June 25, 2016
By Jay. B Brennan.
The votes came in and the British decided, by more than a million votes, to leave the European Union. While the reverberations have primarily been felt in Europe, the potential impact of the vote on British influence in Africa is worth examining.
For starters, the mighty British Empire colonized a large part of Africa. In its heyday, the Empire had colonies and protectorates in Sierra Leone, Gambia, Somalia, Egypt, Cameroon, Namibia, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, South Africa, and Sudan. After centuries of control, decolonization was pursued and by the late 1960s, almost every colonial territory had been granted independence. Although political independence was granted, the departing Empire had laid economic foundations which teetered many of these countries to the British economy. British companies enjoyed preferential treatment and made a lot of money.
The British Commonwealth, a political association of independent nations that were previously colonial territories of the Empire, was formed to maintain British influence. Although, the British spearheaded its formation, the Commonwealth is supposed to be a voluntary union of free and equal countries. The Commonwealth has cemented crucial ties among the member nations since its formation in 1949. The membership of non African countries Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several others around the world makes the association very formidable. The combined trade between the United Kingdom and the African member states of the Commonwealth is in the billions of dollars. The figure increases when trade with non Commonwealth African nations is added. In the context of the foregoing, the BREXIT vote should have an impact on the economies of both the United Kingdom and its African trading partners. In the short run, the British economy is projected to shrink and this should affect British investment in Africa.
Prime Minister David Cameron addressing Pro EU supporters before the vote (Credit: The WSJ)
There are political ramifications as well, especially in Nigeria, formerly under British rule, where secessionist tendencies in parts of her southern region have been vociferous in the last one year. The secessionists argue that they deserve the same referendum opportunity given to the British people on the BREXIT vote and to the Scots in 2014 on whether to secede from the United Kingdom. The political opposition in several other former British colonial territories have pushed the referendum option as well to resolve a number of issues in their respective countries. Although Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth, its repressive leader, Yahya Jammeh, in power since seizing power in a 1994 coup, has recently faced a courageous opposition that has called for a referendum on some of his controversial policies.
The fallout from the British vote could be around for a very long time, especially the economic repercussions. As the world adjusts to the new United Kingdom, so must Africa reset to the new realities of a dichotomized European market—that of the UK and the rest of the European Union.