DFID clarifies funding for controversial UK-Africa Investment Summit

A scene from the UK-Africa Investment Summit held in London in January. Photo by: DFID / CC BY

LONDON — The U.K. government says the controversial UK-Africa Investment Summit cost less than one-third of its projected budget.

The January event cost £3.14 million ($3.84 million), with official development assistance contributing £2.62 million, or 83% of the budget, according to a ministerial statement. Non-ODA funding worth £520,000 made up the rest.

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The cost is far lower than the initial £11 million put aside for hosting the event, but the government did not explain why.

Politicians from multiple opposition parties have been requesting the figures since the trade-focused event and its apparently sky-high cost sparked controversy earlier this year.

James Duddridge, parliamentary undersecretary for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development, finally provided the numbers Wednesday after being asked by fellow Conservative Party politician Richard Holden.

In a written response, Duddridge said: “This event delivered over £6.5 billion worth of commercial investments in infrastructure, energy, retail and tech; and the Government announced over £1.5 billion of UK aid-funded initiatives that are expected to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and mobilise over £2.4 billion of additional private investment for the continent.”

But the one-day summit was widely criticized by civil society groups for using ODA to deliver commercial objectives, including fossil fuel projects. Meanwhile, civil society representatives from African nations were excluded, and observers have said there was little discussion of development issues.

The government previously declined to tell Devex about the costs involved in the summit, despite Freedom of Information requests, saying the amounts would be published in DFID’s annual accounts.

DFID holds off from explaining sky-high cost of UK-Africa Investment Summit

The U.K. government has turned down repeated requests for information about the £15.5 million budget for the aid-funded event, saying it will publish details "in due course."

Duddridge’s announcement that £2.62 million of ODA was spent on the event was unexpected because Development Tracker — the U.K. government’s website showing how ODA is spent — listed the projected budget as £11 million, with an additional £4.5 million budgeted for “technical assistance” for participating countries.

The DevTracker page for the main project currently indicates that £1.84 million of the projected £11 million budget was spent. It shows that the bulk of the money went to “Technical & Advisory services” with conference management company Calder Conferences.

However, the DevTracker page for the event’s technical assistance project — which is scheduled to run until March 2021 — has now changed to display a smaller project budget of £2.6 million. Consulting group PwC is listed as an implementer.

It is not known why the large initial projections — which caused significant anger in U.K. development circles — were so inflated or how the rest of the ODA expenditure announced by Duddridge was spent.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process.