Will Brexit break up the African Union?

Johannesburg - African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s Twitter timeline was quiet on Friday morning, even as #Brexit was trending.

The African Union, too, did not immediately issue a statement.

Yet the vote by almost 52% of Britons to leave the European Union will have implications for the African continental body. At its summit next month it will again discuss how to move closer to the free trade zone it has envisaged as part of its Agenda 2063.

Even as the AU is hoping for greater unity, the EU looks set to be falling apart.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an analyst with the Institute for Security Studies and author of Superpower or Neocolonialist? South Africa in Africa, said the outcome of the Brexit (British exit) referendum would affect the AU’s funding. It also served as a warning.

"The EU is a regional organisation like the AU, so the AU has to engage with the EU as an institution."

She said the EU was the biggest funder of the AU, and a break-up would have financial implications for the already cash-strapped body.

"The other implication is the model of the AU. If the biggest country decides to leave, what does it mean for that model of integration?" she asked.

'Removed from the normal people'

The AU could learn lessons from the EU, such as proper communication. "The AU must sell itself to ordinary people in Africa, because that is what happened in Britain," she said, referring to the fact that many Britons felt they could continue outside the EU.

“The AU is even further removed from the normal people, so one of the lessons is that it should popularise itself," she said.

Although the EU’s looming break-up was a blow to the model of a free trade zone, Louw-Vaudran said Africa was on another trajectory. Its economies were too small to compete, whereas Britain probably could stand on its own.

The momentum in the west African economic community, Ecowas, where residents use a common passport, and in the Southern African Development Community, where work was being done towards economic integration, was too big to reverse.

"There are no countries wanting to break away from the AU yet," she said, except Morocco, which has been excluded due to its occupation of Western Sahara.

South Africans would probably say they did not need the AU, as they felt far removed from it, she said. Whenever there were stories in the paper about how much it cost the country to be part of the AU, there was a big outcry and a feeling that South Africa was paying too much.

Louw-Vaudran said Dlamini-Zuma’s Agenda 2063, announced three years ago, envisaged getting ordinary people interested in the AU.

Reacting to the Brexit, Kenya’s central bank was first off the mark on Friday morning. It said in a series of tweets it was "ready to intervene in the money and forex exchange markets to ensure their smooth operation”"

'Britain have taken their country back'

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said South African’s banking and financial institutions could withstand financial shocks. He however cautioned that efforts to get the floundering economy back on track needed to be stepped up.

According to EU laws, it would take two years for Britain to negotiate its exit.  

BBC invited posts on its Facebook page on what the break-up of the EU could mean for the AU.

Theophilus Gblorkpor from Accra, in Ghana, said it would weaken the AU as it was still struggling to become borderless and remove other barriers.

“UK has become a reference for more division on our already struggling African Union bloc,” he said.

Iheanatu Chinedu, from Port Harcourt in Nigeria, felt African countries would retreat from greater unity.

"Britain have taken their country back. Some Africans have been forced into the marriage and some countries will soon be thinking of divorcing to gain their independence."


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