Furthering Global Britain? Reviewing the Foreign Policy Effect of UK Engagement in East Africa

Think tank: RUSI

Author(s): Simon Rynn; Michael Jones; Larry Attree

August 29, 2023

This report from UK think tank RUSI looks at the background on recent UK policy towards East Africa.

This paper provides background on recent UK policy towards East Africa, summarises the research findings for RUSI’s project ‘Furthering Global Britain? Reviewing the Foreign Policy Effect of UK Engagement in East Africa’ and offers recommendations for the UK government with relevance both to the region and to an integrated foreign policy globally. The research raises important questions concerning the nature of UK–Africa relations and the role of aid, development and defence engagement within an integrated foreign policy.

Various recommendations are offered in this paper, spanning operational and strategic levels. These include building on lessons from the DFID–Foreign & Commonwealth Office merger to ensure the FCDO’s capabilities fully support integrated ways of working; better aligning mission priorities across the Gulf and Eastern Africa; and bolstering cooperation between special envoys and embassy-level staff. Explicit change management processes must be used to guide further organisational reform.

More broadly, the UK should advocate for a clearer mandate when it comes to ad hoc groups such as the Quint and the Quad; centre long-term, sustainable engagement; and communicate the scope, scale and mechanics of continuing UK–EU cooperation to help defuse perceptions of an isolated, post-Brexit foreign policy, particularly to local audiences. 3 Furthering Global Britain? Simon Rynn, Michael Jones and Larry Attree.

Perhaps most importantly in a world of increased geopolitical rivalry, the UK needs to clarify its positioning towards Africa. Policy statements in favour of ‘integration’ or ‘partnerships’, while useful, do not in themselves constitute effective strategy. With a contracting resource base, positive results may become harder to demonstrate in an increasingly competitive, transactional environment. African governments also now have a wider array of potential partners and greater leverage in shaping foreign engagement. As a result, the UK will need to market its added value towards Africa very clearly. As a first step, a two-way dialogue should be established with African partners at government and societal level to discuss shared priorities and ways of working.