The outcome of the UK referendum to leave the EU (Brexit) shocked global markets and launched the UK into a realm of political and economic uncertainty. This uncertainty will likely linger for a while, as the UK decides how it will conduct itself in its post-Brexit world. In this environment, investors operating on the African continent are trying to answer a complex and important question: how will Brexit impact Africa
The UK has pledged 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) as development aid, a significant portion of which is earmarked for development in African nations. Depending on the political focus of Westminster after a new leader of the conservative party is selected, UK aid contributions may be slashed. Even if contributions are not cut for political reasons, they may be cut due to the impact Brexit has on the UK economy. If Brexit causes a recession (as many economists have predicted) the UK’s GNI will fall, which will lead to decreases in foreign aid. It is expected that nations such as Sierra Leone and South Sudan will suffer the most, as recent figures suggest that UK Aid represents 4.4% and 1.5% of each country’s respective GDP. By way of comparison, UK aid represents only 0.04% of Nigeria’s GDP. A fall in aid will likely hinder the abilities of aid-dependant nations to push forward with development initiatives.
This uncertainty also increases the risk of certain African nations seeing foreign direct investment from UK entities fall. If the UK goes into a recession, it is unlikely that UK entities will have the appetite to increase investment in Africa. According to the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS), the UK is amongst the top five economies providing inward investment into Uganda, Zambia, Botswana, and Nigeria. Of these nations, UK FDI makes up the highest percentage of GDP in Zambia, making it the most likely to feel the effects of a decrease in investment from the UK.
Trade is an area where there is potential for significant change in a relatively short time. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that African exports to the UK account for approximately 4.8% of total African exports. This may not appear to be a substantial figure, considering that China accounts for approximately 15% of Sub-Saharan African exports. However, the UK leaving the EU may significantly impact certain African economies in the short term. For example, Kenya exports a significant percentage of its flowers to the UK. Consequently, Kenyan flower exporters would have to absorb any losses caused by a contraction in the UK economy triggered by Brexit, and will be concerned by the uncertainty surrounding the basis on which they will trade.
Brexit provides a unique opportunity for African nations to join together (perhaps by using the regional African trading blocs) to leverage their position and collective bargaining power to negotiate more advantageous trade deals. There have been suggestions that the UK should forge closer links with the Commonwealth nations, including respected African economies such as South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria. South Africa and Nigeria (Africa’s two largest economies) have their own share of political uncertainty, however if these economies can effectively negotiate together, they may well end up with more beneficial trade terms.
The manner in which the UK will approach negotiations with African nations is still to be seen, however, it is clear that agriculture will be a main topic of discussion. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which heavily subsidises EU farmers and in turn, negatively affects the competitiveness of African farmers, has been criticised. On this issue, African nations are likely to find themselves in a better bargaining position against both an isolated UK, and an EU offering a single market reduced by the UK’s absence. Tanzania has already taken the first step in announcing that it will not sign the proposed Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and the East Africa Community, in the belief that it can achieve a better deal following Brexit. African nations will do their best to negotiate the removal of any limitation on the ability of African farmers to export their produce, particularly as agriculture is one of the key ways African are seeking to diversify their export base.
The full impact of Brexit on Africa is yet to be seen, uncertainty is likely to linger for a while, and the nations that are highly dependent on the UK are more likely to scramble to take whatever deal the UK offers. Nonetheless, Brexit provides a unique opportunity for African nations to flex their collective political muscles and negotiate more advantageous trade deals, and it should not be missed.