—would be the worst affected.
UNECA estimates “point to COVID-19 pushing 27 million people into extreme poverty, while imposing $44–$46 billion in additional health costs.”
“At least $100 billion” would “be needed to immediately resource a health response and an additional $100 billion for economic stimulus.”
22.Dr Okonjo-Iweala said COVID-19 had “hit Africa first as an economic problem. When China, and subsequently Europe and the US, got the virus and locked down, the major markets for Africa’s products went into lockdown; demand fell and prices fell precipitously. Africa exports mainly commodities, and the biggest markets are China, Europe and so on.”
23.COVID-19 had a number of economic impacts on Africa:
“exchange rates … started depreciating against major currencies. There was a flight of capital to safety, remittances went down and tourism went down … There was both a demand and a supply side shock. At the same time, the supply chains for many of the products Africa imports, such as pharmaceuticals—we import 94%—were disrupted, and prices for those products went up, as well as some aspects of food.”
24.African leaders introduced social distancing and lockdowns. This was “very difficult” because many people work in the informal sector. She said that “People have complained … that they will die of hunger before they die of coronavirus”.
25.The Minister said COVID-19 would “have a disproportionate impact on the African continent”, in part because “people live on subsistence, not savings”. He said that the World Bank projected “40 million to 60 million additional individuals falling into extreme poverty”, the majority of whom would be in Sub-Saharan Africa.
26.Dr Okonjo-Iweala said that, unless there was careful and quick action, COVID-19 “could reverse the gains of the last two decades”. The World Bank has projected that the economy of Sub-Saharan Africa will be “between 2.1% and 5.1% smaller by the end of the year”.
27.We launched our Call for Evidence in July 2019 in the context of the Government’s new ‘strategic approach’ to Africa, the UK’s commitment to support the AU’s delivery of Agenda 2063 through the UK–AU Memorandum of Understanding—signed in February 2019—and the UK’s exit from the EU. We heard oral evidence from January to May 2020. We have also reflected on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Sub-Saharan Africa in the report, as its deleterious impact became clear. Our planned visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was cancelled due to the pandemic.
28.In Chapter 2 we consider the UK’s Africa strategy, and lack of one or any clear action plan. In Chapter 3 we consider Africa’s regional organisations, including the AU, regional economic communities (RECs) and the Commonwealth. In Chapter 4 we consider Sub-Saharan Africa’s economic development, and in Chapter 5 we consider the UK’s economic relationship with the region through UK aid, trade and investment, and remittances. In Chapter 6 we consider peace and security in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the UK’s contribution. In Chapter 7 we consider human rights, democracy and governance, and UK activity in support of these areas.
29.We thank our specialist adviser, Dr Julia Gallagher, Professor of African Politics, SOAS, and all our witnesses.
2 United Nations, ‘Secretary-General’s Video Message to Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace, Security and Development in Africa, 11-12 December’ (11 December 2019): [accessed 24 June 2020]
3 In this report, Sub-Saharan Africa refers to all African countries except Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco.
6 (Baroness Amos)
7 Written evidence from the Royal African Society ()
10 (Dr Nick Westcott); (Jane Edmondson)
11 Written evidence from Search for Common Ground ()
16 Written evidence from the Royal African Society (), (Professor Tim Murithi) and (Dr Nick Westcott)
18 54 African countries are recognised by the UN.
19 Written evidence from Dr Terence McSweeney ()
20 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) ()
21 (Dr Dirk Willem te Velde)
22 Written evidence from Onyekachi Wambu ()
24 (Harriet Mathews)
25 (Myles Wickstead)
26 Written evidence from Onyekachi Wambu ()
27 (Myles Wickstead) and written evidence from the Royal African Society ()
29 (Myles Wickstead). African Development Bank, ‘African Economic Outlook 2020: Developing Africa’s workforce for the future’ (30 January 2020): [accessed 24 June 2020]
30 Belay Begashaw, ‘Africa and the Sustainable Development Goals: A long way to go’, Brookings Institution (29 July 2019): [accessed 24 June 2020]
31 Written evidence from Health Poverty Action ()
33 The IMF’s initial forecast for 2020 was 3.5%.
34 Written evidence from the Africa Trade Policy Centre UNECA () and (Myles Wickstead)
35 (Dr Nick Westcott) and written evidence from Dr Andrew Edward Yaw Tchie ()
36 (Professor Gibril Faal) and written evidence from the Royal African Society ()
37 Written evidence from Dr Will Jones ()
40 I Niang, OC Ruppel, MA Abdrabo, A Essel, C Lennard, J Padgham and P Urquhart, ‘Africa, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’, Part B: Regional Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, p 205: [accessed 24 June 2020]
41 Written evidence from Dr Terence McSweeney () and (Myles Wickstead). Mr Wickstead said this was particularly an issue for growing crops such as tea and coffee, which survive within narrow temperature ranges.
42 Written evidence from Dr Carl Death ()
44 Written evidence from the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich (). Southern Africa was facing less rainfall, while in highland East Africa and coastal West Africa rainfall had increased.
45 (Andrew Mitchell MP) and written evidence from Christian Aid (). Dr Death said that large-scale climate change mitigation initiatives, such as reforestation and carbon sequestration, also had potentially negative impacts on local economies and land rights. Written evidence from Dr Carl Death ()
46 The Sahel is the region south of the Sahara Desert. Definitions of the Sahel differ, but all include Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
47 Written evidence from the Royal African Society (), (Dr Comfort Ero) and written evidence from Search for Common Ground ()
48 (James Duddridge MP)
50 (Professor Tim Murithi), written evidence from the Royal African Society (), written evidence from the Africa Regional Office of the Open Society Foundations (), written evidence from Christian Aid () and (Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala)
51 The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative was launched in 1996 by the IMF and World Bank and worked with the international financial community, including multilateral organisations and governments to lower to sustainable levels the external debt burdens of the most heavily indebted poor countries. In 2005, this was supplemented by the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, to help accelerate progress toward the UN Millennium Development Goals. It allows for 100 percent relief on eligible debts by the IMF, the World Bank, and the African Development Fund for countries completing the HIPC Initiative process. International Monetary Fund, ‘Debt Relief Under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative’ (25 March 2020):[accessed 24 June 2020]
52 Written evidence from the FCO () and written evidence from Christian Aid ()
53 Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Latest updates on the Covid-19 crisis from Africa CDC’: [accessed 25 June 2020]. Number of cases by region: southern 116,600; north 88,200; western 66,800; eastern 33,700; and central 32,000. Figures for 25 June 2020. There is some uncertainty over the figures for COVID-19 cases in the region. Darren McCaffrey, ‘Analysis: Africa’s unexpected COVID-19 figures’, Euronews (12 May 2020): [accessed 24 June 2020]
54 Written evidence from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine ()
63 Written evidence from the African Trade Policy Centre of UNECA ()
64 African Union (AU), ‘Joint Communiqué on the African Union-United Kingdom Partnership’ (22 February 2019): [accessed 24 June 2020]