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'Jaw-dropping colonial hangover': fury greets Matt Hancock's UN Africa role

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 13/10/2021 Jennifer Rigby, Will Brown
The former UK health secretary resigned after being caught kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo, breaking lockdown rules - MEGA © MEGA The former UK health secretary resigned after being caught kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo, breaking lockdown rules - MEGA

Matt Hancock's new job as a United Nations Africa envoy has sparked fury across the continent, with leading figures branding it "jaw-dropping" and "the definition of a colonial hangover". 

Others said it was a sign Africa is still seen as a "dumping ground for shady, locally unemployable characters". A group of leading African academics are understood to be drawing up a letter protesting the move. 

Mr Hancock, the former UK health secretary who resigned in June after being caught on CCTV kissing an aide, breaking lockdown rules, has been appointed as UN Special Representative for Financial Innovation and Climate Change. 

His appointment to the unpaid role was announced on Tuesday, with UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe, pointing to his "success on the United Kingdom's response to the Covid-19 pandemic". 

On the same day, a report from a UK parliamentary committee described the Covid response as "one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced"

Dr Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the African Union's Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance for Covid-19 jabs, said: "This is so tone deaf, beyond arrogant that they think we in Africa need Matt Hancock to help 1.3 billion people recover from the pandemic, when he couldn’t manage the one in the UK!

"The definition of a colonial hangover. Decolonise aid - no, here’s Matty!"

Profile | Matthew Hancock © Provided by The Telegraph Profile | Matthew Hancock

Speaking to The Telegraph, she said the appointment was "jaw-dropping", adding: "It harkens back to what used to happen in the days of the British Empire, when badly behaved children of the upper classes would be sent off to India or wherever because they were in disgrace at home. Has he ever even been to Africa?" 

A Somali MP, Sagal Bihi, added: "Africa is seen by the west as [the] dumping ground for their locally unemployable shady characters." 

Other analysts also questioned Mr Hancock's experience and contacts in Africa. Mr Hancock has worked in domestic-focused roles in government since 2012, and before his election as an MP in 2010, he worked in politics and as an economist at the Bank of England. 

"Speechless - in particular because there are so many effective, astute African leaders on global finance and climate change in and outside of the UN that could take on this role to make a difference," said Hannah Ryder, CEO of Development Reimagined, a Kenyan-Chinese consultancy. 

British politicians, including Labour MP Jess Phillips, said it was an example of "failing up", where people continue to advance despite doing things which would be expected to end or at least significantly damage their careers. 

Some reports suggested Nimco Ali, a government advisor on violence against women and friend of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's wife Carrie, was key to the appointment. She described it as "brilliant" on Twitter. 

Dr Alakija said that even if the UN had been pressured into making a British appointment because of the UK's power as a major donor, there were many better qualified options. 

Catherine Kyobutungi, a Ugandan epidemiologist and the Executive Director African Population and Health Research Centre in Kenya, told The Telegraph: "That somebody who led a shambolic UK Covid-19 response and was part of a government that has stood in the way of access to Covid19 vaccines for African could be thought suitable for this role is incredulous."

British academics working on Africa also expressed outrage. Nic Cheeseman, an expert in African democracy at the University of Birmingham, said it "beggars belief". 

"The fact that he appears to have negligible knowledge or understanding of either African health systems or African economies makes the decision even more incomprehensible. It will crystallise growing anger that Europe foists its failures on the continent while constantly overlooking African experts with much better credentials,” he said. 

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