Some of the statements that have been recently issued by government officials and the British High commissioner have greatly underplayed the consequences and effects of BREXIT. Zambians have been falsely led to believe BREXIT will have little or no impact on Zambia as a country and its people both at home and abroad.
The statements by the British high commissioner, Mr. Fergus Cochrane – Dyet, Minister of foreign Affairs, Harry Kalaba and Commerce Minister Margret Mwanakatwe asserting that BREXIT will have no impact on Zambia, do not show the full picture and is mere spin. This article attempts to give an alternative view of the impact of BREXIT and how it will affect Zambia and Zambians.
First and foremost, BREXIT was largely premised on a sense of nationalism and the perceived loss of control by the British of their national sovereignty to Brussels. The number one motivation for the “ LEAVE” campaign was immigration. The majority of the British public felt that the United Kingdom had lost control of its immigration. The open borders policy of the EU had resulted in the influx of other European countries’ nationals into the UK especially from the former Soviet block and this had resulted in loss of jobs by indigenous Britons.
It follows, therefore, that purely from the immigration point of view, there is no doubt that BREXIT will affect Zambians in so many ways. Zambians currently living in the UK, whether legally or illegally will be faced with a hostile immigration environment and they better be more aware of this risk. For a start, according to British Media reports, hate crimes on foreigners have gone up by 53% since the Brexit vote. In addition, it will be more difficult for Zambians to get jobs in the UK and visas for Zambians wishing to travel to the UK will become even more difficult to obtain, as the environment in the UK will be much more anti-foreigner than before.
The anti-foreigner sentiment will be a repeat of the 1980s racism in Britain which was spearheaded by the late British Prime Minister, Margret Thatcher’s Tory Government when they took over from the labour Party. Mrs. Thatcher infamously remarked, “If we went on as we are now then by the end of the century there will be four million people of the new commonwealth or Pakistan here and that is an awful lot. People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture,” She told a television programme, World in Action.
In July, 1979, during the crisis of the plight of hundreds of thousands of the “ Boat people” fleeing persecution in Communist Vietnam, Lord Carrington, the British foreign Secretary then, suggested to Mrs. Thatcher that Britain should take on 10,000 refugees but Mrs. Thatcher refused and added that she found , “ Less objection to refugees such as Rhodesians, Poles and Hungarians since they could more easily be assimilated into British culture.”
The Thatcher administration embarked on draconian anti immigration legislation crusade starting with “ The British Nationality Act”. The regulatory changes included the increase in British Universities tuition fees by a tenfold thus making it too expensive for common wealth countries’ students to study in the UK. It was impossible to get a decent job as a Zambian in the UK in those days even if you had the qualification and experience due to the blatant racism obtaining then.
It appears that the UK is going back to those days and Zambians should be aware and be ready for this. The British in effect ‘disowned’ the Commonwealth in the 1980s in what can be termed as “COMMEXIT” as they opted to identify and have closer relations more with Europe through the European Union rather than its former colonies. Now, only about 36 years down the line, they have acrimoniously exited the EU. One may ask, what exactly do the British people want? Do they solely wish to enjoy benefits in relationships but not be prepared to pay for the costs ? It is for this reason that the remaining members of the EU will in a way play hard ball in their negotiations for the new deal with the UK and they have already been warned by the Italian Prime Minister that the UK cannot pick and choose in its future relationship with the EU.
Numerous experts agree that the British economy is likely to shrink as a result of BREXIT and a recession is expected. Therefore, the bilateral aid that the British government gives Zambia cannot possibly be expected to continue at the same level and should be expected to be greatly reduced.
The United Kingdom is the tenth export market of Zambia. In 2014, Zambia exported $97.7 million to the UK which was about 2.59% of total exports and imported $247.0 million which was 1.01% of total imports. Although it can be argued that trade between the two countries will not be greatly affected, in the light of the impending recession of the UK economy and the great uncertainty that the BREXIT vote has created, one should not expect this trade to continue at the same level. It is a fact that in terms of trade and investment, Zambia may not be affected to the same extent as the three major sub Saharan economies like South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.
The United Kingdom is the largest contributor to the EU’s Development Fund and is currently, the most influential voice in the EU for granting aid to third world countries such as Zambia. The UK’s contribution will no longer be available for the EU and therefore the Union’s budget for developmental aid will greatly be reduced. Consequently, aid to countries like Zambia will be scaled down by the EU without the UK. All sorts of excuses for reducing or cutting EU Aid will be made and Zambia’s current trend of deterioration in good governance and the lack of rule of law can be expected to be used against the country in AID reduction.
The expected reduction in bilateral aid from the UK and the multilateral aid from the EU may affect the Zambian annual budget, development programmes and the Kwacha value should be expected to depreciate as there will be a reduction in foreign exchange inflow through grants.
The United Kingdom was a proponent and a strong voice of fairer trade to Africa (and Zambia) in the EU and this voice will no longer be there. The EU has a draconian agriculture policy called the Common Agriculture Policy which allows immense subsidies to EU farmers and dump cheap agricultural products on countries like Zambia while at the same time imposing huge tariffs to prevent Africans to export to the EU. In the absence of the United Kingdom in the EU, Zambia should expect that even if we diversify our economy into agriculture, the EU will not be an easiest market to penetrate as Brussels will be more brutal in its implementation of the common agriculture policy. Francophone countries will have France to talk for them in the EU but Anglophone will not have Britain to do the same.
There is no doubt that the BREXIT vote has been a disaster for the UK and affects many countries, including Zambia and thus, the impression that it will be business as usual for Zambia is totally misleading and disingenuous.
There is unanimous agreement that BREXIT was a mistake and there are already over 4 million Britons petitioning that a new referendum be held as the “LEAVE” proponents had lied and misled the public about the benefits of leaving the EU and underplayed the massive costs. The result of the referendum has divided the British Society across generation, social status and within families. The young people are bitter that the old people voted for something that there will never live to experience. The vote for “leave” was influenced by the older generation with the majority of voters over 60 years voting for leaving the EU by over 60% and those below 45 years votes overwhelming voting to remain in the EU.
The voting pattern in the EU referendum is a lesson for Zambian youth. They should learn to participate in elections because the turnout for the British referendum among old people was huge whereas the youth did turn out to vote but they will face the consequences for many years to come.
The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and a financial management expert. He is an independent and non partisan commentator/analyst. He has lived in the diaspora in England, South Africa and Botswana for over 25 years before returning home two years ago..