VICTORIA PRENTIS CONTRIBUTES TO COMMONS DEBATE ABOUT CENTRAL AND EAST AFRICA

 

The below account is taken from the House of Commons Hansard for 25 January 2016:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow so many interesting and wide-ranging speeches and to take part in this debate secured by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), who ranged widely both geographically and over the issues in central and east Africa. I look forward to other opportunities for him to tell us about the countries he was not able to reach in his speech this evening.

Westminster Group, a British-based but internationally focused security group, has its headquarters in my constituency. The company is active in many parts of east Africa in providing security and safety services and solutions: its aim is to protect people, assets and infrastructure. It tells me that east Africa is a paradox. It is a region that has experienced impressive economic growth over the past decade, and yet one of the most high-conflict areas in the world. There is fighting across the region, with no-go areas for travellers, particularly westerners, in large areas of Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. Piracy is a major worry in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian ocean. Widespread corruption and poor governance hold these countries and their people in a state of poverty, and, as we have heard, this fuels insurgency.

I would like, if I may, to focus on just one country in the region that nobody has yet touched on—South Sudan. It is a country with which Britain has old connections, but is also one of the very newest countries on our maps. It faces some of the oldest problems that have afflicted

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Africa. Since independence from Sudan, which it was given on 9 July 2011, South Sudan has struggled with enormous developmental challenges. Decades of war have left a legacy of chronic poverty, inequality, and limited capacity in infrastructure.

The first part of 2013 saw some initial progress, but this was soon reversed by the outbreak of yet more conflict. Since the start of the violence, thousands of people have been killed. Over 1 million have fled their homes, including to neighbouring countries. Despite the signing of a ceasefire, fighting has continued, and by April 2014, 4.9 million people were in urgent need of humanitarian aid. Despite the internationally mediated peace deal signed by President Salva Kiir in August last year, under which another rebel leader was returned as his vice-president, there have been continued delays in the formation of the transitional Government of national unity. My predecessor as Member for Banbury, who knows the area very well, spoke at length about this almost two years ago. It is very sad that so little progress has been made in the intervening period. There continue to be breaches of the ceasefire in the states of Unity and Upper Nile.

Just before I came into the Chamber to speak, I was told that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), has today landed in Juba where, we hope, he will assist in the production of a new peace deal. I am sure that all Members of this House join me in wishing him and the people he is working with all the best in the next few days. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

One issue for humanitarian relief is that access is poor in many areas of South Sudan. As a result, almost 4 million people are facing severe food shortages—an 80% increase on this time last year. South Sudan is one area of the world where, because of instability, food production has actually fallen in the past 50 years. Starvation is endemic across the country, especially in the beleaguered Unity state. Like many Members, I am proud that the United Kingdom is playing a leading role in the humanitarian response to the current instability in South Sudan. We are the second largest bilateral donor. In 2014, we were one of the largest donors to the UN humanitarian appeal, which helped to avert famine and ensured that 3.5 million of the South Sudanese people were reached with life-saving assistance. We are obviously determined to do our bit to meet the challenge, but limited access for humanitarian workers, particularly in Unity state, has increased the problem of famine.

I hope that despite these challenges the Department for International Development, along with other parts of Government, will continue to look for ways in which we can help this area. If we do not, I fear that radicalisation and terrorism will grow, increasing the threat to the entire region and ultimately to us all. To secure long-term stability, it is important that South Sudan develops its infrastructure. Last year, the Prime Minister offered military engineering expertise to the South Sudanese Government to help with building bridges, roads and other key pieces of infrastructure.

This is also an opportunity for British businesses to link trade to aid to help stabilise the country. I would welcome assurances from the Minister that he will encourage UK Trade & Investment, our trade Ministers

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and our diplomatic teams to pay a great deal of attention to South Sudan. I wonder whether there might be some benefit to liaising closely with Africa House in London to see how British employers can better do business in the region. My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) runs Westminster Africa Business Group, which looks at how closer links could be forged. Let us hope that the new chapter in the history of South Sudan is a more productive one.