Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:44 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Boateng Lord Boateng Llafur 4:44, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, the Minister, in his characteristically powerful speech, reminded us of the importance of the UK championing the flourishing of democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, reminded us of the need for us to wake up. We certainly do need to wake up to what is happening to democracy in the Sahel and throughout Africa, and to the danger of democracy and democrats finding themselves on the back foot.

I grew up in the Commonwealth. I grew up in Ghana, in west Africa, in the 1960s. Many of us in here are children of the 1960s, and we know that the 1960s were characterised by global competition between West and East. No continent suffered more from that competition than the African continent. There is a proverb in Africa: when the great elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. That is certainly what occurred in Africa. During that period between 1960 and 2000, coups in Africa averaged four per year. There have been an estimated 200 successful or attempted coups in Africa since the 1950s.

Until relatively recently, democracy seemed to be flourishing in Africa, and there were more people who were able to cast their vote at the ballot box, and cast it safely, than since the early days of independence. Sadly, that is now in decline. In Mali, there have been two coups, in 2020 and 2021. There have been coups in Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso—twice in 2022—Niger in 2023 and Gabon in 2023. The Sahel is threatened with a contagion of coups and Islamist insurgency on a par with nothing we have seen before.

Added to that is the growing destabilising factor of the intervention of Russia in the continent through the Wagner Group, which has reinvented itself in ways that mean, I am afraid, that it is directly linking its commercial interests in mineral extraction with military intervention in order to create the context in which that extraction, to the benefit of Russia, can take place. At the same time, it is selling arms: it is the single biggest supplier of arms in the Sahel as we speak. We have to have a response to that.

For democracy to flourish, there is a need for jobs, an end to instability and an end to hunger. The reality for Africa and Africans is far from that. There is a growing humanitarian crisis. Armed conflicts have worsened human suffering and forced millions to flee: roughly 2.7 million people have been displaced by coups and armed insurgency in the Sahel. I know what it is to be a displaced person; I am for ever grateful to the people and community of Hemel Hempstead who welcomed me, my mother and my sister when we fled the coup in Ghana in 1966. It is no easy thing. Linked to the 2.7 million displaced people are 1.6 million children who are malnourished. Those are last year’s figures, and the most recent indications suggest that over 2 million children are undernourished this year.

We need to have a response to that and it needs, surely, to be one that links support for democracy and civil society, through giving institutions such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy the capacity to operate on the ground. It means creating jobs through support for the Africa free trade area and expanding in answer to the desire of China and Russia to create more military and naval bases. China now has naval bases in west Africa, as well as east Africa, and Russia is seeking a base in Sudan. We have to have a response to that which is led by military diplomacy, so there has to be an investment in military diplomacy on a scale that we have not seen for very many years.

We have an opportunity, with the reputation that the people of this country have in Africa, to make a difference so that democracy flourishes—because it is seen to provide jobs and security, as well as decent health and well-being for all the citizens in democratic countries.