One of the advantages of the Minister’s new role is that, for the first time in recent times, north Africa has been linked up with the rest of Africa. Over the past 20 years, our UK Government ministerial response to Africa has been disjointed and spread, wrongly, across a number of Departments. Sometimes that was for good reason and sometimes it was just for historical reasons. The reunification in the Foreign Office of Africa is positive, and I will come on to describe other trends and changes that I would like to encourage in the Foreign Office in relation to the structure of Government. The role carried out by my right hon. Friend Grant Shapps for a number of years is probably the right role in terms of Government structure, with Ministers operating across the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office wholly dedicated to the African continent.
It would be odd not to mention in a debate on west Africa the topical issue of Gambia. I particularly praise the Minister for going down and visiting the crisis centre and also for the way in which he let everyone know about it. I compliment him on his Twitter feed, which showed a video of him giving a speech praising the excellent work that they do in the basement of the Foreign Office, looking after British citizens when there is an international crisis. That is excellent work and it is brilliant that he could visit and publicise it.
West Africa is not often in the popular press, but Gambia started to hit the Daily Mail and The Sun. I was uncomfortable with some of the things that I read and the characterisation of the new President as the “ex-Argos security man”. There was more than a whiff of colonial snobbery to that. No one has ever described me as the guy who used to stack the shelves at Bejam’s, which preceded Iceland, but I am indeed the same person. Simply because of the nature of people’s view of Africa, that is how they described the new President, an entrepreneur whom I am sure will make a great President. Gambia cannot go the way of Mali with security and migration, which the prime ministerial envoy to the Sahel so ably dealt with. That role has sadly not been refilled, but it is very difficult to find someone of the skillset of Stephen O’Brien.
I note that Nigeria is offering refuge to the retiring, or ousted, President of Gambia. That is difficult and somewhat distasteful, but it is the practical and effective thing to do. I ask Members to reflect on providing soft landings to other leaders as and when it comes about. By no stretch of the imagination can one consider Zimbabwe part of west Africa, but there are parallels, not only for Nigeria but for other countries, in relation to soft landings for exiting world leaders.