British Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to Kenya on Thursday – the first time a UK leader has visited in 30 years – could not come at a more difficult time for the leader of the Conservative Party.
For as with her predecessor David Cameron, whose visit to Nairobi in 2016 was cancelled at the last moment, she is beset with divisions in her own party as well as within the country over the decision to leave the European Union.
Officially, the delegation of UK ministers, business people and officials are arriving, as a statement from No 10 Downing Street said to
“focus on a renewed partnership between the UK and Africa, which will seek to maximise shared opportunities and tackle common challenges.”
Unofficially of course, it is another attempt to reassure the British public that the UK is capable of “going it alone” after Brexit and forging new trade deals with Commonwealth partners and other major economic powers like China and the US.
With the PM’s own Chancellor Philip Hammond warning of a colossal 7.7 per cent hit to Britain’s GDP and an £80 billion (Sh9.4 trillion) black hole in the public finances in the event of a “no deal” Brexit with the EU over the weekend, Ms May needs all the good news she can get.
Moreover, the Premier faces a series of challenging votes when Parliament resumes in September with political experts in the UK predicting that May’s minority government will not have a majority for her proposed deal with the EU and no majority also for either a “hard Brexit” – ie leaving the EU without a deal – or remaining in the EU, an option that most MPs favour but won’t vote for unless there is a second referendum on the terms of leaving.
So Ms May needs to show that Britain is still a relevant world power that can still cut bespoke trade deals with other countries.
“Africa stands right on the cusp of playing a transformative role in the global economy and, as long-standing partners, this trip is a unique opportunity at a unique time for the UK to set out our ambition to work even closer together,” she said ahead of her visit.
“A more prosperous, growing and trading Africa is in all of our interests, and its incredible potential will only be realised through a concerted partnership between governments, global institutions and business,” the PM added
The Prime Minister will be joined by a business delegation made up of 29 representatives from across all regions of the UK and its devolved administrations for the three-day visit which starts in South Africa today.
In Nairobi she will meet President Kenyatta and see British soldiers training troops from Kenya and other African countries, in the techniques needed to identify and destroy improvised explosive devices, before they go to fight Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
The meeting will be the fourth between the two leaders.
President Kenyatta and the PM first met in May 2017 during the third London Conference on Somalia before she hosted him in April this year during the Commonwealth Heads of Governments meeting. The two leaders have also met twice during the G7 summits.