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THE government was accused today of the “corporate hijacking” of taxpayer-funded overseas aid to developing countries to promote business opportunities for British corporations.
The Tories also intend to splash out £15 million in aid money on a Britain-Africa “investment summit” at a luxury hotel in London on Monday — and it will be targeted by protesters.
Campaign group Global Justice Now is one of 12 groups that has penned an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemning the summit at the Intercontinental Hotel in London’s Docklands, and the misuse of aid money to support profiteers.
The summit, hosted by Mr Johnson, will be attended by around 1,000 people including heads of state from up to 20 African countries, representatives from the City of London, British businesses, business leaders from Africa and international financial institutions.
It has a budget of £15.5m from the Department for International Development (DfID), despite no representatives of African civil society groups invited.
The summit, on the eve of the Britain’s departure from the European Union, is seen by the government as a chance to showcase its “global Britain” agenda on the international stage.
In December it announced £150m of aid money will be spent through a prosperity fund to “facilitate free trade,” helping Britain sign post-Brexit business deals.
The government is also considering merging DfID into the Foreign Office, effectively making international aid an arm of Britain’s overseas political and economic activity.
Global Justice Now policy and campaign manager Daniel Willis said: “This is what ‘global Britain’ looks like: spending millions of pounds of aid money on a lavish summit which does more to help the City of London, and secure Britain’s post-Brexit trade deals, than help fight poverty in Africa.
“While merging DfID into the Foreign Office would undoubtedly make things worse, this has been going on for years, with more and more aid money diverted to privatisation projects, poured into the City of London and used to help big business gain new markets.
“Of course investment could be useful in Africa, but only if done in the right way.
“High-growth African countries are currently among the most unequal on Earth, because that growth is not helping the vast number of impoverished people. Rather it’s being creamed off by those at the very top.
“If this is Boris Johnson’s approach to international development, then it hardly matters whether he scraps the department itself — he will be locking in the corporate hijack of the aid budget.
“We must stand against this approach, which amounts to a new scramble for Africa, with British banks at the helm.”
The open letter to Mr Johnson argues that international development funds should be spent on fighting poverty and inequality, not attempting to “expand the UK’s economic and political power over the African continent.”
Other signatories to the letter include trade union charity War on Want, the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development and Church Action for Tax Justice.
Shadow minister for international development Preet Kaur Gill said: “This summit makes clear that the Conservatives will continue to misuse the country’s aid budget to prop up the needs of business elites rather than spend it on tackling global poverty, inequality and the climate crisis.
“Trade and investment deals are not a panacea for ending poverty, especially when they’re written in line with the demands of big business, and don’t have safeguards in place to protect public services or ensure the most marginalised groups aren’t left behind.”
Monday’s demonstration at the Docklands Intercontinental Hotel starts at 2pm.
DfID had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.
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