The Africa All Party Parliamentary Group, supported administratively by the Royal African Society, has the aim of promoting and raising Africa’s profile in the UK Parliament, through research and advocacy; chaired by Hugh Bailey MP for York Central. The APPG is now seven years old, and has an established presence in the UK's Parliament on African issues. We caught up with our colleague, Victoria Crawford, who co-ordinates the Africa APPG to get some insight into the priorities for the APPG in its 7th year of existence.
RAS: What areas is the APPG focused on at the moment?
VC: The Africa APPG works on the broad, strategic issues that affect the continent as a whole. This year we are focusing on three areas: China’s influence in Africa, best practice for business in Africa, and the growing role of the African Union. In addition we are conducting an inquiry on democracy and development in Africa, and are interested in the agenda for the UK-hosted G8 meeting in June.
VC: How has the APPG responded to the crisis in Mali?
While there are many APPGs for individual countries in Parliament and we don’t work on single country issues in cases where a country group exists, there is no APPG for Mali, so the Africa APPG has had an important role to play in providing parliamentarians with information on this critical issue. The APPG hosted a joint meeting with RAS and the Alliance for Mali back in October 2012, which played an important role in bringing the attention of parliamentarians to Mali, before the country hit the headlines following the French intervention. At the beginning of February while Mali was at the top of the political agenda we hosted a roundtable meeting for parliamentarians and their staff with Mark Saade, the Honorary Consul for Mali, Tim Morris, Sahel Coordinator at the FCO, and Ali Soufan, CEO of the Soufan Group, which provided a very candid discussion about the underlying causal factors to the crisis in Mali, how this is linked to broader developments across the region, and the approach of both the Malian and British Governments. We used the discussion to prepare a written briefing on the Mali crisis, which has been shared with all of our Members, over 150 parliamentarians, as well as parliamentary staff working on Africa, allowing the information to reach many more people in Parliament than were able to attend the meeting in person. We are planning a follow-up meeting in a couple of months’ time, which will look at the longer term implications of the situation, which will include insights from the BBC World Service. More generally we have kept Africa APPG Members updated with the situation in Mali and the response of UK parliamentarians through RAS’s weekly Africa in the News bulletin, and an additional Africa in Parliament bulletin.
VC: There has been a lot of talk about the Millennium Development Goals – how is the APPG preparing for the world after 2015?
The world is currently considering what will replace the MDGs in 2015, and the UK is playing a leading role in these discussions, with David Cameron as one of the co-Chairs of the UN High Level Panel on the post-2015 Development Framework, which will present its recommendations about what should come next to the UN Secretary General in May of this year. This is a broad debate and the issues affect a whole range of interest groups in Parliament, beyond just Africa, so it is a good example of an issue where it makes most sense to collaborate with others working on similar issues. By bringing the Members of the different APPGs together, we are able to access many more parliamentarians than if the Africa APPG organised a meeting independently, and this sends out a much stronger message about how serious parliamentarians are about the issue. The Africa APPG takes a leading role in the APPGs on International Development, which is an informal coalition of 50+ APPGs which each work on international development to one extent or another. This forum has been working to raise the profile of the post-MDG agenda in Parliament, as well as lobbying the Government to engage with parliamentarians on these issues. We organised for the Chairs of each of the Groups to send a joint letter to the Prime Minister offering their support and requesting that parliamentarians, both in the UK and in developing countries, be fully involved in the post-MDG process, and hosted a meeting between Parliamentarians and the civil society representatives on the High Level Panel. We are currently planning a meeting at which the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, will address parliamentarians, updating them on the discussions of the High Level Panel before the recommendations are presented to the Secretary General, and are hoping to organise a Backbench Business Debate in the House of Commons on the subject.
RAS: What issues in relation to Africa are MPs currently most engaged with? And are there areas where the APPG is aiming to increase the attention and level of interest in parliament?
VC: Different MPs are interested in different issues and it is quite difficult to generalise, but it is probably fair to say that discussions on Africa are often overly dominated by international development, and specifically aid - critical issues, but not the whole picture. Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum are interested in foreign affairs, defence and international business, but a quick look through past parliamentary questions to the FCO, MoD or BIS, or previous Foreign Affairs Committee inquiries, suggests the focus is often on the Middle East and the emerging economies. There is also already a large number of APPGs which work directly on international development issues (varying from an HIV/AID APPG to a Street Children APPG). The Africa APPG therefore focuses largely on the political, security and business aspects (which underlie international development anyway). Of our the focus topics for the year, two (the African Union and China's influence in Africa) could be considered political issues, and one (best practice for business) a business issue, and we have published two reports on security in Africa, one a couple of months ago and one in 2010, which was submitted to the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
There are a growing number of All Party groups focused on African issues or Countries – do you work with them?
VC: We collaborate with other APPGs as much as possible - APPGs are about encouraging debate between different groups of people, and working with other APPGs enables us to bring different groups of people together. I have already mentioned the loose coalition of the APPGs on International Development; this includes both country groups and issues groups, and is a really useful forum for working on the broadest issues and for hosting very high level speakers, when all of the APPGs are likely to be interested. Under our lecture series Parliamentarians Ending Poverty we have hosted speakers including Bill Gates, the Dalai Lama and three of the Elders: Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson. The forum has also proved a really useful single point of contact, particularly for government departments looking to work with a range of interested parliamentarians.The coordinators of the various APPGs meet up every few months to update each other on what we are working on and look for possible areas of collaboration. In general, if there is an issue-based group for the subject we are working on, we would aim to work with that group. So, for example, we are planning a meeting on the Bribery Act in Africa, which will be co-hosted by the Africa APPG, the Anti-Corruption APPG, and the Trade Out of Poverty APPG, and last year we published a report on Skills Mixing in the Health Sector in Africa and the UK together with the Global Health APPG. The APPG made a decision a number of years ago to not work on single country issues in cases where a country APPG exists, so in these cases we would ask the country APPG if they were interested in taking the lead, either independently or with the Africa APPG's support if they preferred. Last year for example we were approached to organise a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Somaliland. We passed this onto the Somalia and Somaliland APPG, who were keen we remained involved, so we co-hosted the meeting, with the Somaliland Group chairing the meeting.
RAS: Is there anything else we should keep in mind about the APPG’s work in the near future?
VC: We are working on an inquiry on democracy and development, exploring some of the key issues underlying the UK's relationship with Africa, and are keen to here from anyone who might be interested in getting involved with this. Specifically we are looking for organisations who would be interested in supporting this inquiry financially (to cover the costs of collecting the information and for printing and distributing the report), and, while the deadline has passed for submitting written evidence, we are still keen to speak to anyone (especially anyone African or in Africa!) who can relate their experiences to the terms of reference (available here).
The Africa APPG's inquiry into Democracy & Development in Africa - organisations or individuals wishing to contribute can contact Victoria Crawford.