Brexit and Africa

Dr. Elshafie Khidir Saeid

Not long before the British exit “Brexit” from the European Union, the British government has been preparing for a new strategy for the post-Brexit phase, which could contribute to strengthening its economic and trade relations with the world. It was clear that the African continent has been at the heart of this strategy. Britain’s heading to Africa comes as a necessary return after the decline of the British role in the continent following the independence of its countries. It is true, Britain did not originally dry up its presence on the continent, but it remained a relatively limited presence, compared to the increasing presence of France, China, India, and Russia. During the last two decades, we have witnessed fierce competition towards the African continent to obtain a preferential advantage in accessing its markets and resources, including land, or to consolidate political influence, by employing economic and military tools and soft powers. Perhaps this competition explains the initiatives of China, India, Russia, and recently Britain, in hosting summit meetings with leaders of the African continent, as well as the tours of US leaders in a large number of African countries, to consolidate and strengthen the political and economic presence of these countries in the continent.

I think the Africans cannot easily forget what the ancient history, five centuries ago, tells about the slave trade, and the modern history tells us about the policies of imposing dependency and draining the continent from its natural resources, as well as from its best and the most educated and talented competencies in all fields of natural and social sciences, leaving behind a void that is difficult to replace. Of course, the power of dependency systems on the continent through tyranny and bloody ethnic conflicts creates a nourishing environment to expel the youth and brains out of Africa. However, the current scramble for Africa is not viewed with the same suspicions that it was before, although the fears for the exploitation and plundering of the continent are still present. Also, Africa, today is imposing itself on the map of the global economy, in a way that forces the other parties to follow equal interest policies, without exploitation as was the case in the past.

It is widely expected that Brexit will provide Britain with more freedom of movement in dealing with Africa, away from the constraints of conditions and political agendas that govern economic agreements between the continent and the European Union, which hindered bilateral cooperation between African countries and many European countries. It will also spark a competition between Britain and the European Union, especially Germany and France, for a larger seat at the African table. Brussels has been deliberating on the establishment of new agreements between the European Union and Africa that achieve the interests of both parties, especially as the role of the African Union is growing as a new global power after its establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area.

Against the background of its new orientation towards Africa and its competition with the European Union, Britain has to offer the best alternatives to African partners to prove itself as a reliable and more attractive partner than its counterparts, and in a way that removes or improves that negative mental image inherited from colonial history. For example, Britain should increase its participation in peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations in Africa, as well as providing support and investment in development and economic fields, especially the fields of infrastructure, technical, educational, and cultural cooperation, as well as providing facilities in the field of migration for Africans.

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