Theresa May’sappointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary took me aback especially coming at a time when in my opinion, the United Kingdom needs to rethink its foreign policy especially on Africa after Brexit.

That the United Kingdom has lost its grip and influence on the continent is not in doubt. For instance, a look at the United Kingdom – Sub-Saharan Africa trade statistics reveals that U.K. exports to the region have dwindled significantly over time from a high of approximately GBP 9.4 billion in 2011 to a low of GBP 5.8 billion in 2015.

Johnson’s open contempt for Africa has time and again manifested itself in his utterances that are documented.

Johnson’s reference to African children as ‘piccaninnies’

In 2002, while criticizing a former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to Africa, Johnson wrote:

“What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies”.

That a leader would pen such disparaging remarks and expect to have meaningful relations with the continent is rather ludicrous. He later apologized, but the fact that the apology came years later and at a time when he was running a campaign to be London’s mayor makes it look suspect. Also, the fact that he’s used the term twice could mean that this wasn’t a random error but rather something he believes.

Boris Johnson’s open support for colonialism

Still in 2002, in supporting colonialism in Uganda, Boris said:

“Left to their own devices, the natives would rely on nothing but the instant carbohydrate gratification of the plantain.”

Any country that was colonized knows the value of freedom. That’s why Independence days are highly regarded holidays.The human rights abuses committed by colonial masters, especially in Africa remain etched in the minds of freedom fighters who lived to tell the tales.

In June 2013, the United Kingdom admitted and regretted that human rights abuses were committed against the Mau Mau freedom fighters in Kenya. The U.K. government went on to pay approximately GBP 20 million in compensation.

It would therefore be interesting to see how Mr. Johnson addresses subsequent cases brought against the U.K. by other African countries on the same issue.

Boris Johnson’s reference to Obama as ‘half-Kenyan’

In protesting the decision by the U.S. president to remove a bust of Sir Winston Churchill, Boris said:

“Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president's ancestral dislike of the British empire - of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender."

All the above three instances point to a man with deep rooted hatred for Africans and unless he adopts a different tone and attitude, engaging with the continent might prove an uphill task.

Times have changed in Africa

The time when developed, western nations interacted with Africa with a patronizing manner are long gone. Africa is open for business. The scales tipped against the West the moment trade partners from the East started warming up to Africa; countries, such as China, India and Japan have boosted their business ties on the continent.

It’s a fact that the United Kingdom will have to play catch up in a continent where they enjoyed a great advantage; China’s onslaught is unstoppable and other countries have their eyes set on Africa. India’s PM, Narendra Modi just concluded his visit to Africa this week where mega trade deals were signed. Last week also saw the continent play host to Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu whose key message was that ‘Israel is coming back to Africa’.

Former U.K. prime minister David Cameron was scheduled to visit Africa, specifically to Kenya in the course off this month that would have strengthened ties further. It remains to be seen what approach Theresa May will adopt on Africa but if Boris Johnson will be the guy to drive the agenda, tough times lie ahead!

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