By Sybil Fekurumoh
The new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, about a month ago, selected senior members of parliament for her cabinet. As an observer, one cannot help but notice the range of diversity in the members of her cabinet. The word out is that for the first time, the cabinet has more ethnic diversity and the most gender inclusion, with 35% more women in its history.
Much to the commendation of the Black community in the UK, Truss also appointed, for the first time in history, a Black British, who also happens to be of African descent, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, with two other Black British in the cabinet. As the world outwardly projects a more inclusive society and strives for more political awareness, one can speculate that it is in a bid to create such inclusivity and encourage more participation in politics. Some critics, however, argue that the ethnic diversity of the cabinet promises no better policies for migrants and minority groups, as elects may still not advocate for their benefits. Take, for instance, the criticism of MP Kemi Badenoch who suggests stricter immigration policies and dismisses the notion of white privilege and systemic racism.
But, it is a promising development, nevertheless, one that builds up on the achievements of the likes of Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng, and Diane Abbott, the first few Black Members of Parliament, two of which are of African descent and help project Black people, and by extension, Africans, in a positive light.
Here, we’ll find a curation of 10 British citizens of African descent who are serving or have served as members of parliament in the House of Commons.
Kwesi Kwarteng is the new Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed after Liz Truss’ succession as Prime Minister into office. Akwasi Addo Alfred Kwarteng was born to Ghanaian parents who immigrated to the UK as students during the 60s. Kwarteng is the first Black Member of Parliament to become Chancellor of the Exchequer. But this is not his only first feat. In 2021, he was Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, becoming the first Black MP to serve as Secretary of State.
Prior to becoming an MP, Kwarteng was a columnist for The Daily Telegraph paper and then worked as a financial analyst. He became a member of the Conservative Party in 2010 for Spelthorne district as a member of the Transport Select Committee. Between 2013 to 2015, he was a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee. In 2017, he became parliamentary private secretary to former Chancellor, Phillip Hammond.
Kwarteng has several publications to his name. He is described as a “neoliberal right of the Conservative Party.” In his new position as Chancellor, he is charged to resolve the UK’s economic crisis.
Kemi Badenoch currently serves as the Secretary of State for International Trade and is also the President of the Board of Trade. She was born Olukemi Olufunto Adegoke to Nigerian parents in London in 1980.
Badenoch spent her childhood in Lagos, Nigeria, and the United States then returned to England at the age of 16. She began her career first, as a software engineer, before studying law at the University of London, and then, beginning a career in banking.
In 2005, when she was 25, she joined the Conservative Party. Five years after, she contested the Dulwich and West Norwood, a constituency in South London but came in third place. She became a member of the London Assembly in 2015, following the resignation of Victoria Borwick, and retained the position for two years before being elected to the House of Commons in 2017.
Whilst Boris Johnson was Prime Minister, Badenoch served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, and, in 2020, as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Equalities. In 2021, she became Minister of State for Equalities and was appointed Minister of State for Local Government, Faith, and Communities.
Badenoch’s venture into politics has not been without criticism. She is known to have conservative anti “woke” views on social issues, including the rights of trans people in the queer community, and critical race theory. She’s also been criticised for holding poor views on colonialism and for actively speaking up against mass immigration into the UK.
James Spencer Cleverly is another member of the Conservative Party serving as Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs. He is the first Black person to serve as Foreign Secretary.
Born to a British father and a Sierra Leonean mother, he trained to join the army, but that ambition was short-lived due to a leg injury. He is currently an army reserve and has worked in publishing, sales, and advertising before politics.
His career as a politician began in 2005, contesting for the much-coveted position of the candidate for the Bexley and Bromley constituency of the London Assembly. Then, in 2015, Cleverly was selected to be a Conservative MP for the House of Commons.
He has served as Secretary of State for Education (2022), Minister of State for Europe and North America in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (2022), and Minister for the Middle East, North Africa, and North America (2020-22).
Chuka Harrison Umunna is a British politician and investment banker who served as a member of parliament from 2010 to 2019.
He was born to an Igbo-Nigerian father and a British-Irish mother and studied English and French law at the University of Manchester and Nottingham Trent University. He’s worked as a solicitor in London while contributing articles on economic and social issues to newspapers and magazines.
Umunna’s foray into politics began during his teenage years when he joined the Labour Party. In 2010, he was elected MP for Streatham, and also elected member of the House of Commons Treasury Committee. While in parliament, Umunna was described as the “British Barack Obama” who held interests in economic policy reforms.
He served as Shadow Business Secretary (2011-2015) and Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy in the parliament till 2019.
Umunna now serves as Managing Director for JP Morgan financial service holding, leading the company’s European environmental, social, and governance work.
He was listed as one of the top 100 most influential Africans by New Africa magazine in 2015.
Born to a Ghanaian father and a British mother, Adam Afriyie is a politician and businessperson. As a member of the Conservative Party, Afriyie has served as a member of parliament for Windsor since 2005 and was the first Black MP from the Conservative party. Since becoming MP, he has been a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee (2005-2007), and in 2010, became the President of the Conservative Technology Forum. He was also chair of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (2010-2017).
Afriyie is the longest-serving MP for Windsor. He was made Trade Envoy to Ghana in 2016 and stepped down after the UK-Ghana Brexit bilateral trade deal was established. He will be stepping down as MP in the party’s next general elections.
As a businessperson, Afriyie chairs the IT support company he founded, Connect Support Services, and owns two-thirds of the British Media company, De Haviland.
Sam Gyimah is a British politician and former Member of Parliament between 2010 and 2019. Gyimah was born in the UK to Ghanaian parents. He returned to Ghana with his mother when he was six years old and moved back to the UK as a teenager. On his return, he studied politics, philosophy, and economics at the University of Oxford.
Gyimah became an investment banker after the completion of his studies and subsequently started his own company before joining the Conservative Party and becoming an MP for East Surrey in 2010.
He was the Minister of State for Education in 2018. Prior to that, he was Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department of Education and the Ministry of Justice respectively. He later joined the Liberal Democrat party in 2019 before losing out in the general election.
Since leaving the house of parliament, Gyimah joined the board of Oxford University Innovation, the technology, and innovation arm of Oxford University.
Helen Grant is a British politician who has served as a member of parliament for Maidstone for the Conservative Party since 2010, becoming the first black woman to be elected as MP for the party.
She was born Helen Okuboye in London to a Nigerian father and an English mother. As a teen, she picked an interest in sports, becoming captain of her school’s tennis and hockey teams, as well as representing her county in these sports.
Grant studied law to become a solicitor and started her practice to specialise in family law. She joined the Conservative party in 2006 and the Justice Select Committee for the House of Commons in 2010. Between 2012 to 2013, Grant served as the Minister of Justice, as Minister for Women and Equalities between 2012 and 2014, and as Minister for Sport and Tourism between 2013 and 2015. Grant was also one of the three ministers who took the ‘Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013’ through to Parliament.
In 2020, Grant was appointed as UK Trade Envoy to Nigeria, and in 2021, became a Special Envoy for Girls’ Education.
Chinyelu Susan Onwurah is a member of the Labour Party who has served as a Member of Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, since 2010.
She was born to a British mother and a Nigerian father in Newcastle, England. She moved with her family to Awka, South-eastern Nigeria as an infant, but returned only two years later, in 1968, after the civil war broke out in the country.
Onwurah has a degree in electrical engineering, and before becoming a politician, worked in telecommunications technology.
Onwurah actively campaigns for social issues. Prior to politics, she campaigned in anti-apartheid movements and campaigns for gender issues. She has been Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office (2013-15), and Industrial Strategy (2016-20).
Ofunne Kate Osamor
Ofunne Kate Osamor has been a member of parliament for Edmonton since 2015, for the Labour and Co-operative parties.
She was born in North London, to Nigerian parents. Her mother is the Baroness Martha Osamor, a British-Nigerian Labour Party politician and social activist.
Osamor studied Third World studies, and after graduating, worked as an executive assistant in a general practitioner and then as a practice manager before pursuing a political career. She was Shadow Secretary of State for International Development between 2016 and 2018.
Abimbola Afolami is a member of the Conservative Party and a member of parliament for Hitchin and Harpenden since 2017.
Born in the UK to Nigerian parents who migrated to England, Afolami studied Modern History and worked as a corporate lawyer before beginning as a politician. He is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Renewable and Sustainable Energy, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Financial Markets & Services.
He also engages in sustainable development projects and participates in volunteer groups, and is passionate about helping small businesses, environmental conservation, and youth support.
Sybil Fekurumoh is a creative writer who writes for Afrocritik. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @toqueensaber.