The UK government announced on Tuesday it was merging its Foreign Office and development aid offices, in a new strategy it says will help strengthen London’s influence abroad.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons the UK was now facing an increasingly “competitive world” and needed to make changes in government structure to suit the times.
It means the Department of Foreign and International Development, which pumps about £100 million (about Ksh13.3 billion) a year into Kenya, will be dissolved in September.
“We have a responsibility to ask whether our current arrangements, dating back to 1997, still maximise British influence,” PM Johnson said.
Created in 1997, the Department of Foreign and International Development (DFID) had been a separate organ of the UK government charged with managing foreign aid abroad.
In Kenya, it spent £98 million last year on hunger safety net programme, regional economic development for trade and investment, as well as other programmes on security, governance and humanitarian work.
Mr Johnson said the department, while successful, having been formed after the Cold War era, was now facing competition as other countries manage aid as a foreign policy issue.
The UK foreign policy has traditionally been managed under the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was created in 1968 after the merger of Foreign and Commonwealth departments.
“This is exactly the moment when we must mobilise every one of our national assets, including our aid budget and expertise, to safeguard British interests and values overseas,” Mr Johnson said on the merger of the two departments.
“And the best possible instrument will be a new department charged with using all the tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead.”
The DFID is expected to be dissolved entirely by September after which a new department known as the Foreign, Commonwealth and International Development Department will be established.
A statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said the merger will be “an opportunity for the UK to have even greater impact and influence on the world stage” as the world fights the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The UK expects the new office to help cement its position in world diplomacy as it plans to host the climate change Conference of Parties (Cop 26) meeting next year.
“UK aid will be given new prominence within our ambitious international policy. The Foreign Secretary will be empowered to make decisions on aid spending in line with the UK’s priorities overseas, harnessing the skills, expertise and evidence that have earned our reputation as a leader in the international development community.”
Though the only country among the richest seven (G7) that spends 0.7 per cent of its national income on overseas aid, it still trails the US and China in foreign influence.
The Prime Minister said he was learning from Canada, New Zealand and Australia who have since merged their foreign and development assistance departments.
Under the new arrangements, UK’s ambassadors will directly supervise trade commissioners stationed abroad in what London says will bring “coherence” to its international presence.