Bank of Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th August 1961.

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Photo of Mr Nigel Fisher Mr Nigel Fisher , Surbiton 12:00 am, 4th August 1961

I realise that a number of other hon. Members wish to take part in this debate and that the time for it is limited. Therefore, I shall be brief.

By raising this very imaginative suggestion at this time, I believe that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. Foster) has done a real service both to the cause of African advancement and to modern Colonial Office policy under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. For that reason, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to give official endorsement and blessing to my hon. and learned Friend's idea when he comes to reply.

When I was in Central Africa last year I encountered again and again in different forms the basic idea which my hon. and learned Friend's Motion embodies. I found it among many of the progressive, enlightened younger businessmen in great cities like Salisbury, and also among thinking African nationalist leaders, which I had not really expected. Probably, when we come to think of it, that is not surprising because naturally they are as anxious as we are to see the expansion of the economies of their own territories for which very soon they will themselves be responsible.

As my hon. and learned Friend said, the sum of money needed to start the African bank project is so small that it would be rather tragic if men like Herbert Chitepo, Joshua Nkomo and Kenneth Kaunda had to look elsewhere for this limited sum of money to get the project started. If we want, as we do, the East and Central African countries to remain in the Commonwealth after they achieve independence, then it is projects like this, combining European and African capital and under European and African direction and management, which help enormously to create an atmosphere of good will between the races and to encourage the spirit of partnership between the races to which so many people pay lip-service but to which, in practice, relatively few people actively subscribe.

I agree very much with my hon. and learned Friend that African economic standards are advancing, certainly in every decade and probably in every year. I am sure that there is a very large potential for African investment in a Bank of Africa once it is clearly seen to be both a successful and efficient concern and to be serving Africans and identified with African interests. It must be both. It must be run efficiently and it must be directed, at any rate in part, by Africans, in the interests of Africans. That is why I believe that it is important that the management as well as the capital should be shared by people of both races and responsible to shareholders of both races. It is important gradually further to Africanise the management as soon as, but not, of course, before, that can be done without any loss of efficiency.

The financial and banking institutions in the City of London are not being asked to run a very great risk. They are being asked to be pioneers and adventurers, but on so small a scale compared with the enormous sums of money with which they deal, in something which may well turn out to be a very good investment, that it would be the greatest pity if they missed this opportunity. If they are dubious about the risk and doubtful about investing money in this part of Africa at this time owing to the political climate, the best encouragement to them to do so is the very fact that it is the leaders of the nationalist African parties who are sponsoring the project. The fact that they want an African bank of this kind, financed as to 50 per cent. by Europeans and 50 per cent. by their own people, is evidence of the sense of responsibility of a number of these men. Just as politically a federation stands a better chance if it grows up from the people, as the idea is growing in East Africa, than if it is imposed by the United Kingdom or the Europeans, as in Central Africa, so I believe that in the economic sphere a project like this has a much better prospect of success if it is suggested and wanted by the African leaders. We shall make the greatest mistake if, because of lack of imagination or excess of caution, we in Britain fail to give the lead which they have invited us to give.

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich on bringing this matter to the attention of the House. I wish him every success when, as I imagine and hope with the blessing and support of the whole House, he brings it before those interests in the City who, at very small risk to themselves, could bring it swiftly to fruition for the benefit of this part of Africa and of both races who live there.