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We want the UK to be the investment partner of choice for Africa

6 min read

This month’s UK-Africa Investment Summit is a chance to create lasting partnerships that will deliver jobs, growth and sustainability, writes Lord Popat

On the 20th of this month, a historic summit will take place between the UK and Africa. Our prime minister, heads of state and government, and business leaders will meet in London to work out a deservedly ambitious set of partnerships that have the potential to be transformative for both the UK and the countries of Africa – economically, politically and socially for generations to come.

The UK-Africa Investment Summit will be an opportunity to demonstrate to businesses worldwide the sheer scale of opportunities in Africa in areas they have prioritised such as protecting the environment and promoting the health and economic development of the people of Africa.

The summit will help to create new lasting partnerships that will deliver more investment and jobs, which will benefit people and businesses in Africa and the UK. The summit also aims to showcase the UK and our world-famous City of London as the gateway for capital and investment into Africa. 

The UK-Africa Investment Summit couldn’t come at a better time. This year marks the beginning of a new decade. As we look ahead, we naturally examine the past and reflect.

In the UK, Brexit has dominated almost all policy bandwidths. With the general election ‘s overwhelming result indicating a mandate to “get Brexit done”, the days of delays and indecision are soon to come to an end. We must now begin the important work of moving forward, repairing and rebuilding relationships within the EU, and importantly, with those outside the EU.

I believe that, more often than not, the key to unlocking a stable future can be found in our past and the best place to begin is with our long-established and steadfast friends, the Commonwealth.

Since Britain joined the EU in 1972, the EU has recorded average annual economic growth of just over 2%. But during the same period the economies in the Commonwealth have expanded twice as fast; by 4.4% on average each year.

We are still barely scratching the surface of our bilateral potential in Uganda, and Africa as a whole

In 2018 the Commonwealth had a combined GDP of $10.5tn, accounting for almost 14% of the global economy. It’s estimated to surpass $13tn from 2020 onwards, overtaking that of the Eurozone.

Africa, often dubbed the new economic frontier, holds immense promise and untapped potential. Not only does Africa make up 19 of the 53 Commonwealth states, but the International Monetary Fund estimates that Africa is home to eight of the world’s 15 fastest growing economies; four of them are in the top five.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Africa has collectively tripled its GDP since 2000 at an annual rate of 4.6%. Africa has some of the most innovative and largest cities, 60 of which have populations over one million, and it is home to a third of the world’s natural resources.

It is no wonder the likes of China, Turkey, France and Japan have been rushing to visit the continent. In fact, Japan has made more visits than the UK since 2010. However, this has been changing in recent years and even greater UK-African collaboration is certainly on the cards.

In 2018 former prime minister Theresa May visited South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, and she undertook to have the May 2017 Somalia Conference in London. In 2017 her secretary of state for international trade visited Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda and Mozambique. Her chancellor Philip Hammond visited South Africa in 2016, and former development secretaries Priti Patel and Penny Mordaunt also made a number of visits during their time in office.

Perhaps most poignantly it was the then foreign secretary, now prime minister, Boris Johnson who has broken two African records. First by being the first recorded foreign secretary to visit Gambia. And second, by undertaking more visits to Africa than any other UK government official in the last few administrations, visiting Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia in 2017 alone. And in the 10 years between 2008 and 2018, UK investment in Africa rose by 61%.

The UK’s commitment – and Boris Johnson’s personal commitment – to Africa is clear. It is apt, therefore, to begin this new decade by getting together at this summit to work on how we can collaborate more closely.

Africa and the UK are long-standing friends and trading partners, with existing and extensive cooperation in many fields, including security, education, agriculture and investment. Uganda is one example where close working relations have produced robust trade relations that continue to go from strength to strength.

The Office for National Statistics has reported that Uganda’s exports to the UK have more than doubled since 1999 and cited the presence of more than 100 major UK firms in the country. This is fantastic, but I believe we are still barely scratching the surface of our bilateral potential in Uganda, and Africa as a whole.

At the summit we will be focusing on a few areas. First, how we can build our UK-Africa commercial partnerships in areas such as agriculture, infrastructure, renewables and manufacturing, and how we can make these partnerships even stronger by also learning and harnessing tech and innovation from leading UK and African businesses.

Second, we want to showcase our world-famous financial institutions from the City of London, particularly in areas in which we are at the forefront of innovation such as green, early-stage and local currency financing.

Third, it is important that we work to build a modern, strong, stable and enduring partnership fit for the 21st century, based on long-term mutual prosperity, recognising that the UK and Africa have so much to learn from each other’s expertise including, for example, around energy transition.

I know Boris Johnson is acutely aware of the increased mutual benefit to be realised from working even more closely with our African friends. And I know he and his Government have an ambitious vision for the growth of the UK-African partnership, founded on innovation and sustainable investment which creates jobs and prosperity for both sides.

I have always believed that Africa is the most natural business home for the UK outside of our own borders. So it seems only right we begin the next decade and chapter with this UK-Africa Investment Summit, where the sky is the limit for our combined potential, not only in relation to the advancement of our economies, but also in answering some of the world’s wider social and sustainability questions.

I look forward to joining our prime minister and all our other esteemed friends, leaders and delegates there. And I look forward to celebrating the mutual prosperity we will share in the future.

Lord Popat of Harrow is Prime minister’s trade envoy to Rwanda and Uganda

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Popat - The UK must seize the big trading opportunities Africa has to offer


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