It is amusing to read media reports in some Commonwealth countries that Britain has achieved uhuru (independence) from the European Union in the same way they themselves became independent of their former colonial masters.
To make such a claim is to belittle the African independence movements.
Kenya, for example, had no say in whether to be governed from London or not.
When the British Empire established a so-called East African Protectorate in 1895 and subsequently converted Kenya into a colony in 1920, they did not ask the Kenyans how they felt about it and if they wanted the identities and political realities imposed on them.
They certainly did not call for a referendum years later, asking if Kenyans wished to remain or leave.
Millions across the so-called Third World suffered and lost their lives seeking to leave oppressive European empires.
For the UK, is has been a very different reality. Without getting bogged down in the long-winded history of Britain’s membership journey, suffice it to say that the EU “empire” did not even start off as a political entity.
Plans for a peaceful Europe after the Second World War soon morphed into the dream of an economic community, not all that different from the old East African Community, the break-up of which did not imply that Tanzania and Uganda had achieved uhuru from the perceived dominant Kenya.
Britain’s initial attempts to join were thwarted by France.
Ultimately the UK had to hold a referendum in 1975 to decide whether to join the economic community.
This was not a decision imposed by some sinister, conniving bureaucrats or a dictatorial cabal on the continent. Britain opted to join, but on its own terms.
Over the decades, Britain has remained wary of a Europe that involves unduly close monetary and political integration, as envisaged in the European Union, and has successfully negotiated optouts and financial rebates.
Therefore, it would seem as though the UK has in effect been able to have its cake and eat it.
EU'S MANY DEMANDS
It has never been completely subject to the dictates and aspirations of this entity that Euro-sceptics consider a dark and evil empire.
That, of course, is not enough for those who believed that the UK should never have accepted to go down the road that seems to lead ultimately to legal and political integration and loss of national sovereignty.
Although the figures are widely disputed, the Leave campaign claims that the UK is subject to too many laws drafted and imposed by a remote foreign master.
But they gloss over the economic benefits of the freedom to trade within the biggest and most lucrative market on the globe.
What we see is not political independence, as claimed in some quarters, but the filing of a notice of divorce on the basis of unreasonable behaviour by the dominant party.
Brexiters believe the EU makes too many demands and that the current marital arrangements are not in the UK’s best interest.
The referendum is not a fait accompli. A divorce has not been granted.
It still needs to be ratified and agreed by at least 20 of the remaining 27 relatives.
The proceedings will be long and painful and the outcome may not be known until two years have elapsed.
In the meantime, it is fallacious to claim we are now “independent”.
Much could change in the next two years. Parliament could vote to disregard the referendum, claiming it is only advisory rather than binding.
The EU might wake up and realise that the UK’s exit poses a significant threat to its very existence if other countries follow Britain’s lead.
The much-maligned bureaucrats in Brussels could “settle out of court” by offering the UK a much better arrangement to forestall the break-up of the empire. Assuming the divorce were granted, the UK would chart its own future, and if things did not work out, there is nothing to prevent a future application to rejoin.
An African state could not conceivably ask to be recolonised.
Prof Kamoche teaches human resource management at Nottingham University and is director of the Africa Research Group. [email protected]