Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently signalled via the national press that he wants to divert billions of pounds of foreign aid to bolster security.
It is an answer to the prayer of many of us who have campaigned for a link between aid, security and development.
Ministers have a duty to ensure that when hard-earned taxpayers’ cash is sent abroad – £15 billion a year at the last count – it is spent effectively and not frittered away by corrupt and incompetent foreign governments or agencies.
The Prime Minister’s mind is undecided. But if he looks around the globe, there is no shortage of evidence as to why this move would be welcome.
In China, the ruthless containment of the Uyghur population has been despicable, and the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar rings loudly. Perhaps worst of all now, millions of Nigeria’s innocent Christians have been wedged between the world’s deadliest terrorist organisations, Islamic State West Africa and Boko Haram, Islamist Fulani, and a seemingly-apathetic government in Abuja.
The UK government needs to summon up greater political will to address these escalating atrocities in Nigeria and The Sahel which have the potential to yet swim across to bite in the UK and Europe. The time is right to rethink the spending strategy of aid which may very well not be incentivising good governance in the beneficiary countries. It appears the money we spend can easily find its way into wasteful bureaucratic machines, or noble projects such as schools or hospitals that, because of regional instability, end up obliterated.
What is the point of building a school one day only to see that the next day it is burned down, the teachers killed and the children abducted – as happens far too often in Nigeria?
The UK must incentivise foreign governments to protect their citizens not only with the carrot, but with the stick. By all means, Whitehall must support development projects in Nigeria and the world’s poorest countries, but this can only be done if it simultaneously bolsters the security mechanisms that will defend and preserve those very same projects and their beneficiaries. Otherwise, the newly-merged FCDO is simply lining up ducks to be shot.
Perhaps Mr Johnson should consider PSJ UK’s latest warning about the state of Nigeria and West Africa. Following the revelation that almost 100,000 Nigerians, mostly vulnerable Christians, have been slaughtered by Islamists since the year 2000, a fresh ComRes poll showed a staggering 58 per cent support among UK adults for imposing sanctions on those individuals responsible. Requiring that foreign aid to Nigeria be targeted on measures that safeguard human rights received 53 per cent backing.
Endless roundtable talks and peace conferences have failed in the search for justice and prosperity around the world. The vacuum they create has only allowed the globe’s biggest and most aggressive players such as China and Russia to step in and control strategic resources and trade networks. A new, bolder approach is in order if the UK is to make the most of our departure from the EU and genuinely influence foreign policy for the better.