Point-blank: A minister for Africa

Mohamed Salmawy
Thursday 27 Oct 2022

Why did Gillian Keegan, the UK’s parliamentary under-secretary of state for Africa, meet with the Egyptian Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker when her remit is African affairs?


When I put this question to her during her visit to Cairo last weekend, she said that in her position she is responsible for everything that has to do with her country’s relations with African countries. This includes cultural, economic and energy as well as political affairs.

Although Keegan works for the British Foreign Office, we should bear in mind that, in the UK, ministers do not necessarily have cabinet members.

Every government minister has several ministers working under them, each in charge of a particular area or field of expertise. They are similar to Egyptian deputy ministers, whom a minister tasks with certain responsibilities within the scope of his or her portfolio. However, the British system does not correspond with ours exactly. The mandate of a British under-secretary is much broader than that of a deputy minister here. 

Keegan has served as a member of parliament for Chichester since 2017. She was appointed parliamentary under-secretary for Africa in September. During my brief conversation with Keegan, I observed that as a parliamentary under-secretary the prime minister could not dismiss her as she had so many other cabinet members. She laughed and said Liz Truss could dismiss whoever she wanted.

It so happened that, within hours of our conversation, Truss dismissed herself! In fact, another British official of Keegan’s rank, albeit from the Ministry of Defence, was due to visit Egypt and had to cancel at the last minute due to Truss’ resignation which plunged the UK, once again, into political ferment.

It remains to be seen whether the ruling Conservative Party can elect a new leader and form a new government, or whether the country will be headed for the elections the opposition Labour Party has called for. Meanwhile what strikes me is that the UK is so interested in Africa that it has created a ministerial post especially dedicated to this continent which is thousands of miles away from the British Isles.

What are the implications of this for Egypt which is situated in Africa and whose interests are closely intertwined with other African nations at all political, economic and cultural levels?

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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