David Cameron faced a tricky decision last week ahead of a long-planned trip to sub-Saharan Africa, his first as prime minister. This was originally drawn up as a two-pronged journey which would focus both on trade (with a delegation of business types) but also on aid – with a chance for the prime minister to justify his controversial plan to lift aid spending to 0.7 per cent of GDP.
But Cameron and his aides realised that he would be open to criticism if he spent the best part of a week on a different continent while the phone hacking scandal rumbles on in the UK – and as the eurozone crisis escalates in southern Europe.
So what to do? Cancel or delay the trip to focus on the domestic crises? Or cut the trip in half to focus on either trade or aid? And if the latter, which should be the priority?
Cameron appears to have gone for slimming the trip down to concentrate mainly on business, with just two stop-offs in South Africa and West Africa.
That could be a controversial decision given that the Horn of Africa is in the grip of a deadly drought which has put an estimated 10m people at risk. Andrew Mitchell was out in Kenya at the weekend announcing more than £50m of British help.
But Cameron announced last July that he wanted to reprioritise the Foreign Office to make trade its primary function. (“As we come out of recession and into recovery we have got to pay our way in the world and I want to reorientate the Foreign Office to be much more commercially minded.“) At least he is being consistent.
The PM also argues in a newspaper op ed today (South Africa’s ‘Business Day’) that free trade across Africa is one way to end the continent’s dependency on foreign aid.
We are used to thinking that the problems of our world will be always with us. But the economic revolution underway has brought within reach the steps to eradicate poverty in Africa. It is now possible to imagine an Africa no longer dependent on aid, and a real source of growth for the whole world. And the road to get there lies through freeing up the wealth creating power of enterprise and trade.
Here is the full list of business leaders accompanying the PM on his whirlwind trip; they include Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays.
1. Aggreko (Rupert Soames, CEO – and brother of Tory MP Nicholas Soames)
2. Barclays (Bob Diamond, CEO)
3. Coal Authority (Philip Lawrence, CEO)
4. De La Rue (Tim Cobbold, CEO)
5. Diageo (Nick Blazquez, President Africa)
6. G4S (David Taylor-Smith, CEO, UK, Ireland, and Africa)
7. International Hospitals Group (Hertford King, CEO)
8. Mott MacDonald (Keith Howells, Chairman)
9. PWC (Ian Powell, Chairman and Senior Partner)
10. Royal Mint (Adam Lawrence, CEO)
11. Turner and Townsend (Vincent Clancy, CEO)
12. Vodafone (Vittorio Colao, CEO)
13. Waitrose (Mark Price, MD)
14. Aureos Capital (Sev Vettivetpillai, CEO/CIO)
15. Omidyar (Stephen King)
16. CDC (Rod Evison, Acting CEO. Managing Director, Africa)
17. All Amber (Matthew Dawes, MD):
18. Frontline SMS (Ken Banks, Founder)
19. Monitise plc (Alastair Lukies, CEO, Co-founder)
20. Osannimu (Alaka Ayodeji, Managing Partner)
21. Wired Magazine (David Rowan, Editor)
22. English Premier League (Bill Bush, Director of Comms & Public Policy)
23. Supersport (Imtiaz Patel/ Tex Texeira)
24. Perimeter Institute (Neil Turok, Founder)
25. School for StartUps (Doug Richard, Founder)