27, August 2019
From the southern tip of the black continent to West Africa and the Horn of Africa, the British Council is actively promoting British interests through ostensibly “cultural” and “educational” programmes.
But why does the British Council have such a strong interest in the African continent and how does it go about using “soft” power to realise both avowed and disavowed British foreign policy objectives in the black continent?
Cultural outreach, or cultural penetration (depending on the reader’s perspective), constitutes a core British Council activity. It is the Council’s bread and butter work.
But whereas the British Council frames its cultural outreach programmes as part of a broader narrative centred on local “empowerment”, the reality is that the Council seeks to identify and manipulate emerging cultural trends with a view to creating political and economic spaces for British interests.
Take East Africa as an example, where the British Council has been exceptionally active since the dawn of the twenty first century.
A recent British Council document entitled “Scoping the Creative Economy in East Africa” gives much insight into the thinking of the Council’s leadership, and by extension, the leadership of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Describing the “creative economy” in a primarily sub-national context, the document essentially calls for interventions at local or community levels in order to effect the greatest change.
The document identifies Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda where the “creative economy” offers the greatest potential. Conveniently, these are also the countries which Britain has aggressively targeted as part of post-Brexit trade deals.
On a trip to the African continent in August 2018, the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced that Britain had secured its first post-Brexit trade deal in Africa.
Writing in the Guardian on September 04, 2018, the British-Ghanian writer and broadcaster, Afua Hirsch, heaped scorn on May’s sweeping statements and assumptions in relation to the African continent.
Hirsch wrote: “If Britain wants to be a friend to Africa, it needs to stop looking to the continent to boost its self-esteem – “the shared history and cultural ties” of which May talks allude to Britain’s imperial domination – and its coffers”.
The British Council is also highly active in West Africa where, in recent years, it has aggressively promoted the English language. This strategy is set out in detail in a 2013 British Council document entitled: “The English language in Francophone West Africa”.
The aggressive promotion of the English language in fragile nation-states, beset by ethnic and cultural divisions, comes at a high political cost.
Take Cameroon for example, where a rebellion in the country’s western Anglophone regions has resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,000 people since October 2017.
Last week a Cameroonian military court sentenced 10 Anglophone separatist leaders to life imprisonment on wide-ranging national security charges, including terrorism and secession.