The emergence of Rishi Sunak, the first non-White Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) has resonated well with Africans, Asians and other peoples from the commonwealth nations, former members of the British colonial empire. Sunak’s becoming Britain’s youngest leader in about 200 years reminds one of the emergence of Barack Obama as the President of the United States some years ago. He was officially appointed by King Charles III early on Tuesday to form the new government. Apart from being handsome and brilliant, Sunak is one of the richest people to reach the top of the political establishment in Britain. Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murthy, have an estimated net worth of £730 million or $800 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, an annual ranking of the wealthiest people in Britain.
In Nigeria, many people are happy about the political development in Britain. The development coming after the passage of Queen Elizabeth II elicited unkind reactions from some citizens of former colonial countries, shows that Britain is coming to terms with the reality of a multi-racial country whereby the colour of one’s skin does not really matter. Although Sunak was more qualified for the job when he contested earlier with the erstwhile UK’s Prime Minister Liz Truss, he was voted out. But now that he has become the Prime Minister of UK, it shows that the British system is reinventing itself for good. With Rishi Sunak’s emergence as the leader of the Conservative Party and UK’s Prime Minister, there is hope that in future, an African and particularly a Nigerian might become the Prime Minister of Britain. It is a possibility. After all, Nigeria’s Kemi Badenoch came 4th the other time in the race to the highest political post in Britain. Gradually, we are indeed getting there. However, this optimism should not be stretched too far. It depends on how Sunak will fare in office as well as the thinking of the UK establishment.
In his victory speech, Sunak was emphatic on service to the nation, uniting the party and the country. He also paid glowing tribute to Liz Truss. According to him, “I’d like to pay tribute to Liz Truss for her dedicated public service to the country. She has led with dignity and grace through a time of great change and under exceptionally difficult circumstances both at home and abroad.” Sunak’s commitment to service is not in doubt: “I pledge that I will serve you with integrity and humility, and I will work day in, day out to deliver for the British people.” This is one duty that Sunak must do everything humanly possible to succeed. There will indeed be no reason for failure. He was elected to rescue Britain from its present economic turmoil. And the people believed that he would do the job well.
Sunak who was humbled to be elected the leader of the Conservative Party by his colleagues in parliament was full of praises for them: “I am humbled and honoured to have the support of my parliamentary colleagues and to be elected as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party.” He also expressed love and passion for the new job and the country he owed so much: “It is the greatest privilege of my life to be able to serve the party I love and give back to the country I owe so much to.” While being in a celebratory mood, Sunak was aware of the enormous economic challenges facing the country. The current political turmoil in Britain and the frequent change of leadership chairs can be traced to the economic challenges Britain has faced since the majority voted in favour of Brexit. No doubt, Brexit has consumed the career of many British politicians and led to the seeming leadership instability in the country. That is probably why Sunak observed: “The United Kingdom is a great country. But there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge.” Born on May 12, 1980 in Southampton, UK to parents of Indian descent who migrated to Britain from East Africa in the 1960s, Rishi Sunak was educated at Winchester College. He later studied philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) at Lincoln College, Oxford for his BA. He earned an MBA from Stanford University as a Fulbright scholar. While at Stanford, he met his wife, Akshata Murthy, the daughter of Indian billionaire, N.R. Narayana Murthy and they got married in 2009. Sunak and wife were rated the 222nd richest people in Britain with a combined fortune of £730 million as of 2022.
Sunak worked for Goldman Sachs after graduation and later as a partner at the hedge fund firms, The Children’s Investment Fund Management and Theleme Partners. He was elected to the House of Commons for Richmond in North Yorkshire at the 2015 general election. He succeeded William Hague. Sunak supported Brexit in the 2016 referendum on EU membership. He was appointed to Theresa May’s second government as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government in the 2018 reshuffle. He was said to have voted three times in favour of May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement. Rishi Sunak became the UK Prime Minister since October 25, 2022 and leader of the Conservative Party since October 24, 2022. He served as the Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2020 to 2022 and Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 2019 to 2020. He has been a member of parliament (MP) for Richmond Yorkshire since 2015. Sunak believes in hard work and when he was campaigning against Liz Truss in his first bid for the UK leadership, he was quoted in an interview with the UK Times newspaper about their wealth as saying: “I do think in this country we judge people by their character and their actions, not what’s in their bank account. I am fortunate today but I didn’t grow up like this. I worked really hard for what I’ve got, my family worked hard and that’s why I want to do this job.” In his letter to her daughter published in “Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to their Daughters,” N.R. Narayana Murthy, one of India’s riches people acknowledge: “I, too, was a little sad and jealous when you told us you had found your life partner. But when I met Rishi and found him to be all that you had described him to be—brilliant, handsome, and, most importantly honest,-I understood why you let your heart stolen.”
Can a Rishi Sunak become the president of Nigeria or indeed any other country in Africa and Asia, the two continents with nations that were colonized by Britain? The answer can never be in the affirmative. Why? We are still playing the politics of ethnicity and religion. Nigeria is a country and not yet a nation. When Barack Obama emerged in the US as the President, we asked the same question and now that Rishi has emerged in Britain we are still asking the same question.
When shall we change the direction and vision of our politics and vote in the best candidate irrespective of his geography and name or religious sect? When Rishi was about to enter the 10 Downing Street, he bowed down and performed some Hindu rituals. Can that be tolerated in Nigeria or any other African or Asian country? We must begin to change the type of politics we play in Africa and Asia.
As we move towards the 2023 elections, can we put primordial sentiments aside and for once vote in the best man for the job? The next election is very important for the survival of the country. It is about a good future for us, our children and grandchildren. It is not about transactional politics, ethnic or religious politics. It is about electing the best president for the country. We must not miss the chance.