“Knock on almost any door in almost any part of the country, and you will find the roots of the [Brexit revolution] laid bare.
By Sam Akaki
In a curious twist of fate, as Ugandans were preparing to celebrate the 54th anniversary of independence from Britain, the new British Prime Minister Theresa May was telling the Conservative party conference and the world that Brexit means "an independent, sovereign United Kingdom...that means we are going to have the freedom to make our own decisions on a whole host of different matters. The authority of EU law in this country ended forever!”
Mrs. May’s robust speech could have been lifted and paraphrased from Ugandan first Prime Minister Milton Obote’s script, which proudly announced a new dawn of freedom on October 9, 1962. (Uganda@54: The First Ladies since independence, New Vision, October 7, 2016)
But Mrs May also raised a number of crucial issues, which would resonate with millions of contemporary Africans across the continent. Having praised her predecessor David Cameron as “a great leader, great servant to our country” she dropped a bombshell, “but now we need to change, a change to a country that works for everyone”.
We narrate below, verbatim, parts of Mrs May’s speech, which she might as well have delivered at the African Union Summit. After all, nothing demonstrates more graphically that Africa is ‘not a continent that works for everyone’ than the thousands of desperate men, women and children taking risky journeys in search of a better life in Europe every year. Five thousand perished in the Mediterranean Sea last year, and many more are waiting for the next people smuggler to take them across the Sahara. Why? Mrs My explained.
“Knock on almost any door in almost any part of the country, and you will find the roots of the [Brexit revolution] laid bare. Ask almost any question about social fairness or problems with our economy, and the answer so often comes back to housing. High housing costs – and the growing gap between those on the property ladder and those who are not.
Our economy should work for everyone, but if you’re one of those people who lost their job as household bills rocketed, or someone on lower wages because of low-skilled (Chinese) immigration, your pay has stagnated for several years, or your child is stuck in a bad school, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.
Our democracy should work for everyone, but if you’ve been trying to say things need to change for years and your complaints fall on deaf ears, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.
Today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street.
Just listen to the way a lot of politicians and commentators talk about the public. They find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns parochial, your views about crime illiberal. They find your votes for change simply bewildering.
Within our society today, we see division and unfairness all around. Between a more prosperous older generation and a struggling younger generation. But perhaps most of all, between the rich, the successful and the powerful - and their fellow citizens.
So if you’re a boss who earns a fortune but doesn’t look after your staff…an international company that treats tax laws as an optional extra…a director who takes out massive dividends while knowing that the company pension is about to go bust, I’m putting you on warning. An economy that works for everyone is an economy where everyone plays by the same rules.
We all believe in a low-tax economy. But we also know that tax is the price we pay for living in a civilised society. So it doesn’t matter to me who you are. If you’re a tax-dodger, we’re coming after you. If you’re an accountant, a financial adviser or a middleman who helps people to avoid what they owe to society, we’re coming after you too.
Let’s put an end to their sanctimonious pretence of moral superiority. I want us to be a country where it doesn’t matter where you were born, who your parents are, where you went to school, what your accent sounds like, what god you worship, whether you’re a man or a woman, gay or straight, or black or white. All that should matter is the talent you have and how hard you’re prepared to work. And that starts in our schools.
But if we’re honest we’ll admit that’s simply not the case for everyone today. Advancement is still too often determined by wealth or circumstance. By an accident of birth rather than talent. By privilege not merit. So change has got to come. Because if we don’t respond – if we don’t take this opportunity to deliver the change people want – resentments will grow. Divisions will become entrenched.”
Have African leaders noted the British Prime Minister’s urgent call for change to a country that works for everyone? Would any of them or their political friends keep their dog for a night in the capital’s slum city where poor mothers and their children are living side-by-side with raw sewage?
The writer is the former FDC International Envoy to the UK and EU, also former Independent parliamentary candidate, now executive director, Africa-British-EU relations