What does Brexit mean for Africa?

Sometimes turkeys do vote for Christmas. And 52% of British voters have just done so.

 Brexit is national suicide. The tribes of Britain will now be at war with each other. The Scots will demand another referendum and will vote to leave. Northern Ireland will be vulnerable to conflict again.

(Are they really going to build a fence along the border? Would Sinn Fein go back to war if they do?) And the Welsh will not be slow to realise they do not want to be tied to an impoverished England.

 Already the world’s capital markets have shown their reaction and fear that Britain is no longer a global leader in finance and international connections. I wonder if all those building sites in the City will remain building sites and whether other gleaming towers of steel and glass may soon bear “vacant” signs.

 What does it mean for Africa? All the reports I have seen show a strong African belief in Britain staying in the EU. Many on the continent saw Britain as an important voice for Africa in Brussels and at the UN in New York. But now, England and Wales – outside the EU and led by little Englanders – will see British influence in the world diminish further. Could Britain even find itself squeezed off the UN Security Council?

 You can be sure that the aid budget will be slashed. I am not a great fan of aid, but it did represent Britain’s commitment to the world’s poor and especially to struggling African countries. Will outgoing PM David Cameron’s brave attempt to raise the issue of global corruption be shelved? Britain’s weight in the world will be so diminished that few will take it seriously anyway.

 The exit will also feed racism in Britain. There is little doubt that many of the Leave voters, frightened by immigration, want to stop foreigners coming to Britain. Africans – more visible than Europeans – will no doubt be targeted.

 The new government – presumably led by former London mayor and leading Leave campaigner Boris Johnson – will try to stop foreigners coming to Britain and be far less willing to accept refugees under the UN Convention. Our universities will suffer as foreign students will find it difficult to get visas and many will turn to American or European alternatives. I also predict there will be a rise in racist attacks on Africans and other “aliens”.

 For centuries, for good and ill, Britain has played a major role in world affairs and particularly in Africa. It is the most international country in the world and for centuries has been open to refugees and migrants generally – not least because they brought expertise, new ideas and ambition which broke through Britain’s class barriers.

 Now it seems doomed to become an impoverished island off Europe. And when the Brexiters – fed false figures and lies by Britain’s right wing press – realise they have made a dreadful mistake, it will be too late.

Richard Dowden
I first went to Africa in 1971 as a volunteer teacher in Uganda and spent nearly two years there. It was the first two years of Idi Amin’s rule. My next trip to Africa was to South Africa in 1979. In 1980 I joined The Times Foreign Desk and then moved to The Independent as Africa Editor when it was founded in 1986. I joined the Economist as Africa Editor in 1995 and became Director of the Royal African Society in 2003. Throughout this time I travelled to Africa continuously and have now visited and written about almost every country on the continent. I made three television documentary films for the BBC and Channel 4 and continue to write and commentate on Africa for various media including The Times, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera and Sky TV. My book: Africa – Altered States, Ordinary Miracles was published by Portobello Books in 2008.

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