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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 25th July 2019

World will be wary of Johnson

Blue Lines

Boris Johnson took over as Britain's Prime Minister on 24 July after easily beating former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt for the leadership of the ruling Conservative party. A Johnson premiership raises the prospects of Britain leaving the European Union without an exit deal on 31 October. That may mean British ministers could start talks on new trade deals with Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. Divisions between the UK and the EU may increase Africa’s leverage in trade and security talks.

Brexit will consume the Johnson team's attention almost to the exclusion of anything else. Diplomats in Brussels and across Africa note shrinking British influence and interest in the continent since the 2016 referendum. That has serious implications in the Horn.

Not a natural diplomat as seen in his unhappy stint as Foreign Secretary, Johnson’s clumsy references, when editor of the London weekly Spectator, to 'picaninnies', 'AIDS-ridden choristers', 'watermelon smiles' and colonialism, though he has since apologised, are hard to forget. However, Johnson's aides say he will pick a more diverse team than his predecessors: fellow Brexit enthusiasts Kwasi Kwarteng (whose family is Ghanaian) and Priti Patel (family is Ugandan) are likely to get top jobs.

Last summer, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta appeared to forget Johnson’s name, referring to him as 'the bicycle guy'. Many said it was an intentional snub. Either way, African leaders could be forgiven for treating Johnson as warily as the EU will.