Before Christmas my wife and I returned from an extended visit to Malawi where much to our amazement conversations both with us and overheard in bars and restaurants seemed to be dominated by Brexit and we heard it described as “a total disaster” – African words not ours.
Friends and contacts from countries across southern central Africa were incredulous that Britain could make such a wrong-headed decision and have allowed ourselves to be led down this path by a dangerous megalomaniac who is not even a Member of Parliament.
African people have a fierce sense of national pride in their young countries – often born of anti-colonial struggle or civil strife, but they also see themselves as African and share a wider sense of a common African identity.
African countries are a melting pot with societies far more diverse racially, culturally and linguistically than most of us in the UK can imagine (except possibly Londoners) and where such diversity is celebrated as a source of strength rather than feared.
Governments also recognise their complete social and economic interdependence with neighbouring states. Thus borders are open and people travel freely, sometimes thousands of miles across half the continent for business, trade, employment or to obtain a precious education. Family members may often be spread across several countries.
Against this background of openness of attitude and freedom of movement, African friends were aghast at the UK’s rapid descent since June 24, 2016 into xenophobia; dog-whistle racism; isolationism; protectionism; and economic self-destruction. They cannot understand a country which prioritises immigration control over the economic well-being of its citizens and one Malawian friend even suggested (not entirely tongue-in-cheek) that his country should send missionaries to Britain to teach us how to live together.
We felt deeply ashamed of the change taking place in the UK as seen from another continent where in spite of our colonial history Britain was once held in high regard: but sadly, no longer. Britain has lost respect; our country’s reputation is badly tarnished and its influence diminished accordingly.
Malawi for all its extreme poverty and its struggle to adapt to the impact of climate change is a far more comfortable and welcoming place for a non-national to be than Britain is in 2017.
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