Expert opinion | Brexit’s implication for Africa and the Horn

In a referendum held last Friday, United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union. The phenomenon dubbed Britain exit or, in short Brexit, could impact the rest of the world. Dr. Mehari Taddele Maru reflects on the possible implications to Africa in general and the Horn of Africa in particular. (editor’s note)

What implications for Africa?

1/ Generally, due to myriads of factors, Africa has weak bargaining powers, particularly with former colonial countries highly dependent on the diplomatic support and economic ties with Africa (this applies also to France). Transparency of deals is better served within group dynamics than in a bilateral setting.

For this reason, multilateral setting offers Africa more transparent and better deals than bilateral arrangements between UK and African countries (unilaterally or as a bloc). In other words, relatively speaking, it is much more difficult to conspire and conceal terms of partnership where there are many states and actors such as those in the EU-AU setting than between UK and specific country in Africa. UK could get lopsided agreements in Africa acting bilaterally and independent of EU that usual puts strings of conditionality including on values.

2/ More specifically, with economic nosedive following the exit, at least in the short-term, humanitarian aid to Africa may decline as the overall aid funding may dwindle and UK will be forced to prioritize the humanitarian crises elsewhere in the Middle East with direct security challenges to UK.

Specifically, for the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia?

1/ With regard to Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, given the bulk of the assistance to Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan focus on peace and security, UK cannot afford to ignore the security threats from the Horn. It will probably continue to prioritize its security partnership with Ethiopia as one of the top five partner countries in Africa.    

2/ Furthermore, for highly independent states such as Ethiopia and Rwanda exercising ‘power with purpose’ focusing more on development and less on human rights issues, UK, specially lead by the Tories, may present controversially as an alternative to the EU that focus on conditionality and comprehensiveness at the expense of effectiveness of development aid.

3/ In terms of trade, Ethiopia, compared to Kenya for example, is the least to be affected by fluctuations due to Brexit as UK is not one of the ten top Ethiopian export destinations. The short term currency fluctuations and depreciation of Pound against Birr may increase imports while decreasing exports as for Pound will be slightly weaker than Birr. But this will be rather marginal as Ethiopia’s export to UK is not more than USD 50ml per annum.

4/ For rouge states like Eritrea, UK gets freedom from the multilateral confines of EU diplomatic approach, and permitting it to act unilaterally. This allows UK to bring its policy on Eritrea closer to that of the USA than the EU. It is to be recalled that EU, succumbing to the pressure emanating from right wing nationalist parties have taken ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the migration crises.

As a result, disregarding the effectiveness in curbing the flux of Eritrean asylum seekers, EU has changed its policy on Eritrea, offered funding in exchange for Eritrean government to take measures to stem refugees. EU has now ‘greased’ the highly starved Eritrean economy and military establishment. In effect, EU, paradoxically, is paying the very driver and cause of asylum flux from Eritrea. Eritrea will certainly use force to stop asylum.


Dr. Mehari Taddele Maru, who is International Consultant on African Union affairs and Research Fellow at the NATO Defence College.

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