London has just hosted a week of events to deepen economic ties between the UK and Africa.
The week culminated in the UK-Africa Investment Summit where the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he wanted the UK to become the “investor of choice” for Africa and the biggest investor among the G7 countries.
More than a thousand would-be investors and African entrepreneurs crowded into the Intercon Hotel near the O2 Centre to kick-start a relationship which is already worth £36 billion a year.
THE BRITISH ARE COMING.
The first UK-Africa Investment Summit in London’s financial heartland opened with a pledge from the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the UK intends to become the “investor of choice” for Africa.
As the UK leaves the European Union at the end of this month the hunt is on to find new export markets around the world. Boris Johnson, as the architect of the UK’s departure and this “Global Britain” strategy, stated his ambition for the UK to become the G7’s biggest investor into the continent.
“Africa is the future”, he told a large number of African delegates and would-be Investors at the Summit:
“The UK has a huge and active role in that future and this Summit is the first step on the road to a new partnership and the UK wants to be with you every step of the way”.
He outlined financial services, entrepreneurship, education, security and renewable energy as some of the key sectors where the UK and African countries can collaborate. The UK also places a strong emphasis on the education of girls and supporting female entrepreneurs across the continent.
As part of this renewed British commitment to Africa a new service has been set up by the UK Department of International Development to help African and UK businesses trade and invest with each other. The Growth Gateway plan ([email protected] ) will also create a team of UK trade professionals ready to assist African companies find investment partners and open businesses in the UK.
Boris Johnson is a crowd pleaser. He has a confident speaking manner and his speech was full of optimism about Africa’s future prospects and how British companies were already making a big impact across a range of sectors from renewable energy in Nigeria and monorails in Egypt to fin-tech everywhere and the export of frozen oven-ready chickens to Angola. The question is can this one-day Summit lead to an ever-closer and sustainable economic partnership at a time when a host of other countries are also eyeing up all the opportunities in Africa.
China has been holding Summits with African leaders for the past twenty years. It’s last Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing attracted more African Presidents than attended the UN General Assembly. Japan held its Yokohama Summit last year and is investing billions into Africa, Russia also has big ambitions and held its African Summit last year.
And there are many more players from India and Turkey to the Gulf States and beyond. Another challenge for the UK’s Africa ambitions comes from its soon-to-be former partners in the European Union, particularly France and Germany. For the past 46 years they have been trade partners with the UK, after Brexit they will become trade rivals competing with the UK for a share of this growing African market.
One thing all Africa’s suitors can agree on is that Africa is a continent of great opportunities. It has a growing middle-class and by 2050 a quarter of the world’s consumers will be Africans as the continent’s population doubles to more than two billion people. Then Africa will have the world’s biggest working age population and more than half of them will be young people.
African Presidents at the Summit like Cote D’Ivoire’s President Ouattara, Nigeria’s President Buhari and Kenya’s President Kenyatta were keen to demonstrate why eight of the world’s fifteen top GDP growth economies are in Africa. And they were keen to stress how the Africa Free Trade Agreement will boost intra-Africa trade across their borders and beyond, perhaps making Africa’s economy worth three trillion dollars.
It is perhaps ironic that just as Boris Johnson pulls the UK out of the European Single Market this year as he achieves his beloved Brexit, his new partners in Africa are busy building their own single market, pulling down trade barriers and tariffs and creating visa-free movement for Africa’s one billion citizens.
The UK is to be applauded for its UK-Africa initiative but there’s much more to be done, and one Summit is only the start of a long road.