Ahh Britain, the birthplace of The Beatles and world’s Ringo, as John Oliver pointed out. Brexit is the new word on the street but is it worth the weight and scare it is linked with? “The feeling amongst many people my age is that David Cameron left a decision that could devastate a nation in the hands of people who largely didn’t understand it. I think that the biggest failure of the referendum was the information people received, there was no unbiased facts for the Brexit which left people confused and unable to trust ‘experts’. As a student and a youth of Great Britain, I feel let down that a country would vote in such haste and narrow minded way. I truly hope that all voters made an educated vote with their future generation in mind, and were not steered by any other factor.” Those were the words and feelings of Alice Beckett, a History of Arts graduate from the prestigious Oxford Brookes University who was interning South Africa during the historical referendum. Clearly outlining the concern that Brexit was more of a disgruntled old guard move rather than one to secure Britain’s future.
The European Union was formed after World War II as a kiss-and- make up publicity stunt by 28 nations and has over the years transformed into an economic powerhouse. Granted like any household it has had its fair share of sibling rivalry with Britain always being the Liverpool fan of the family; case in point is refusing to use the Euro as official currency – ditto Liverpool refusing to win a league title. There has always been debate around Britain’s independence from the EU chains, which is quite ironic really given that the UK has single-handedly managed to chain most of the world with past colonial rule. The images post the vote of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson left me, to use the Queen’s language correctly, flabbergasted “Free at last… this is our Independence Day”. I didn’t quite know if they had watched one too many Dr MLK videos or if they were just quoting the 54 (-1) Commonwealth countries that had actually celebrated Independence from British colonial rule.
David Cameron who had called for the vote was left egg in face, with no choice but to call it quits. England manager, Roy Hogson, following suit 3 days later after slipping on some ice in France – and is now also facing a potential split in the Kingdom as Scotland and Northern Ireland look to leave for a return to the EU. The EU is also quite torn up with the breakup as the situation has led to many other European nations considering their position but the most concerning point of the exit is the fiscal impact on both sides. The argument from the pro-leavers was that Britain contributed £350 Million/week (actually £190 Million/week) to the EU which was money that could be used to boost the National Health Service; post the vote Farage said it would be difficult to apply those changes (HA!), now Britain may have to instead exercise more fiscal muscle to access EU markets. Also the EU will need to find a way to cover the huge gap that is left in its budget as Britain made up 5% of the total EU budget.
So where does this leave the Commonwealth Nations and most importantly South Africa? After the vote the Rand fell to its lowest since 2008 in emerging markets, with a 11.5% plunge against the Yen and 7.6% weaker against the Dollar, granted the Pound has been at its weakest it has been in over 30 years against the Dollar which is some good news but no better than no news. South Africa is the UK’s 4th largest trade partner, the forecasted “technical recession” for Britain may result in a decrease in trade and investment which would not bode well for our economy. We barely dodged the junk status bullet from the ratings agencies who are never in a good mood, and with the economic growth forecasted at just 0.6% for 2016, we might have to keep holding our noses and tightening our belts as we keep swimming in it. Also impacted will be the 0.7% of the Gross National Income (GNI) which Britain has allocated for developmental aid, it may keep its current commitments but any future deals may be thwarted. The EU as well with a budget dent may review its contributions to aid in Africa and developing parts of the world. Another key argument in the referendum was around immigration. Most Africans either in the UK or looking to get into the UK are concerned about their status (we might be least of Britain or the EU’s worry as all the rage is mostly about EU immigrants). The immigration policy is bound to change and controls might get tighter but there are murmurs that to boost trade relations with some African countries the UK could make immigration for Commonwealth citizens easier, with the IMF predicting that by 2019 the Commonwealth will contribute more to the world economic output than the EU.
There is good news as the uncertainty has put smiles on those in the gold mining sector with prices soaring, but that’s the only short term kickback (not really – with the destabilising, volatile mining industry in SA). No one is sure of what the landscape will look like when the dust settles but one thing is for certain: Africa and its people, its youth must now choose to either rise and pick up what’s left of their nations, or wait for another hero to emerge from the fog. Thomas Sankara highlighted the potential of an aid-free country, the counter-productiveness of the free trade movement (free to who?) and the power of nation building using passion for own. Heroes are not always from afar, the fear from the West shouldn’t be adopted to be our fear, it should be transformed into opportunity. Brexit maybe the global “Afr-enter”.
By Bhongolwethu Sonti (with the help of Alice Beckett, information from Reuters, BBC Africa, Eye Witness News and John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” Show)
Bongolwethu is a member of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers’ network of more than 2 000 young Change-makers in South Africa who are seeking to transform their communities and the country. For more information, visit www.activateleadership.co.za. He is a youth and community development activist passionate about the African continent. Proud to represent Greenpop, Mjoli Connect and a member of the United Nations Population Fund South Africa Youth Advisory Panel and the International Youth Council.