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Stephen Doughty is the Labour Party’s shadow Africa minister.
Much has changed for the better since 2005, when then British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa set out a powerful case that it is in “our common interest” to tackle the “poverty and stagnation [that] is the greatest tragedy of our time.”
In the intervening years, economic development and investment in essential public services have lifted millions out of extreme poverty. More funding for women’s health has allowed many millions more pregnant women to access basic health care, causing maternal deaths to drop substantially. Similar improvements have been seen in areas as diverse as treatments for disease and the peaceful transition between governments.
But the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Ebola crisis before it, have shown how fragile these steps forward can be — and how quickly decades of progress could reverse.
Despite all the rhetoric of “Global Britain,” post-Brexit trade deals and the championing of our historic links with the Commonwealth, Africa is benefiting little from its relationship with the United Kingdom these days. Since the funeral of Nelson Mandela in 2013, there has been just one visit by a U.K. prime minister to sub-Saharan Africa: a perfunctory three-day trip by Theresa May in 2018.
“The continent may be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience” — Boris Johnson, writing in 2002.
Now in Boris Johnson, we have a prime minister who previously played down slavery and recommended a new colonialism,