LONDON – British Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Prince Harry on Monday called the United Kingdom an ideal business partner for Africa as their country prepares for a post-Brexit deal with the world.
But Britain is facing a tough challenge as it seeks to assert itself on a continent with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and a young population of 1.2 billion that will double by 2050.
Of the 54 African heads of state, the first to attend the first UK-Africa investment conference is less than a few dozen who attended the first Russia-Africa summit last year or a regular meeting in China.
The UK’s Department of International Trade says bilateral trade with Africa was $ 46 billion in the year ending the second quarter of 2019. Meanwhile, Africa’s bilateral trade with China, the continent’s top trading partner, was $ 208 billion in 2019.
Johnson told attendees that the conference “has been going on for a long time.” He acknowledged that British officials and agencies needed to work together to persuade African countries to do business with the United Kingdom.
“We have no divine right to that business,” he said. “It’s a competitive world. You can have a suit “- especially China and Russia.
Britain will leave the European Union on January 31, and Johnson said the United Kingdom would be a free-trade “world after Brexit.” He vowed that the post-Brexit immigration system would “keep people before passports”, acknowledging a general frustration across Africa.
As other global powers, including the Gulf states and India, continue to increase their diplomatic and economic presence in Africa, some observers have wondered about the interests of former colonial Britain.
When Theresa May visited Kenya in 2018, even Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta noted that it was the first visit by a British prime minister to the East African economic center in more than three decades.
The United Kingdom said 16 African leaders, including leaders from Nigeria, Congo, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal, Malawi, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Rwanda, were attending Monday’s summit in London.
“Africa’s wealth is undisputed,” said Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Ado, noting that by 2050, one in four people in the world will be African.
Leaders stressed the need to tackle growing inequality and the dire need for improved infrastructure on the continent, especially as millions of people move to growing cities.
In addition to the slowdown in its top two economies, South Africa and Nigeria, Africa is showing economic momentum as the recently launched African continental free trade zone collects steam.
Last year, economic growth slowed in all geographic regions except Africa, with the United Nations last week reporting its annual global economic situation and prospects for 2020.
The United Nations has said that Africa’s GDP growth will be 3.2% in 2020 and 3.5% in 2021. And 25 African countries are projected to achieve at least 5% economic growth this year.
The UK should adopt a broader investment approach for Africa’s growing middle class and increasingly sophisticated customers, the Overseas Development Institute reported this month. It said more than 80% of Britain’s investment in Africa was focused on mining and financial services, and that 30% of investment on the continent went to a single country, South Africa.
Report from Anna Johannesburg.
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