Becoming the partner of choice for African nations: working cross-Government to tell the story

Blog post by Tim Singleton

Thursday 22 November 2018

Tim Singleton, Director of Communications at DfID, explains the crucial role of cross-government strategic communications in making the UK the partner of choice for African nations.

The Prime Minister in Africa

In the week of the Prime Minister’s landmark three-nation visit to Sub-Saharan Africa, President Kenyatta of Kenya told the BBC:

“There has been dramatic change across the African continent…and we are looking at how we can partner with countries across the globe in partnerships that are not patronising, but those that are anchored on a win-win position.”

Home to five of the world’s fastest growing economies, it is true that Africa is a continent alive with opportunity.

And President Kenyatta isn’t the only leader promoting the African offer – President Akufo-Addo of Ghana frequently takes his vision for a ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ to the world stage, while in Ethiopia the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is reforming markets to attract foreign investors.

Yet, progress across the continent has not been uniform. Some 44% of the world’s extreme poor live in Africa’s 35 most fragile states, and 18 million jobs need to be created every year until 2035, just to keep up with fast growing populations.

This challenge is not Africa’s to tackle alone – not least because the whole world is safer and better off when African nations are strong, prosperous and peaceful. This is why, in Cape Town, the Prime Minister set out the UK’s new and distinctive offer to work alongside, invest in, and partner with African nations.

We have been listening when African leaders tell us they want modern ‘win-win’ partnerships that deliver mutual benefit. We also know that the UK’s isn’t the only offer on the table.

The communications challenge

We want the UK to be African nations’ partner of choice – in investment for cutting-edge start-ups, in collaboration on science and research, in sharing resources in the global battle against extremism, and much more.

This is a policy challenge, yes – but one with a clear role for Government communicators.

In our globalised world of online commentary, digital media and strong people-to-people links across continents, how can HMG reach both African and British audiences to celebrate and make the case for UK-African partnerships that are in all our interests?

How can we tell the story?

Strategic communications – purposeful, highly-targeted outreach and engagement with a clear aim of resetting the UK’s relationships with African nations – has been in-built to the policy development around the UK’s approach to Sub-Saharan Africa.

We want to tell positive and optimistic stories – from across the whole-of-Government – about the UK’s mutually beneficial partnerships with African nations.

To make sure these stories have real impact with our target audiences in the UK and across Africa, we are exploring the whole range of tools available to us: working with exciting third-party voices; exploring different digital and traditional media channels; strategic stakeholder engagement; building our library of audience insight and using this to develop engaging, new and exciting communications.

What is ‘fusion working’?

This is a truly cross-Government campaign.

From Foreign Office Ministers supporting MOD stories on tackling illegal wildlife trade in Malawi; DIT and No 10 working with business leaders on the PM’s visit; sharing DFID insight to support a MOJ announcement around legal industry partnerships with Nigeria; and working together to plan next year’s Africa Investment Summit – this is fusion working.

Fusion working allows us to shine a spotlight on all of HMG’s work with African nations. But more than that, this approach is necessary. With 14 HMG departments represented in Nairobi alone, Africa is not purely a DFID story.