It is still a hot debate at workplaces and other social spaces. But when all is settled, Britain will emerge even stronger from her exiting the European Union. You see, as Prof. Yash Tandon argued recently, the Empire is still alive and kicking as of old.
The Commonwealth, that grouping of countries that are former British colonies and dominions, will now become the focus of British economic foreign policy, and strategic, cultural and other interests.
Unlike La Francophonie, which is basically a ‘feel good club’ of French-speaking countries, (despite the ‘France-Afrique’ factor), the Commonwealth is a robust organisation with systems and structures in key sectors, including the economy, science, education, culture, et al.
Its investment arm, the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), plays an influential role in most economies of former colonies.
It has long championed British economic interests in the colonies, protectorates, territories, and dominions (and the nomenclature here carries significance).
We all are too aware that the key driver of British colonialism was economic hegemony as evidenced in the outsourcing of the colonial economic management to private companies and mercenary armies: lower primary school history in Uganda tells us of the Imperial British East African Company and its CEO, Fredrick Lugard, buttressed by mercenary commander Emin Pasha.
The fathers of Ugandan Independence (Musaazi and his compatriots) were driven by the economic question. The East Indian Company managed India, which at the time included Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In other key areas such as education, Britain still plays an influential role in the syllabi, curricular both in terms of content and financing its development, dissemination and implementation. British universities still hold a central place in the education of Africans, both private and scholarship students, at all levels.
Freed from the yoke of ‘collective responsibility’ in most engagements where Britain had to contribute to EU programmes, while at the same time emphasising her own influence through UKAid, her scope will now be wider and deeper, and soon, we may see changed trends in such arrangements as the EAC-EU EPAs, where Germany had an upper hand.
Britain will be able to negotiate with individual countries in the EAC as well having UK-EAC arrangements. This is significant considering Britain’s special relationship with Kenya.
We will see more country-specific agreements than EAC ones, with each country in the bloc playing to outcompete the others in the eyes of the suitor. Extrapolate this to the Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal) plus South East Asia, the Caribbean-Pacific, and you will see the empire rising.
At the turn of her independence, India was the largest and most profitable British colony and, despite independence, the economic and cultural ties between the two countries remain strong. And this not to talk of its First World dominions: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the scores of British Isles spread across the Pacific Ocean.
Strange as it may sound, one other area that will in the long run benefit Britain is the question of migrants from her former colonies. When the smaller and poorer economies of Eastern Europe attained EU membership, there was a flood of non-skilled workers to Western Europe, including Britain.
Despite being unskilled, and unable to speak English, they had priority over English-speaking Africans when it came to employment and related benefits. This is because they are EU citizens, thus entitled to rights and opportunities like any other British citizen.
With the ever-growing unemployment in Africa, African university graduates, skilled and English-speaking, and able to go for less pay and related perks, will be a better bargain for British farms, factories and homes. Even Francophone Africans learn English faster than eastern European non-English speakers, so UK will tap beyond her empire.
Besides economic refuges largely in their youth years, London remains the crucible for Anglophone African political squabbles. Virtually all ‘rebel’ movements, political dissidents and asylum seekers have Britain as their first-stop, and their presence become a bargaining chip in British relations with its former colonies.
Another sphere of British influence is the NGO sector, also known as civil society, development sector, not-for-profit, et al. British-founded or based NGOs call shots in most Commonwealth LDCS, where some do run mini-governments offering support in education, health, agriculture, food and nutritional security, HIV/AIDS, gender, and other ‘cross-cutting’ issues!
And the Africa I know is centuries away from weaning herself from this ‘development partner’ syndrome. We all are aware of one Commonwealth country whose parliament is an NGO-forum on its own: each sector of the economy and society has a ‘Parliamentary Forum’ bankrolled by ‘development partners’.
And you dare say Brexit was a mistake?