Britain will use its international aid budget to boost its interests while seeking to deepen trade ties with Africa, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday.
In a speech in Cape Town, South Africa, May said that she wanted Britain to become the biggest investor in Africa out of the Group of Seven nations, overtaking the U.S.
The prime minister said that the aid budget would help British companies to invest on the continent.
May speech countered critics who say aid funds will be better spent at home.
May, battling to unite her divided Conservative Party over her plan to take Britain out of the European Union, is visiting South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya on her first official trip to Africa.
The government has held out the prospect of increased trade with non-European Union countries as one of the major selling points of Brexit as it prepares to leave the bloc, currently its biggest trading partner, in March 2019.
In April, Britain hosted a meeting of Commonwealth countries, including South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, seeking to reinvigorate the network of mostly former colonies and drum up new trade among its members.
May, recommitted to maintaining the overall British aid budget at 0.7 per cent of economic output, said that she would use it in a way that would help Britain.
“I am unashamed about the need to ensure that our aid programme works for the UK.
“Today, I am committing that our development spending will not only combat extreme poverty, but at the same time tackle global challenges and support our own national interest.”
Britain’s overseas aid last year was 13.9 billion pounds ($18 billion).
The budget has come under fire from many of May’s own lawmakers, who say it is too high and should be spent elsewhere or in Britain itself.
May, who was accompanied by a delegation of British business executives, also said that Britain would work with African states to tackle insecurity and migration by creating jobs.
“It is in the world’s interest to see that those jobs are created, to tackle the causes and symptoms of extremism and instability, to deal with migration flows, and to encourage clean growth,” May said.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, British direct investment in Africa was 43 billion pounds ($55.5 billion) in 2016.
This is against the 44 billion pounds ($56.7 billion) from the U.S.
Investment from France, which maintains close ties with its former colonies in West Africa, stood at 38 billion pounds ($49 billion) while China, rapidly becoming a major player in Africa, has 31 billion pounds ($40 billion).
Britain was South Africa’s 6th largest global trading partner last year, with total trade at 79.5 billion rand ($5.6 billion), the South African president’s office said.