LONDON – The entire world felt the shock waves from the decision by voters in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, and Africa was no exception, especially given its close historical ties with many EU member states. African pundits and public officials were quick to lament the new cloud of economic uncertainty and the potential for catastrophe in the near future.
Namibia has been alone in downplaying the Brexit fallout, most likely because its exports to the EU have declined significantly in recent years. But the rest of Africa is right to be taking it seriously, at least with respect to the short-term outlook.
However, from a long-term perspective, Africa should be optimistic. Most of the post-Brexit handwringing reflects traditional thinking that ignores the economic goals of both African countries and the UK. Dire warnings about Africa’s position as an exporter of raw materials to the UK and Europe assume that the full extent of cooperation between the two continents will forever be limited to commodities trading.
Africa aspires to much more than this. As Africa’s youthful population continues to come of age, it will push for more innovation and less reliance on commodity exports. In fact, Africa’s Agenda 2063 framework, adopted by the African Union in 2013, aims to establish the continent as a collection of “learning economies”: diversified, education- and innovation-driven, with a higher position in global production chains than extraction of raw materials.