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UK’s plan for ‘Global Britain’ is arguably the re-emergence of colonialism

Funmi Adebayo
By Funmi Adebayo

Digital nomad entrepreneur, writer, avid solo traveller, mental health advocate, spoken word poet, public speaker and ex-finance professional

Posted on Friday, 18 June 2021 12:26

The British union flag flutters on the Victoria Tower at the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain December 30, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

To say I’m disappointed in Britain would be an understatement. I think for many British Africans, we have gotten to a point where we are either questioning our place in British identity or ready to completely denounce it.

It feels, to me, that Britain is wedded to its nostalgia of empire. Its greatness, and sense of British identity, now clearly feels predicated on holding onto this delusion that it can be a geopolitical kingmaker.

The implications of ‘Global Britain’

Global Britain and what it represents for many may at first appear to be an innocent attempt at being open to building trade partnerships with the world.

They may as well have dubbed it project Colonialism 2.0.

On closer inspection though, it is far more nefarious. So much so, that it isn’t a sleight of hand nod to colonialism, but rather the re-emergence of a new modern colonialist venture.

I am not talking about just what the prime minister has said, but rather the ‘Global Britain in a competitive age’ government report that is basically a manifesto to this end. They may as well have dubbed it project Colonialism 2.0.

The British prime minister lays his jingoistic intentions bare: “What Global Britain means in practice is best defined by actions rather than words. The fundamentals of this government’s approach to national security and international policy are reflected in the actions we have taken since the 2019 general election. They demonstrate an active approach to delivering in the interests of the British people: sustaining the UK’s openness as a society and economy, underpinned by a shift to a more robust position on security and deterrence.”

He continued: “This runs alongside a renewed commitment to the UK as a force for good in the world – defending openness, democracy and human rights – and an increased determination to seek multilateral solutions to challenges like climate change and global health crises, as seen in our response to Covid-19.”

Anybody with any knowledge of history would shiver at this brazen declaration of the ‘Britain First’ ideology. The British colonialism of Africa was built on this approach.

That Britains’ “force” for “good”, comes with increased spending on “security and deterrence”, means that the government is choosing violence.

The same “force” for “good” that Britain used as an unapologetically brazen lie to obfuscate the truth of the sheer violence of colonialism.

With the same written word, Britain has allowed a more accurate form of history or analysis, simply because they wrote down their lies. This is nothing but a continuance of this violence. So, here we are again, also writing, because our oral history is dismissed as not accurate enough. Thankfully, we have letters from Africans to Britain before, during, and after colonialism to show the truth of how violent Britain was.

If not for that, Britain would successfully convince the world, much like how it is with this report, that increased violence equates to increased good.

Britain still sees Africa at the centre of its “Global Britain”. The pinpointing of Africa specifically is no mistake. It builds upon ‘The UK and Sub-Saharan Africa: prosperity, peace and development co-operation’ government report published last year.

But moreover, that Britain increasing its power and being more “global” benefits the entire world. Why does Britains’ “openness as a society and economy” have to be underpinned by “security and deterrence”? At best, this is hubris, at worst, it’s oxymoronic!

The prime minister also says: “…in seeking multilateral solutions, we have used the UK’s convening power on a range of issues across security, trade and development, including at the NATO Leaders Meeting of December 2019 and the Africa Investment Summit of January 2020.”

Africa’s place in ‘Global Britain’

Britain still sees Africa at the centre of its “Global Britain”. The pinpointing of Africa specifically is no mistake. It builds upon ‘The UK and Sub-Saharan Africa: prosperity, peace and development co-operation’ government report published last year.

There is absolutely no mention of how Africa can benefit Britain, from Africa’s perspective.

A 164-page document focused entirely on how Britain plans to engage Africa in particular. If after finishing this document you feel it’s lacking any sense of “co-operation”, you would be forgiven for that assertion.

There is absolutely no mention of how Africa can benefit Britain, from Africa’s perspective. The mere positioning of Britain as an equal power to an entire continent, speaks to Britain’s perspective on Africa. Britain would never be so bold to publish a report like this covering the entirety of Asia, reflected in their targeted approach towards China, due to perceptions of a higher threat to their self-professed global power.

When describing its soft power, the report defines it as “…rooted in who we are as a country: our values and way of life, and the vibrancy and diversity of our Union. It is central to our international identity as an open, trustworthy and innovative country.”

Britain has never moved on from the idea that its very identity relies on it being powerful. It’s what drives the nostalgia around the commonwealth, it’s what drove Brexit, it’s what drives this report and the fact that all Britain’s human crimes plus innumerably more have been characterised as “good” and “great”.

My question is, great for whom? Good for whom? And at what human cost? This report does not make me feel secure at all and should particularly worry Africans. I am firmly Britgerian, born and bred in Britain, and I find this report terrifying. Britain can’t even be trusted to care for its most vulnerable people here. Why on earth should Britain be trusted to contribute to African security? Not to talk of history clearly demonstrating that Britain is far from trustworthy, quite the contrary. Britain’s approach to Africa should rightly be regarded with cynicism.

And in an almost gaslight nature, which has become synonymous with this British government, museums are listed as central to the British identity, alongside the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO – including the British council) and Department for International Trade (DIT), totalling around half a billion pounds dedicated to this end.

So, any hopes of thinking that the British Museum Act 1963 will be revoked to allow the return of the Benin Bronzes, for example, are clearly pipedreams. Britain sees its museums as just as important in maintaining its sense of power and identity, as trade relationships, which firmly positions war, theft and colonialism as central to British identity to this government.

Bottom line

It’s important that Africans and British Africans hold this British government to account. In the words of James Baldwin: “The meek American Negroes – those who survive – shall enter the Great Society.” Africans need to decide if Britains’ idea of a great global society, relies on the weakness of Africa.

As a collective global society of human beings, it’s imperative that we start to question why power needs to be predicated on theft, violence and lies. This runs contrary to any ideas around trust, openness and peace. It’s important that we challenge the notion that power relies on the disempowerment of others. It’s important that we question the assumption that geopolitics must be an elaborate form of game theory.

Too many lives have been lost during this pandemic, simply due to this old, antiquated approach that assumes suffering can never be stopped. I may not have the solutions, but I live in the present reality of Britain’s past and it is far from secure or open.

So I humbly offer a first step, which is: to be honest.

Let’s be honest about where we are coming from and where we are now. Let’s stop assuming power rests in lies. Maybe then we will get closer to the peace Britain insists it is offering us all and rebuild the trust we so dearly need to have amongst us if we ever hope to move forward at all.

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