As British Prime Minister Theresa May was being videoed dancing with South African Secondary School Children during her visit to the country last Tuesday, there were suspicions that Britain was preparing to re-colonize Africa, but this time more subtly.
The former colonial power is preparing for its survival after Brexit, its much-vaunted exit from the European Union (EU). Britain’s exit from the European Union will deny it, and its businesses, access to the European Single market under the European Economic Area of the EU. The European Single market provides free movement of goods, capital, services, and labor for members of the European Union.
The former colonial power is also in danger of leaving the EU with no deal; Britain’s breakup with the EU, which has been set for March 29, 2019, could be done with no agreement in place between both parties if they don’t agree on a formal withdrawal treaty. This means that come March 30, 2019, nationals of EU member countries living in Britain will become illegal aliens. Also, tariffs will be placed on goods exported by both parties to each other. In other words, a no-deal Brexit makes Britain like any other average country that is not in any western trade bloc that could negotiate trade terms on its behalf. The British Prime Minister Theresa May is also in favor of a no-deals Brexit, probably because she is relying on its neo-colonialist trade bloc in Africa.
Britain’s investments in Africa
Her visit to Africa to former British colonies and three of Africa’s biggest economies in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa last week was important on many levels: it was her first time in Africa as Prime Minister, and also the first time any British Prime Minister had visited the continent since 2013.
Read more: Theresa May to Visit 3 African Countries
It is important to note that Britain didn’t find Africa important except when it decided to leave the European Union. The fact that no British Prime Minister had visited since 2013 and the declining size of British investment in African countries are shreds of evidence that Britain did not consider Africa as a frontier.
Her reasons for coming at this crucial time in Britain’s history is to increase trade with Africa and to maintain arrangements that were in place with African countries when Britain was still a part of the EU. She also said she plans to make the UK G7’s ( United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan) top investor in Africa by 2022, and promised to invest £8 billion into Africa for the creation of jobs. Nice words.
However, to analyze Britain’s future endeavor in the continent, one only has to look at how past endeavors materialized.
British investments on the continent, in the form of aids, were worth £50 billion in 2010, but by 2015 had become £42.5 billion in 2015, mostly in aids rather than infrastructure development. This was due to the increasing dependence by African countries on China’s infrastructure development on the continent. Of six regions in the world (EU, other European countries, Americas, Asia, Africa, Australasia), Africa trades the least with the UK. Presently, Africa is just 3 percent of UK’s total trade, most of the trade being in terms of goods ( reaching a high of almost 64 percent in 2014). Its trade with Africa is less than one-seventh of China’s trade with the continent and lags much behind in G7’s trade with Africa.
Theresa May’s blunders during her tour
Hence, Africa should be beware of UK’s ‘Global Britain’ ambitions, especially in its search for trade partners. It seems everyone can see through May’s tour of African anglophone countries; even media from the UK seem to have many things to say about her visit to the continent. In South Africa, no one failed to notice her visit to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for almost 30 years. Theresa May’s hero and first female UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called Nelson Mandela’s ANC ‘a terrorist organization” during the Apartheid era. It almost seems as if Britain’s realization of its role in legitimizing Apartheid in South Africa has somehow coincided with Britain’s realization that it needs South Africa’s help with the post-Brexit trade.
In Nigeria, a visit to former victims of modern slavery in Lagos state prompted statements from her that UK was committed to ending modern slavery in the world, just like it ended slavery many centuries ago. Members of UK opposition Labour party said her words about modern slavery were hollow, since her actions at home were not reflective of her words in Nigeria.
Read more: Buhari Assures May of Credible 2019 Polls
“Theresa May’s warm words about modern slavery ring hollow…A strong coordinated response is needed, but on her watch, the Tory (May’s party) government has cut budgets, Border Force staff and axed 21,000 police officers. They are the frontline in the fight against modern slavery.” Diane Abbott, Labour Party’s Shadow Home secretary said.
In Kenya, everyone knew what her visit was all about; the last time a British Prime Minister visited Kenya was 1988. Feelings were summed up in Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation, which noted that “Land Rover was the official government car, East African Industries [now Unilever] was the market leader and most Kenyans banked at Barclays”. Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, also ironically thanked May for honouring “our invitation to come and see for yourself our country and continent that has changed in the last nearly four decades since a UK prime minister visited” though it was Theresa May who ‘invited’ her tour.
Will anglophone Africa’s economy be re-colonized by Britain
The age of colonialism in Africa began due to competition between France, Germany, Britain and other European powers. These countries invaded African nations for prestige in Europe, first exploiting its people for slavery, and later after the abolishment of slavery, its resources. Colonies of Britain in Africa, many of them still part of its Commonwealth, were markets for British goods (mostly markets that could not be interfered with by goods from other European powers because they were strictly british colonies) while Britain was a market for African crops and its mineral resources under the control of the British authority.
With Britain’s focus squarely back on Africa now, it is clearly looking for the kind of protected markets it had during the colonial era, with commonwealth countries. Leaving Brexit has denied it access to the European Single Market; leveraging on its Commonwealth countries is its next option. The question is, has Africa learned its lesson from the last British ‘invasion’? Time will tell.