The land of Dickens and Shakespeare has become the laughing stock of the world

Tuesday April 9 2019

Theresa may brexit

A handout photograph taken and released by the UK Parliament on April 3, 2019 shows Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaking during the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) question and answer session in the House of Commons in London. PHOTO | MARK DUFFY | UK PARLIAMENT 

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Three years ago, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Countries trying to form regional economic blocs using the EU model have been watching with both curiosity and trepidation.

In our context, these are the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the East African Community (EAC).

The European Union was a bold experiment that set out to create not only mutually beneficial trading relations between member states, but a European super state to rival China and the USA in terms of economic power, technological innovation and geopolitics.

Accordingly, they set up a bureaucracy in Brussels to manage rules of trade and craft pan-European policies on migration, defence, human rights, etc.

It is the perception that individual nations are losing their sovereignty to a monolith based far away in Brussels that freaks out some in the EU and which caused the Brexit vote.

Since the vote, expert commentary has shown that both the UK and the EU will have much to lose from Brexit.


The process of the UK leaving the EU has revealed just how inextricable and, at the same, beneficial membership is. Both facts are an incentive and a warning to member states and those clamouring to join.

In our situation, the growing integration of East African states is yet to bear fruit. The reason? Individual countries within the EAC have very opposed economic practices and governance philosophies.

Kenya is wracked by massive corruption. This makes the cost of doing business high. It also floods the markets with laundered money, which has a bearing on inflation and the cost of goods. Uganda and Tanzania too suffer from corruption, and gross inefficiency and infrastructural deficiency.

Then there is Burundi, a country that, if the EAC, AU and the UN do not intervene urgently, is on the brink of genocide and complete collapse.

The only country that has a governing philosophy geared towards efficiency, zero tolerance for corruption, equitable growth, gender equality and rural development, etc, is Rwanda.

To pretend that we can create a regional economic community from this political and economic Tower of Babel is pure wishful thinking.

It is for the same reason that I think the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) will be a non-starter. To succeed, the EAC, SADC, Ecowas and ACFTA will have to agree on a minimum set standards with regard to corruption and governance.

Back to Brexit. Pundits out of the UK can comment on the wisdom, or lack thereof, of that decision. But in the end, the decision was theirs to make.

In the fullness of time, they and we will find out whether it was a suicidal or beneficial decision. Till then, we reserve final judgment. What, however, we can pass judgment on is the process of leaving.

The UK parliament, the mother of parliamentary democracy, was expected to demonstrate reason, selflessness, and ability to compromise in order to safeguard national interests.

But what we have seen over the past couple of months is a shameful display of ego, reckless party politics, inflexibility, narcissism, and sheer stupidity, that is more consistent with the character of a banana republic than a country that has over the centuries given the world much of its political and technological civilisation.

The past couple of debates in the House of Commons were particularly offensive to the idea of reason and sense being the foundations of representative democracy.

The MPs tuned down Theresa May’s proposal, and then went on to defeat several variations thereof brought to the House by members. It was clear that the House, whose very nature demands compromise, had been turned into a theatre of selfish display.

That this shameful display was being played out in front of the world did nothing to moderate the intransigence and extremism. The so-called hard and soft Brexiteers maintained their hard-line positions. The ones who looked as bewildered as the rest of the world refused to take a stand.

The loud shouting and heckling in the House pretended to be cogent debate but it was nothing more than a shameless power play.

Poor struggling British and EU people, worried about what Brexit would mean for them and, therefore, in need of a quick resolution, do not feature in the Machiavellian calculations of the talking heads.

A complex issue such as Brexit cannot have solutions tailored to fit ideological needs. Sense and compromise should be the guiding principles.

The country of Chaucer, Dickens, and Shakespeare has been turned by its politicians into a pitiable replica of its mighty past.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.