Debate on Africa

Mike Gapes MP spoke in the Parliamentary debate on Africa on Thursday 19 June 2014 .

Here is what he said. 

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I want to concentrate my remarks on two issues. First, I will speak about the recent Foreign Affairs Committee report on instability and extremism in north and west Africa—that covers Mali, to which my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) referred—and secondly I will talk a little about my impressions of Egypt, having been there at the weekend.

My first point relates to our earlier debate about the global nature of terrorism. Unfortunately, there were some serious adverse consequences to the liberation of the people of Libya from the Gaddafi dictatorship. Huge amounts of weaponry were dispersed, some of which ended up in Syria, as we have heard, but much of it is in the hands of mercenary fighters who had been part of Gaddafi’s military and protection forces. Bands of Tuareg went out across the ungoverned spaces of the Sahara desert, and existing terrorist groups were reinforced by weaponry and personnel. That raises, once again, the problem that although it is comparatively easy to go into a country and to remove the leader, the crucial period is not the declaration of victory but the subsequent construction of a stable political system. That can take years, if not decades, and it can be very difficult, particularly in failed or failing states.

Before it produced the report, which was published in March, the Foreign Affairs Committee went on several visits in 2012. I was part of the visit to Algeria, where we discussed the terrible consequences of the attack on the BP facility at In Amenas. I went separately to Mali, where I met our very small diplomatic post. The Committee’s report makes several recommendations based on our visits.

I also went last year to Nigeria and met, among others, members of the Nigerian security forces who showed us horrific captured DVDs of atrocities carried out by Boko Haram. We also discussed with the governor of Borno state the ongoing struggle of the Nigerian authorities, at governor level and centrally, with that dreadful terrorist organisation. The world knows about Boko Haram, because of the great publicity provided by the Amnesty International campaign about the captured young women. They have still not been found, months afterwards, and nobody knows whether they will be returned safely.

Boko Haram has been carrying out such activities against Christians and Muslims for a considerable period of time, and the Nigerian authorities need support. They need political support, because they are, after all, a democratically elected Government. It is no good simply condemning them for failing. The fact is that Nigeria is a large country, and it does not have the resources or the armed forces that it needs to deal with such issues adequately. Assistance from the international community is required to give the Nigerian authorities support in their difficult role.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): What sort of assistance can we give when even with all the technology we have, we have not been able to find those girls from the skies?

Mike Gapes: We are talking about long-term issues. The Nigerian armed forces are already getting some support with training and other activities. I believe, and the Foreign Affairs Committee has said clearly, that much more must be done to give them the help and assistance that they need. Nigeria is not only the biggest country in Africa by population, but a potential economic powerhouse. It has oil and other resources, and yet it has tens of millions of people living in abject poverty and millions not in school. There are huge issues of development, as well as of governance and security. There is also a large British Nigerian diaspora community in this country, who are mainly from the south of Nigeria and from Christian communities. We must recognise that the matter is of concern to us, and we must support Nigeria.

We were struck by the UK’s very limited diplomatic footprint in Mali and other parts of North and West Africa. That is mainly because many of the countries in the region are former French colonies, and there has been an assumption that France will take the lead role on its historic associations and the UK on others. However, it is interesting that President Hollande of France recently called a summit to discuss the situation in Nigeria and how help could be given. It is important that we recognise that in many Francophone countries—I certainly picked this up in Mali—there is a desire for us to have a larger presence. As the Foreign Affairs Committee said, we should work with our French partners and allies, with the United States and with the European Union’s External Action Service in a more co-ordinated way with the countries of the region.

In the time that is left to me, I want to say something about Egypt. The all-party parliamentary group went to Cairo last weekend, where we had a long meeting with President Sisi. President Sisi was elected with 23 million votes, and we must recognise that there were observers for that election and it was generally accepted that the result was fair. President Sisi’s total vote was significantly higher than that of President Morsi, who received 5 million votes in the first round and 13 million votes in the run-off second round. The people I met in Egypt—people from the Christian community, leading figures in the Islamic organisations in the country and members of women’s groups—were unanimous in their feeling that the President has the authority to introduce a political change to bring all Egyptians together.

There are huge problems in Egypt economically and with unemployment, particularly among large numbers of young people. A parliamentary system is not yet in place and parliamentary elections will probably be held in September or October. We need to recognise that Egypt is a very large country within Africa and, if we can sort the issue out internationally, it could become a permanent member of the Security Council. It is not just an African country but one of the leading largest countries in the Arab world, as 25% of the world’s Arab population live in Egypt.

We need to recognise that, historically, we have had important political, economic and cultural relations with Egypt. The recent past—unfortunately, I do not have time to go through it all—has seen the emergence of great aspirations since the events of 2011, particularly among young people, followed by the period of the Muslim Brotherhood President, which led to huge demonstrations against how he was governing and what he was thought to be trying to create. Then there was the intervention of the army and now there is a second election.

Egypt is in transition. It is an important country for the future of Africa and to the peace and security of the middle east region as a whole. I shall conclude my remarks and hope that the Minister will respond to those points.


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