Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

Reflection on Brexit

No whining and bitching about Ethiopia today. Instead let’s begin the week with some mundane details.
My good friend and fellow the Amharan Yetref Mekonen is of the opinion that I am still single because I want a perfect partner. I say the reason I am still single, is that because I am inherently unworthy. Bad. Nasty. Undeserving. Screwed up.
I’ll be honest, the true reason is Brexit!
These days I have been observing with great interest how individuals, companies, and even governments across Africa are hurting, and the reason is simple: Brexit. Not long ago, right here in Addis, the head of a multi-million pound local charity, that uses music and radio to spread awareness about girls’ rights in Amhara region, claimed that the cause for the multi-million pound funding cut was: … you guessed it, … Brexit. Yes, everyone is really pissed of Brexit!
Can we learn something from Brexit, because we in Africa are in the process of putting together our own landmark trade deal with the ultimate goal of forming a union? Indeed, by the end of 2017 ALL African governments have agreed to sign up to the Continental Free Trade Agreement (the world’s largest free trade area), whose purpose is to ensure growth of Intra-Africa trade, and hopefully to secure for us the sort of change that profoundly transforms our society for the better: A United Africa.
It’s still way too early to know if this union will materialize. But let’s imagine for a minute an African Union…where life is good and the air sweet; and down the road, say one good morning, Nigeria threatens to exit our lovable union. A sort of Nigexit? Will the world talk about it? Will Nigerians be asked to vote or will it be just enough for the President to decide? Will the entire Africa be gripped with uncertainty and rising instability? Will the remaining members hold the union together? Will the naira drop to its lowest level? So many unknowns! For now, the rumor is that Brexit will cause more job losses in Africa than in the UK. Imagine what can be like with Nigexit!
Coming back to more serious matters about the construct of a union: let’s note there is a big difference between 1945 Europe and 2017 Africa. Democracy in Europe then re-emerged and went from strength to strength. In Britain, France, and Belgium the loss of empire has not fueled revolutions but rather brought higher standards of living. There was no territorial wars, no external wars, no famine, no population explosion. Things went smooth… until Brexit. Now, the people of Europe want to take back control of their destiny and their borders, they no longer want to be under the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, they want to cut the number of migrants, and more. Does this make sense to you: Instead of consolidating and enjoying their gains, leaders in Europe are ready to drive most of their people poorer. Problem solved! The French would remain truly French. Mission accomplie!
Regarding the union project, we hear serious negotiations have started for the first phase of the journey … under closed doors… with financing from the US and the European Union. On this last point, just visualize Mr. Nkrumah endorsing the strategy of our current leaders, to create the long awaited African Union with other people’s money!
Such leaders lack credibility. Indeed, this is not good news. Their action tells us there is far less commitment in putting the money where your mouth is. It tells us we’re eager to get something for nothing, that we don’t want to fight… and so, don’t want to win!
As we hinted earlier, the road to the union will be nothing less than tortuous, …at least for the foreseeable future. Why? Because Africa is too big… too diverse … too much of everything. You can’t affix a single view to it, as many foreigners do. You can’t also get attached to its people either; there are too many of us, of too many different kinds. Still, this year, no matter what, our Heads of State and government are determined to sign the continental free trade agreement to facilitate the movement of goods, capital and people and encourage free trade. Could all the countries assent to this? I say yes. Will it become a reality? Most probably not! There is, and will be for long, too much resistance adjusting national laws and practices to enable countries to implement the agreement, plus thousand more reasons.
Some fifty years back Nkrumah called for an African Union, where we’ll all enjoy an Africa with a single foreign policy, a single defense policy, a common citizenship. At this point, I’m not really sure if we’re ready for this. As we all know our problems, challenges, and discontents are big. In fact we cannot see them nor understand them, let alone doing business with someone we don’t know – from a different tribe… a different language… and a different culture. Don’t even think about dreaming to replace, say the Birr, with a single African currency and a single interest rate. A common currency requires common political institutions to support it… it requires the surrender of sovereignty of each country.
Yes, it’s easy to criticize, and cynicism doesn’t help build a better continent. We simply argue that based on what we observe the most sensible path to the unity is to adopt a simple model: for all African countries to negotiate their way into the most successful African economic bloc: the East African Community – like the 22 European countries which joined the 6 original members of the EU did – otherwise the union Nkrumah envisioned is unlikely to happen in the next few decades… Not even in 2063!