Akinyemi: Blame foreign policy recklessness for Brexit
BolajiAkinyemi is a professor of Political Science and Nigeria’s former minister of External Affairs. Following Thursday’s landmark vote by the British to leave the European Union and the consequent resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, he told MARCEL MBAMALU, that the calamitous development was caused by immigration crisis that was triggered by UK’s foreign policy recklessness as well as the forceful change of regimes in Iraq and Libya by the West.
Britain just exited the European Union forcing Prime Minister Cameron to announce his resignation. What implications will this have on Africa’s regional blocs like the AU and ECOWAS?
Using my words moderately, it is a calamity that has just happened. The British has made a fantastically calamitous decision: Britain is going to get hurt by it; Europe is going to get hurt by it; we, in Africa, are going to get hurt by it; and we, in Nigeria, are likely going to get hurt by it. So, it is not just a question of fishing for comments. The whole idea about the European Union was designed to address the fact that two countries had dragged the whole world to war twice in this century — the First World War and the Second World War. If you like, you even go back to their hundred years’ war that was ended by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. So, the thinkers of Europe came to the conclusion that the only way to prevent France and Germany from going to war again was to bring the two countries into a co-operative prosperity circle and then get other European countries to join them. That is the foundation on which the concept of the European Union was established. Now, you have Britain voting to get out. This does not only put a brake on that phenomenon called the EU; it also makes retrogressive steps, because it is not just the fact that Britain is stopping Europe where it is by getting out. Britain is taking Europe backwards in several ways. The first issue I think we need to address is the fear of copycats in other countries in the European Union who, due to domestic pressure within their countries, may be tempted to adopt the British approach and also ask to get out. It is not only because of domestic pressure operating on them; there are political parties in several European countries who also want to do it alone and might encourage them; and, before you know it, Europe will be in bits and pieces.
What would you say led to a situation where the majority of the people opted to get out of the EU?
To me, it is the issue of immigration — the migration of Arabs, Africans from the Middle East into Europe. If you ask for one single factor that tilted the balance of the British vote into exiting the EU, it was that. And what led to it was foreign policy recklessness on the part of Cameron and the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. To get the story right, let me add one more person – George Bush, the junior. These were people who had never fought war in their lives and yet they took extreme delight — no caution — in embarking on military adventure in the Middle East. Wiser people would have cautioned them, but they were juveniles playing with power. So, Bush the junior went into Iraq; Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy went into Libya and into Syria. They overthrew the government in Libya and the government in Iraq. I only met Saddam Hussein of Iraq once, but I met Gaddafi several times both bilaterally (when I was foreign minister) and at OAU meetings. By that time, people were talking about regime change and those two leaders warned Europe and the United States that if they overthrew them, they would need 10 times their number to put their countries together. Saddam Hussein specifically said, ‘if you overthrow me, you will need 10 Saddam Husseins to put Iraq together. Gaddafi said the same thing.
Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi were terrible dictators, who oppressed their people, but it was the job of their people to get rid of them. And if they couldn’t get rid of them, they should have kept trying until they succeeded. It was not the business of Western countries to send air bombers. And you saw the French president and the British Prime Minister puffing up their chests as if they were some warriors imitating great leaders like Churchill. And I said, ‘do these people know what they are doing?’ Now the avalanche of immigrants knocking on the doors of Europe is a consequence of that (incursions into the Middle East). Now that also has claimed the breaking up of the EU because of the exit of Britain. And I’m not exaggerating; Britain is an important country.
Are you saying that the Brexit is a direct consequence of US’ war in Iraq and other military interventions in the Middle East?
Of course, it is a direct consequence — unforeseen and, therefore, unplanned for. President Barrack Obama, in one of the interviews he recorded about three months ago, said that the tragedy of Libya was that the Europeans went into the country without planning for post-Gadaffi government and how to hold the system together. And Angela Merkel of Germany warned them and actually refused to take part. She warned them but they didn’t listen. In fairness to Obama on Libya, he (Obama) also refused to take part. Although, later on, he agreed to have Special Forces on the ground, but he thought it was an ill-advised adventure. So it is the consequence of it.
Cameron just resigned as prime minister saying he was not going to supervise the exit…
Yes; the second casualty is Cameron himself. He just lost his job as Prime Minister; he just resigned. Well, whether it is the right decision or not, he has to take responsibility for it, and in more ways than one. I had mentioned Cameron’s foreign policy recklessness; the second one was that the referendum was unnecessary; it was not called for. The whole purpose of progress from populism — which is democracy by the marketplace — to representative government, which is democracy by elected representatives, is to ensure that complex issues are best deliberated upon by people who, within a reflective atmosphere, are those who understand the consequences and the weightiness of the issue that is under discussion. That’s why you have representative government. It is like you wanting us to discuss whether we should have common currency in ECOWAS and they say Dangote will have one vote, Tony Elumelu will have one vote, Otedola will have one vote, BolajiAkinyemi will have one vote, and Prof. Soludo will have one vote. Then a gardener somewhere will have one vote, a molue driver will have one vote. It does not make sense. Dangote, Elumelu, Otedola probably understand the issue more than I do; and, definitely, I understand more than the truck pusher. But then you gave all of us a vote each — and there are always more of them than there are of you (those who understand the issue). That’s why you have representative government; that is why you have the parliament. But some analysts would argue that issues of national importance, like exiting the EU, should naturally be subjected to a referendum. The world have gone way past the Greek concept of democracy which is the whole citizenry meeting on their own and voting with all those in favour raising up your hands; no, we’ve gone way beyond that.
Are you indirectly calling for a review of global democratic principles as they are?
Not a review, but a representative government as a modern version of democracy.
So, what lessons should other countries take from Brexit, which you consider an error?
The lesson from what have just happened is that there should be no boyish exuberance; you shouldn’t toy with a process that has grown over this past century as if you were having a drink in a pub, and you now ask those who are in favour of having another round of drink to raise up their hands. That’s what has just happened. To me this is boyish exuberance; it was uncalled for, and now the others have to pay the price. This head is the second price for the second consequence. The third one is if Scotland decides to leave the United Kingdom, to have a second referendum and say, “we are going our own way.