Ex Government Minister's talk to Lynn churches
On Friday 14th September, Henry Bellingham, local MP and former Minister for Africa, addressed the AGM of Churches Together in King’s Lynn speaking about his work ‘Building Stability in Fragile African states’. Jenny Seal reports.
Until the Government reshuffle earlier this month, Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk (pictured right), had held the office of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), with a wide ministerial brief that included Africa, the United Nations and Overseas Territories.
On Friday 14th September, Henry Bellingham MP addressed over 60 representatives of churches from across the King’s Lynn area at the AGM of Churches Together in King’s Lynn at London Road Methodist Church.
Mr Bellingham started by assuring the gathering that he wasn’t displeased by his current return to the backbenches.
He said: “I had never intended to do the job for more than half a parliament. It involved a great deal of commitment and a huge amount of travel. I have a lot of serious issues to contend with locally which need dedicated attention. Two and a half years was a long time. I’d almost finished the priorities I had set out to do.”
Mr Bellingham proceeded to give the gathering of Churches Together an intense hour-long tour around Africa, providing an insight into the MP’s responsibilities, his political philosophy and his passion for the brief and the continent.
Henry Bellingham informed the meeting that during his two and a half years at the FCO, he had visited 61 countries and had seen the very best of human nature and the very worst. He described it as: “an experience and an eye-opener”.
He explained that Britain had a particular responsibility to take an active role in building stability in Africa firstly because there is a significant diaspora from every African nation residing in the UK. There are also issues of self-interest around security, loss of trade owing to piracy and the transit of narcotics.
And there is African demand for British involvement. Mr Bellingham said: “I was always staggered by the number of people on my travels who said to me "we want Britain to be involved"”.
The MP outlined some of the Government’s key strategies in Africa including increasing intra-country trade and building a stronger presence with more embassies on the ground.
Paying tribute to the former Secretary of State for International Development, Mr Bellingham said: “We are increasing aid in a way that is imaginative and disciplined. Andrew Mitchell worked hard to ensure that our aid was complementary – building capacity in local government and infrastructure – the unsung projects that go unnoticed, but that build good government.”
The former Minister went into detailed analysis about Britain’s role in various conflict situations. He talked proudly about the Government’s decision to take a proactive stance in Somalia, increasing involvement, aid, investment in the African Union and working with neighbouring countries. “We now have a new president, elected by parliament. We decided we really could make a difference”.
About the recent attacks on Christians in Northern Nigeria and the counter attacks, he said the FCO are taking a close interest: “Churches are running programmes that are bringing about reconciliation and we are supporting that. However if there isn’t a determined effort to find a solution, I do foresee misery and deep, deep unpleasantness.”
A major strand of Mr Bellingham’s talk focused around his advocacy of trade as a means of reducing poverty. Mr Bellingham highlighted the Government’s commitment to double bilateral trade to Africa by 2015 supported by having more trade attachés in place and trade delegations going out to the continent.
He concluded his talk by giving a whistle stop tour of African nations rating their political health, citing optimism for countries such as Ghana, Zambia, Botswana, Senegal, Tanzania, Namibia and Gabon and deep concerns for many others. He highlighted human rights abuses in Ethiopia and Uganda, unhealthy political alliances in Rwanda, corruption in Angola and a gratuitous level of violence in South Africa.
The MP ended by saying: “I hope that I have given you a feel for my passion and enthusiasm for these countries. It is a continent where we have an important role to play for many years to come. It is a continent with an extraordinary future.”
Rev Corin Child, the newly elected Moderator of Churches Together in King’s Lynn (pictured left), thanked Mr Bellingham and opened the floor for questions. Mr Bellingham then answered a series of informed questions from the congregation about the Anti-American protests in the Middle East, the new country of South Sudan, persecution against the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt and the negative impact of tax dodging on African countries.
Following the exchange, Rev Corin Child encouraged the gathering to “take these things away and pray for them” before he closed the meeting in prayer.