Accra - A rising star in Britain's Labour Party, described by some as the "British Barack Obama," Chuka Umunna urged the United Kingdom to more aggressively forge ties with West Africa's fast-growing economies.
During a trade mission to West Africa last week that included a stop in his father's home country Nigeria, Umunna, a member of the British Parliament, dismissed the comparison to the United States president.
"Let's not beat around the bush. The reason why people make the comparison is, frankly, there are not that many black people in Western politics," said Umunna, who represents the London district of Streatham and is Labour's shadow business secretary.
"And I'd love to have a situation where you can be elected as a black politician without constantly having comparisons made."
Umunna, 34, grew up in Streatham and worked as a lawyer before being elected to parliament in 2010.
The son of an Irish mother and Nigerian father, he said he made seven or eight trips to Nigeria "for pretty long stays" during his childhood.
But prior to last week's visit, he hadn't been to the country since his father's funeral in 1992.
Umunna said that while West Africa's high growth rate is well-known, he was struck by just how different Nigeria seemed today compared to his last visit, which occurred during a time of military rule.
"It didn't have the feeling of a country that was going anywhere in 1992," he said. But today Nigeria "does have the feeling of a country on the up.
What you find physically and you see on the street matches up with a growth rate of 7 percent, which it is forecast to have this year."
He had similar things to say about Ghana, where at a reception Thursday night hosted by the British High Commission in Accra he said Britain was eager to help develop infrastructure and remove other barriers to economic growth.
"We are acutely conscious that we come here with some humility," he said in brief remarks.
"This is clearly an economy that is taking off, and we know that between 2011 and 2015 Ghana is forecast to be the eighth-fastest growing economy in the world. And of course that is at the same time that our economy in the U.K. has been struggling to grow."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Umunna acknowledged there was a feeling in its former colonies that Britain has been less engaged than other partners such as China, Brazil and India.
"I think it's fair to say that there is a perception that we've been a bit complacent and because of our historical ties have felt somehow that we don't need to put as much effort in," he said.
"I want to be very clear and send out a very strong message to policymakers and business communities in all of the West African countries that the U.K. wants to do business."