Why Liam Fox’s vision for Brexit is bad for Africa
09 March 2017
Liam Fox’s Commonwealth trade meeting in London today shows clearly how the British Government’s post-Brexit international policy is a step back in time.
It’s true that during the days of the British Empire, Britain always distanced herself from the rest of Europe, preferring to trade with far-flung colonies rather than her European neighbours. Britain was excluded from the EEC (the forerunner of the EU) for many years because De Gaulle believed that London showed a "lack of interest". British attitude to Europe has always been, in every sense of the word, insular.
There’s a good reason for this – after all there is nothing like a ‘commonwealth’ between the rich and poor, between the haves and have-nots. A free trade area between Britain, a largely developed country and Africa, a poor continent, was always going to exacerbate inequalities, trade deficits, and the dependency of the latter on the former. ‘Free trade’ is really just the name given to the ideology that justifies this power imbalance.
Let’s be clear – no country has ever developed through free trade. Free trade is a myth. Britain, the supposed home of free trade, was one of the most protectionist countries until, as a strong and growing country, it converted to free trade in the mid-nineteenth century. Even then, when it faced economic crisis and decline as in 1932– when its big business thought they might lose out – then Britain abandoned free trade and re-introduced tariffs. in the face of protectionism from the USA, Britain wanted protectionism for itself.
It has never allowed African countries to do the same. The UK, both inside and outside the EU, has pushed for the opening of African markets and African resources, for the inclusion of free trade, pro-corporate rules in every aspect of African society. Under the Empire, African and Caribbean countries, supplied raw materials to imperial Britain. Post-independence, Britain altered the form of its relations with ACP, but not the content. This relationship as always been asymmetrical, and it always has been.
Post-Brexit, there is every possibility that the United Kingdom itself may break apart. A much smaller 'Little England' will then look at itself in the mirror and ask how it might salvage its relations with Africa in order to continue to get access to Africa’s resources and markets.
This time, Africa should not let England divide and rule it; it must take the opportunity to unite and negotiate as one continent. Africa, united, holds all the cards. The geopolitics have changed dramatically: while there are certainly many problems, Africa is already getting a far bigger and better deal with China on trade and investments than the UK can offer – or for that matter the EU.
The Empire is over. Africa must speak for itself.
This is a guest post by Africa Kiiza, programme officer at the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI)-Uganda