Can Europe Make It?

Brexit – a perspective from the Global South

“Brexit means ‘opportunity’ for many in the Global South – particularly, African polities – and I shall explain why.”

Promise Frank Ejiofor
Promise Frank Ejiofor
4 August 2020
Essex Business School.
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Flickr/University of Essex. Some rights reserved.

‘Global Britain’ has benefits for the African continent in the sphere of education. As an alternative to the EU’s Erasmus Plus scheme, for example, the UK is set to roll out a global student exchange programme which benefits students outside the European Union. In a report for King’s College London, a former UK universities minister Jo Johnson argued that ‘There is little reason to ignore the experiences and knowledge these countries offer to UK students in an exclusive relationship with its closer European neighbours.’ Not only does the novel exchange programme mean well for Britain in the sphere of higher education in terms of knowledge exchange and cultural influence, but students in African higher education institutions could enormously benefit from the knowledge and technical skills that such an exchange would provide and which hitherto they had no access to, as the Erasmus programme was mostly limited to European institutions for the specific purpose of creating a pan-European identity alien to the African student.

Of course, a pan-European identity is not necessarily a bad thing, but it seemingly excludes many from non-EU countries in the Global South – and what we do indeed need in the world are global exchange programmes that enable the development of a global identity amongst denizens of different polities rather than only a regional identity. The insistence on the building of regions and the construction of regional identities is almost always exclusionary and can preclude the intercultural dialogue and understanding that we need to curb the racism, brutalism, nativism within and beyond Europe.

In addition, Brexit has meant that the stringent policies instituted by Theresa May’s government – which contributed to the decline of international student enrolment in British universities – have been overturned. There is now a conscientious effort to ensure that international students can stay and work in the UK after their studies, regardless of where they come from. Although this has been criticised by Europhiles who have long benefited from preferential treatment in immigration and work requirements (including the lower home tuition fees they pay due to their passports and EU citizenship), these criticisms seem to suggest that the beneficiaries of these unequal treatments want to sustain the inequitable system.

Passports and citizenships should only show where people come from for administrative and security reasons, but it should not be the prime factor in immigration and work, not least because it marginalises citizens from the Global South whose passports and citizenship are ostensibly nothing but tags of exclusion. Given that ‘Global Britain’ entails that, all things being equal, citizens from the Global South would be considered on equal terms in education and work, this provides opportunities for the best talents in Africa to gain access to knowledge and skills that would be beneficial not only to the UK but to their own home countries.

And the benefits of citizens from the Global South studying in the UK are economic. Remittances already constitute a huge chunk of the GDP of many countries in the Global South. In fact, the UK is amongst the top-20 remittance-sending countries in the world. Due to the positive impacts that immigrants already have on UK’s economic development, the post-study work possibilities would afford citizens of the Global South the opportunity to contribute to the development of their own countries through remittances but also through the potential investments and skills they are likely to take back with them.

Though it has been contended that Brexit will lead to the contraction and decline of the biggest African economies such as Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa, due to the abandonment of various trade deals and the dependence on a seemingly ‘volatile’ UK economy – this is not definitive. Indeed, despite the decades of international cooperation and trade with the EU, African countries have remained amongst the poorest and most malnourished in the world. Nigeria and South Africa are still recovering from recessions – and there is some indication that the former will suffer a severe recession (its worst in four decades) due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The trade deals with the EU have not made African countries better, nor should we assume trade deals with the UK would. This is because Africa’s economic traumas stem largely from the political corruption that is not just rampant but contributes to indefinitely perpetuating the interests of the political elites. Of course, this is not to play down the impacts of European colonialism on the postcolony.

Because domestic political issues constrain African polities from reaping the fruits of trade deals, the focus should not be on whether or not they trade with the EU or the UK – we live in a world where Africa has other trade partners outside Europe. China is becoming one of the largest trade partners of African countries. Rather, the focus must be on curbing domestic corruption in order to savour the benefits of economic cooperation and interdependence with any country or, for that matter, regional institution. Charity – so the old adage goes – begins at home.

From a Global South perspective ‘Global Britain’ appears to be a good idea that should be nurtured and supported by Eurosceptics and Europhiles who genuinely care about the state of the world and their fellow global citizens in the most marginalised regions of the world.

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