How African Christians can help a post-Brexit Britain

Britain is looking for key partners post-Brexit and has pledged to maintain its international aid at £13 billion. But unless the issue of corruption, which is endemic in Africa, is addressed billions will simply be siphoned away. The African Biblical Leadership Initiative Forum (ABLI), which is under way in Eswatini, aims to tackle the problem by bringing biblical principles to bear upon Africa's culture of corruption. 

Young people at the 2018 African Biblical Leadership Initiative Forum in Eswatini.Andrew Boyd

Theresa May's visit to Africa in August was aimed squarely at producing a post-Brexit dividend. The prime minister announced trade arrangements with six African nations and trade deals with Africa worth £31bn a year.

The UK is eager, some might say desperate, to explore trade opportunities beyond the EU. Mrs May understands that Africa's economy is set to exceed $5.6 trillion within a decade. And the prime minister knows that Africa's workforce is heading to overtake that of China by 2035.

Bleeding money

Mrs May will also be fully conscious that much of what is given to Africa in aid or is spent on trade will haemorrhage away in corruption. Africa is bleeding money even faster than Britain's water companies leak H2O.

According to pressure groups, Africa is the worst performing region in world for corruption. Sixty-five per cent of revenue from multi-national transactions simply disappears, while almost a third of Africa's financial wealth is syphoned into offshore accounts (Sources: Transparency International, African Development Bank, Global Financial Integrity, and Oxfam).

So, if Britain's aid and trade with Africa is to benefit either the people of Africa or the UK, that culture of corruption must change. Which is why corruption always heads the list of issues at ABLI.

This year's ABLI – the eighth such forum – in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) is no exception.

'We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected,' says ABLI organiser Dr Mohammed Girma. 'The challenges in Africa – such as violence, displacement and political unrest – directly impact the Western world. A peaceful and corruption-free Africa would benefit all, including Britain.'

Playing catch-up

Mrs May and the organisers of ABLI alike are well aware that Britain is playing catch-up in Africa and lagging badly behind. Mrs May's visit in August was the first by a British prime minister since 2011. Compare that to some 27 visits by French presidents since 2010 and a remarkable 79 African excursions by the Chinese premier since 2011.

'The Chinese are keen on investing in Africa,' emphasises Dr Girma. 'No African leaders missed the recent China-Africa Summit.

'If Britain doesn't change its policy towards Africa and start acting like an equal partner instead of a big brother, it could risk further isolation.'

Critical advantage

The ABLI organiser believes Britain is failing to make the most of its critical advantage with Africa – its frequently shared language and religious values. It is those religious values, if taught, understood and embraced, that would provide the best defence against corruption.

'Instead of simply challenging corrupt leaders, we need to address the culture and mentality that breeds corruption. That is why ABLI's focus this year is on culture and leadership,' says Dr Girma.

But the message from watchdogs such as Transparency International is that it is not just Africa that has to change. Many of Africa's main trading nations simply wink at corruption and work with it, instead of working to eradicate it.

According to Transparency International, only seven nations take active and effective enforcement against bribery: the US, Germany, Israel, Norway and Switzerland – and the UK.

Which is why ABLI's message – of the culture change that only the Bible can bring – needs to be heard across all seven continents, and not only in Africa.