Britain has a “relationship with the people of Africa” while China only focuses on the elites, a Foreign Office minister said.
Andrew Mitchell, development minister, said on Monday there is a “competition” in Africa between the West on one hand and Russia and China on the other.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Royal African Society, he said: “I don’t think I need to spend very long on the disadvantage of what Russia is seeking to do in Africa, and if the answer to any question in Africa is Russia we need to have a very good look at what the question was in the first place.
“But China is different. There is a China development offer in Africa which is appealing, but all I would say is we believe that we have a relationship with the people of Africa and the people of the countries above all.
In a brief summary of the UK’s policy towards Africa, Mr Mitchell stressed the need for a “real and genuine and equal partnership” with African nations in order to achieve results.
He said: “We have learned a lot of lessons in the last 25 years, from the time when the IMF (International Monetary Fund) would send in smart suited men from the IMF to tell Africans how to solve their economic circumstances, which simply didn’t work because these were not the prescriptions that were practical in Africa. We learned that the hard way.”
In light of the violence in Sudan, which he said makes the challenge of ensuring security in Africa “infinitely worse”, Mr Mitchell also said development is “above all about stopping conflict”.
He said: “We always focus on that as a key ingredient – that conflict is development in reverse.”
Mr Mitchell, who returned as development minister in October 2022 having served as development secretary between 2010 and 2012, went on to acknowledge “irritation” among African nations.
He also touched briefly on debt relief, noting the US and UK managed to bail out Silicon Valley Bank within days while Zambia has been waiting years for its debt to be restructured.
Zambia defaulted on 12.8 billion US dollars (£12.3 billion) in foreign loans during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and has still not reached a deal with its creditors, many of whom are Chinese.
Mr Mitchell said: “It is true that the international community can invent quantitative easing to sort out their problems but they can’t find the money to save the planet.
“This seems to me to be a completely legitimate viewpoint.”