Much of the discourse and debate around the UK referendum to leave the European Union, a move known as Brexit, seems centered solely on its impact on Britain, Western Europe as a whole, and the U.S.. But Foreign Policy Magazine (FP) warns us, “Brexit Is Bad News for Africa. Period.”
Before listing a litany of cons, from the “loss of British leadership in places like Somalia” to “South Africa, where many large companies are co-listed on the London Stock Exchange,” FP explains a re-worked UK-Africa policy, “even unencumbered by EU inefficiencies …will leave Britain with a fraction of the influence it currently wields in Africa.” It will also disrupt, if not discontinue many UK-led EU initiatives in Africa, according to FP.
The Thursday June 23rd referendum turned out 71.8% of UK voters, deciding 52% to 48% to leave the EU. It was the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election.
For some, Brexit has called into question the purpose of the EU and for others it has sparked concern over the possibility that it marks the end of internationalism: “The UK will split apart as Scotland goes ahead with a second vote on its own independence. Referendums on EU membership will follow in France and in the Netherlands. Brexit would be a tipping point for the Swedes and their growing Euroskepticism. Economic contagion could spread to Ireland, which is so closely linked to the British economy, and to Portugal, which is so close to default.
After the EU comes apart at the seams, then perhaps all the various international efforts to pool resources and find common purpose — NATO, ASEAN, the OAS — will suffer a similar failure to cohere.”
Surely all of this spells disaster for the whole world, yes?
The 1993 formalizing of the EU was for Africa no different than the 1884 Berlin Conference where Europe united to regulate and cooperate in its Scramble for Africa during heightened colonial activity by European powers. This predecessor union of Europe eliminated or overrode most existing forms of African autonomy and self-governance.
Today in Africa, the EU plays the role of enforcing neo-colonialism through its Africa Working Party (COAFR) and so-called Africa-EU Strategic Partnership that ensure neo-liberal economic policies dominate Africa. We can be sure that when the partnership claims to cooperate on issues like governance and human rights it is not talking about how European countries are governed or human rights abuses in those countries. It is based on the paternalistic premise that Africa is inherently savage and contemporarily corrupt and naturally prone to abusing human rights.
Believing Brexit could represent the beginning of the end for international cooperation, as some have put it, is to believe that the world does or should revolve around Europe. The late Pan-Africanist Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael) pointed out that those whose thinking is dominated by Euro-centrism and white supremacy often mistakenly “make the particular history of Europe the general history of the world.”
Karl Marx demonstrated this when he asserted that religion is the opium of the masses based on its particular history in Europe. Yet, on the contrary, other parts of the world were able to experience religion in their histories as an enlightening and morally grounding force.
In Walter Rodney’s seminal book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa he explains,
“The first significant thing about the internationalization of trade in the 15th century was that Europeans took the initiative and went to other parts of the world. No Chinese boats reached Europe, and if any African canoes reached the Americas (as is sometimes maintained) they did not establish two-way links. What was called international trade was nothing but the extension overseas of European interests. The strategy behind international trade and the production that supported it was firmly in European hands, and specifically, in the hands of the sea-going nations from the North Sea to the Mediterranean.”
In scholarly detail, Rodney outlines how the development of Europe meant the underdevelopment of Africa and vice versa. Through centuries of enslavement, the appropriation and refinement of Africa’s raw materials, setting inequitable terms of trade that favor Europe, and brain drain, and through the rape of Africa and other continents, Western Europe has become self-appointed as the First World along with the U.S.
To follow Euro-centric thinking is to also commit the error of believing that the particular interests of Europe are the same as the general interests of the rest of the world. It assumes that the internationalism facilitated by institutions like the EU, NATO, and the UN serves the best interests of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Fundamentally, the economic and political hegemony enjoyed by both Western Europe and the U.S. is at the expense of the “underdeveloped” world, secured by these institutions.
The epic tug-of-war between the internationalism of communist versus capitalist was not the only type of internationalism to emerge from the 20th century. A non-Western Euro-centric reflection recognizes the history of the movement for Pan-Africanism in the struggle for a united African continent under a socialist government. The original Organization of African Unity (OAU) – now the African Union (AU) – was a direct attempt toward that.
There was also the internationalism of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a group of states declaring no formal alignment with or against any major power bloc. Its purpose was to ensure “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics.”
A milestone of NAM was the 1955 Bandung Conference of Asian and African states hosted by Indonesia that gave a significant contribution to promote the movement under the leadership of President Sukarno.
Then there is the very contemporary internationalism of Latin America, ALBA, (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), an intergovernmental organization based on the idea of the social, political, and economic integration of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
All of these types of internationalism recognized the inherently inhumane nature of capitalist imperialism but, in addition, understood the need to address the cultural white supremacy and racism of global Euro-centrism.
By playing the overall role of maintaining both the domination of international finance capital and the centrality of Western Europe and the U.S., the EU serves in making these three things virtually synonymous and by no means a friend to Africa regardless of official claims in mission statements and benevolent public pronouncements.
Today the EU enforces sanctions, “also referred to as restrictive measures – against third countries… to bring about a change in policy or activity by the target country, part of a country, government, entities, or individuals.”
Currently the EU is imposing sanctions on 37 countries around the world. Sixteen of those are African countries.
Because history has unfolded in a way that the former colonial powers have set the disposition of economic and political power in the world, sanctions can’t really be enforced against the U.S. or Western European countries, making them altogether unjust, immoral and essentially a tool of neo-colonialism.
The moral orientation of Western Europe and its NATO ally, the U.S., has not changed since the Berlin Conference, on through to it conspiring to thwart the African independence movement that swept the continent in the 1950-60s, until now with its use of the CIA, MI6, Interpol, USAID, and UK’s DFID to maneuver iron fist and velvet glove type strategies to dominate the world and Africa.
If Brexit represents the beginning of the end of the EU, the only appropriate African response would be to celebrate and forge on to make it represent a nail in the coffin of neo-colonialism.