With the United Kingdom’s (UK) departure from the European Union (EU) imminent, it is no surprise that the UK is currently on a charm offensive, with a view to deepen and strengthen its global partnerships. Going by the UK Prime Minister’s currently ongoing tour of Africa, where she intends to meet and hold trade talks with three African Heads of State, Africa is top on the UK’s global agenda. Evidently, with 16 per cent of the world’s population, but only three per cent of global goods trade, Africa is heralded as the containing untapped trade potential.
In support of its new focus on trade partnerships with the African continent, Mrs Teresa May announced an additional GBP 4 billion in British trade and investment support earmarked for Africa, with an expectation that a similar amount will be matched by the private sector. In her pledge, the UK PM signalled a shift in UK’s trade relationships with the African continent.
Traditionally, critics have noted with concern that the UK tends to prioritize financial aid targeted at eradicating poverty in the African continent – financial aid that in the long run has not concretely benefit the African continent. Now, with a potential hard Brexit looming in the horizon, the United Kingdom hopes to focus on long-term economic growth and development of the African continent, with the hope that a rapidly industrializing Africa will stand to plug any potential trade deficit resultant of a hard or no-deal Brexit.
Indeed, a rapidly industrialising Africa is currently experiencing an existential identity shift whereby it is rejecting the label ‘dark continent’ and re-imagining itself as a global player in the international context. Be it on matters trade, politics or security, the message Africa is currently sending to the world is that it is open for business, and will not be left behind. This is evidenced by seismic changes throughout Africa, with traditionally inward looking African nations such as Ethiopia and Djibouti opening up their doors for trade investments and partnerships. Similarly, political, governance and enterprise reform measures in notable African nations, including Zimbabwe, South Africa and indeed Kenya as well can be viewed as a concerted effort to create an enabling, modern and globally competitive business environment in Africa.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed. With abundant untapped natural resources, a growing, educated and skilled middle class and rising innovative practices, multinational entities have flocked to set up shop in Africa in recent years. Given, inter alia, Chinese, American, Indian and other European businesses and investors seeking to partner with Africa, the UK would need to differentiate herself from the lot in order to justify a protected trade relationship with the African continent.
Africa’s time is now.