What will Brexit mean for Africa?

Friday, 24 June 2016
Author: 
Richard Dowden

Sometimes turkeys do vote for Christmas. Just over half 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 civil war again. Are they really going to build a fence along the border? Sinn Fein will 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 the 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 while other gleaming towers of steel and glass may soon bear "vacant" signs. 
 
What does it mean for Africa? All reports I have seen show a strong African belief in Britain staying in the EU. It saw Britain as an important voice for Africa in Brussels and at the UN in New York. 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 aid budget will be slashed. I am not a great fan of aid but I think it did represent Britain's commitment to the poor of the world and especially to struggling African countries. Will 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 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 Boris Johnson - will 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 America 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 is director of RAS.
 
The Africa All Party Parliamentary Group together with the Royal African Society is holding an event on the 20th July exploring Africa-UK Trade & Investment Agreements after Brexit. For information and to register please see here.