MUR­DER ON THE DANCE FLOOR

May’s visit marked the end of Bri­tish dom­i­nance over much of the Com­mon­wealth and Africa. The UK is a spent force

Financial Mail - - AT HOME & ABROAD - @jus­tice­malala Theresa May

The danc­ing was, how shall put it, not help­ful. Not en­ter­tain­ing, not rhyth­mic. At all. It’s nearly a month now since Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Theresa May vis­ited SA, Nige­ria and Kenya. She came, she saw, she wig­gled a bit — and drove her com­pa­tri­ots into parox­ysms of em­bar­rass­ment. Un­like Ja­cob Zuma in his hey­day. Ev­ery­thing the man did em­bar­rassed us no end — ex­cept the danc­ing and singing. They didn’t call him the Nkandla Crooner for noth­ing. He could hold a tune, and wig­gle those hips. Maybe too much.

Many will re­mem­ber the Bri­tish PM’S visit for lit­tle ex­cept May’s cringe­wor­thy danc­ing in Cape Town and Nairobi.

That dom­i­nated the head­lines. In­deed, The New York Times was moved to re­port that “she took a cou­ple of stiff steps in what looked like a ver­sion of ro­botic disco”.

May’s visit to Africa was os­ten­si­bly about drum­ming up trade deals. No-one seemed to care, though. Since the UK’S sham­bolic Brexit ref­er­en­dum two years ago the pound has taken a drub­bing, busi­ness lead­ers have be­gun re­lo­cat­ing to Europe and the gov­ern­ing Con­ser­va­tive Party’s lead­ers have in­creas­ingly looked like re­al­ity show con­tes­tants who ab­so­lutely have to kill off the cur­rent leader to as­cend to power — and damn the con­se­quences. Ac­tu­ally, I err. That’s nor­mal Bri­tish pol­i­tics. Shake­speare and Lewis Car­roll didn’t pluck the phrase “off with his head!” out of thin air, you know.

Very faded glory

I So what ex­actly was achieved by May’s visit to the three coun­tries?

The UK is in a flat panic as Brexit looms ever closer. It is seek­ing new po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic part­ners.

The prob­lem is that no-one here, or else­where, re­ally cares about the for­mer colo­nial mas­ter. Cyril Ramaphosa and his new team have been flirt­ing with China, Saudi Ara­bia and other states vy­ing for a foothold on the con­ti­nent. May’s visit to Nige­ria came af­ter French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron had just con­cluded a very suc­cess­ful tour of that coun­try.

It helped that he was a way bet­ter dancer than May.

The UK now faces an ar­ray of com­peti­tors in Africa — France, Rus­sia, China, Ger­many, Saudi Ara­bia, Ja­pan and oth­ers have been far more ac­tive in terms of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ties. Re­mem­ber that dur­ing May’s visit Kenyan Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta moaned (rather va­pidly, I thought) that it was the first visit by a UK prime min­is­ter since Maggie Thatcher came back in 1988.

What Keny­atta does not get is that the UK, whose PM he has han­kered for these past 30 years, is dy­ing. The UK is a fast­di­min­ish­ing force in global af­fairs, and its Brexit de­ci­sion is pos­si­bly the fi­nal nail in its cof­fin. Se­ri­ous African lead­ers recog­nise that be­ing sold a Bri­tish-fo­cused trade deal by the UK is a non­starter. The fu­ture is in the

EU, a much larger mar­ket, and in other re­gions.

Po­lit­i­cally, the UK is a mess. The Con­ser­va­tive Party is a fac­tional hy­dra that is headed for im­plo­sion. The op­po­si­tion Labour Party is a spent force led by a man who has not learnt any­thing from the failed com­mu­nist ex­per­i­ment of the Cold War years. Things are so dire that over the past week there has been se­ri­ous talk of

Tony Blair (the man who took the UK to war on the ba­sis of nonex­is­tent “in­tel­li­gence” re­ports) re­turn­ing to pol­i­tics as the leader of a cen­trist party that would take the coun­try “back to its win­ning ways”. It’s a bit like ask­ing Thabo Mbeki back to run SA’S an­tiretro­vi­ral pro­gramme.

So. Look­ing back at that visit, the chaos of Brexit, the hara-kiri by both the Con­ser­va­tives and Labour, we are left with one con­clu­sion: Bri­tish dom­i­nance over much of the Com­mon­wealth and Africa has ended.

The UK is a spent force.

Se­ri­ous African lead­ers recog­nise that be­ing sold a Bri­tish­fo­cused trade deal is a non starter

Getty Im­ages/ste­fan Rousseau

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