FCO, Planning Staff draft paper, ‘British objectives and priorities in Africa South of the Sahara, 1976-80’, November 1975

“Traditionally, from the days of trade in slaves and ivory, Africa has supplied natural products to Europe and received finished goods in exchange”. New UK investment in Sub-Saharan Africa was £148.1m or 9.1% of all overseas investment in 1973 – of that, 5.4% was to South Africa. Total stock of UK investment in SSA in 1971 was 15.7% of UK total (9.8% in South Africa). UK investments in South Africa were £3bn in 1974.

“Previous planning papers have concluded that for no other commodity would it feasible for long for an OPEC-like cartel to dictate prices unilaterally by disrupting or threatening to disrupt supplies. Even if any state or group of states were to gain strategic control over key African resources, so as to deny them to us, it is unlikely that we could not find substitutes or alternative sources of supply… Despite earlier, but largely ineffective, dabbling in such places as Guinea, the Congo and Tanzania, it seems unlikely that there will be a modern scramble for Africa between the Soviet Union and China. The game would not be worth the candle foe either power… Even so, there are large parts of sub-Saharan Africa where the Western powers could, without much alarm, contemplate either the Russians or the Chinese gaining political or economic dominance, or even in establishing themselves physically, as the Russians already have in Somalia. The acquisition by the Russians of fresh naval facilities on the African coast (for instance in Angola) would be unwelcome, but not so disastrous that we should adjust our priorities to prevent it. Our commercial interests might suffer, but not so vitally that we need struggle to maintain influence at all costs. The Russians for their part have so far been cautious… Even if their policy should later become more expansionist”.

“Seen in this context the principal cause of Sub-Saharan Africa’s political importance is the confrontation between the black and white races… We [ie UK] thus have more at risk in the way of trade and investment [in SSA] than most of our EEC partners… But as yet there are few signs that white South Africans have any intention of introducing, however gradually, the sort of society which peoples outside South Africa would regard as tolerable and fair”. Nigeria is the most important “black” African trade partner – 34% of all UK exports to SSA.

“Insofar as it cannot be contained, we should try to avoid being associated with intransigent white attitudes. We should avoid being associated with the South African regime and should be seen to do what we can to set [sic] them to change their domestic policies… In South Africa we should try to protect our existing investment and to continue to trade in this important export market, so long as this is politically possible… We should co-operate with African states in the search for more stable commodity trading arrangement and should seek ways of safeguarding our access to mineral and other basic raw materials we may need for our future industrial requirements… We should do what we can effectively to raise the level of living standards, particularly for the poorest’.

“South Africa and Nigeria, the Big Two of sub-Saharan Africa, are in a totally different league from all the other states”. Developments in South Africa and Rhodesia “could cause us serious political embarrassment… A few other countries (Ghana, Zambia and Kenya) are of some importance to us economically”. Zaire’s “resource potential is considerable”, others are of “low priority”. “Several African states could in time become useful suppliers of raw materials but the value of these supplies will depend on the extent to which we can rely on stable and economical access to them… Investment in South Africa remains, and at present seems likely to remain, more important to us that long term investment in black Africa”.

“It is an illusion to suppose that Britain or indeed the West as a whole could, by economic measures, persuade the South Africans to hand over political power and with it political and social equality (or superiority) to the black peoples of South Africa. Only force could achieve these ends… if a serious internal threat to South Africa should develop (more probably after 1980) we should avoid condemning it out of hand, even if its methods are rough, and remember that we may want to do business with its leaders… We may need to draw a distinction between terrorism in most parts of the world (including Northern Ireland) and in South Africa, where a minority is in power and has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of ever giving the majority even the theoretical opportunity of sharing that power… In many parts of Africa, aid is, and will remain a major preoccupation of ourselves and our Community partners. It will ensure the continuance of some links with Commonwealth countries where our interests and presence seem otherwise bound to dwindle. It will also help to counter the inevitable decline in our share of their trade. We can use this relationship to try to promote realism and cooperation in multilateral discussions on the international economic order”.

National Archives: FCO 49/584


M.Ewans, East Africa Department, FCO, to R.Faber, Planners, 10 October 1975

Commenting on the above draft paper. “My own view is that we should retain a fairly high level of interest in Black Africa over the next five years… because it is likely to become much more important to us later on, when the world supply of raw materials have been further depleted (I include in this definition both minerals and agricultural commodities…)… Nor do I agree that we can contemplate ‘with relative eqanimity’ Russian or Chinese dominance in the area. Such dominance would give them, rather than ourselves, control over the sources of raw materials”.


National Archives: FCO 49/583