8. Northern Africa

ie the northern half of Africa down to Nigeria and Somalia plus some pan-African issues. 

The Maghreb ie the Mediterranean lands of the north African coast.

The people of these lands rose up in the “Arab Spring” and we welcomed them and their courage and still do.

It could go bad however. It seems very right and healthy for people to be able to express themselves but communities suppressed by tyrants seem to take a while to get straightened out. Tunisia has just elected an islamic party to be the largest party and it looks as if Egypt and Libya may follow suit in land where Islamism has been held under by repressive regimes for a generation or more. Algeria has had a generation or more of sorrow from violent Islamism since the (in some cases also violent) colonial French were forced out. Morocco seems to milder version with its own king but that’s pretty repressive too.

If the Magreb opts for western style commercial democracy it could also go bad on them if they are taken advantage of by faceless but greedy market actors. They could turn to the apparent clarity of Islam as an alternative.

Having honourably protected the  lives of those fighting for freedom from oppression in Libya we are close to the situation. Belatedly we stood with the people having previously been too near to their oppressors, unfortunately because of their oil.

It will be very difficult for a Europe lacking naval control of the Mediterranean if we have an Islamist southern coast of the Mediterranean facing us and threatening our southern flank,  our access to Asia via Suez, our access to Middle Eastern oil and our ability to help Israel if it came under attack from Iran.

The antidote is to show that we are an attractive, just society with a way of life that appeals to the young population of the Maghreb more that Islamism does. That is much easier to achieve if we get our own UK house in order now rather than after north Africa follows the Iranian model. We may not have long.

Islamism across African Sahel ie the southern border of the Sahara. 

I worked 4 years solidly on resolving the north-south civil war in Sudan which is now settled by a referendum. It was basically the southern people’s way of resisting the forceful islamisation of their culture. In the past slavery was mixed up with this. Newly independent South Sudan needs diligent friends to get to know it and to defend it against being taken advantage of by Islamic forces from the north and by rapacious traders wanting to buy up their best assets at bargain basement prices having eased their way by inducements or entering into deals which take over infrastructure and utilities. Be their friend. Get to know southern Sudan and help protect it against falling into the hands of sweet talking business men taking advantage of this new nation.

The same problem of the violent interface between the more northern Islamic majority societies in the Sahara and north Africa and the secular and Christian ones further south. Chad is affected by the violence in Darfur. There is a lot of violence in Nigeria of this kind with churches and christians under attack. The violence in Ivory Coast has an Islamic element to it too. I’d like to see the British government take a much stronger line on this and show we care.

Eritrea perpetrates awful human rights abuses against its own people keeping about 2000 christians locked up in shipping containers and holes in the ground on army camps. Some die there. It has fallen off our government’s radar, it appears. It is a spin off from the long Eritrean/Ethiopian conflict by which Eritrea established its independence. Ethiopia is a historic Christian civilisation but its politics has been repressive for generations and remains so.

Somalia: This seems to be pretty much a hell hole. Starvation is a result, as far as I can see, of long term neglect of civilisation and the basic needs of the people. We need a big political push to get the Islamist to behave themselves and to look after the people or else we should lead a UN effort to get the issue sorted out militarily even if we are pretty heavily committed elsewhere. We can’t let it go on like this. Hundreds of sailors from many partsof the world are lingering in the custody of pirates. Occasionally someone with connections gets kidnapped and it hits the headlines but the rest of the time we hear little of it except appeals for famine relief. there is drought but I bet a country at peace whose government cared about its people and whose infrastructure was maintained properly would have a better chance of withstanding a drought.

Let’s pressurise the international community to get this horror sorted out … even if it is militarily difficult. It may need more military kit A400Ms surveillance drones small naval patrol craft and we should get better at providing the necessary kit more quickly. And a robust UN mandate to get on with it. We could come out of it well with UK seen as having acted out of good conscience, effectively. It could take the sails out of the attractiveness of Islamism worldwide.

Pan African affairs The African Union

The African Union is like the UN for Africa – an association of African governments. The trouble is that is it handicapped by lack of energy for reform on the part of such governments. It is an important body though and the more we can do to help democracy and fairness in Africa the more momentum such a body can get.

Africa and the world of trade. Africa has had a pretty bad deal in trade and its people even more so. In other words world companies have often, reportedly, done deals which run rings round the Africa partners in the deal. Sometimes the rich company lawyers are cleverer and more in touch with how international commercial contracts work leaving the Africans at a disadvantage.  Some times the African signatory’s decision-making powers are dulled by inducements. Whichever way its the ordinary people who lose out. We should stand for justice  in this and make sure the dealings and our government and our firms are fair. We apparently have a bad record on this sort of thing and it discredits us. African nations are getting more able to spot such deals. They discredit our reputation in the world and negate the benefit of aid we give – at least to some extent.

China in Africa. China has a reputation for more integrity than us in some places. They drive a hard deal but they instal some infrastructure be it railway or a road or hospital and it works. BUT China is so thirsty for natural resources, minerals and agricultural land that intense pressures are there.

It’s a big problem. Part of the answer is for us to be there to offer a better deal but we would have to be a much livelier nation with better trained people to compete and do a better job than the Chinese without it the greediness or hungriness that China is often felt to have. The other is to reform the banks worldwide so that there isn’t the same imperative to grow just to pay interest to the banks. Then we can settle down to really productive growth on a fairer footing which actually builds up African communities.