A strategic step

Tuesday, 2018-08-28 11:55:26
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PM Theresa May talks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on February 17, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO - Today, the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May began her visit to three African countries, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. Her first visit to Africa since she took office in July 2016 is expected to mark a turning point in London’s relationship with the continent and contribute to the preparation of a global partnership strategy after Brexit.

PM May previously said the trip would be a “unique opportunity at a unique time for the UK”. She is accompanied by a trade delegation with representatives of nearly 30 leading enterprises of the UK. The PM’s central message will focus on a renewed partnership between the UK and Africa, which will seek to maximise shared opportunities and tackle common challenges in a continent that is growing at a rapid pace.

It is not difficult to recognise the “special” factor that PM May has emphasised. South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya are all members of the Commonwealth of Nations and used to be referred as the colonial backyard of the UK. But over the years, London has been said to have ignored the countries where the influence of the UK is still remarkable. At present, the troubled process of leaving the European Union (EU), referred to as Brexit, is leading to profound changes, politically, economically and socially to the UK. Brexit may reduce Britain’s influence in Europeand that is what prompted London to expand its foreign relations, seek new partners, including efforts to conquer the “old sphere of influence.” Thus, the biggest goal of PM May's visit is to restore and consolidate the role and influence of the UK in the region of Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the Commonwealth of Nations.

PM May is the first British official to visit Africa over the past five years, following a visit by former PM Cameron in December, 2013. The UK’s turning to Africa is part of its global partnerships strategy, whereby London seeks to find alternative partners to its nearest neighbours once the Brexit process is complete, as scheduled for2019. Despite being “untied” in economic and trade links in the post-Brexit world, instead of relying on the EU as a whole to negotiate Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), the UK itself will need to look for new partners around the world and negotiate individual deals with each of them.

With 53 members, the Commonwealth of Nations has a total GDP of more than US$13 trillion, which is lower than the EU but is expected to soon outpace the union. This will be a huge market for any external partner. Meanwhile, in addition to being members of the Commonwealth of Nations which have a strong connection in history and language with the UK, all the three African countries are considered big economies representing three large regions on the continent: Kenya in East Africa, Nigeria in West Africa and South Africa in the south of the continent. Therefore, the promotion of cooperation and links with the three African nations is not outside London’s strategy to offset the economic damage caused by Brexit.

Right from the start of negotiations on Brexit, PM May's government simultaneously promoted steps to promote free trade with many partners, including major economies in the Commonwealth of Nations such as India, Australia, and New Zealand. With the African economies, the UK has developed favourable conditions over the past ten years, with London maintaining its presence in terms of economics, defence, and security. With the advantage of rich natural resources, large populations, high economic growth rate, and important geopolitical position, the three destinations for the African tour of PM May will act as the gateway for London to further expand cooperation and influence on the continent.

In the context of the Brexit process entering a critical phase, with London's expectations of the most profitable agreement, Prime Minister May’s visit to Africa is considered a strategic step to prepare for post-Brexit opportunities lying further afield.