Last week’s visit by UK Prime Minister Theresa May to Africa was very important for the economic development and trade between the continent and the United Kingdom.
I followed keenly her messages in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya and I was left with a lot of hope that the future will be much better for entrepreneurs in Africa and the UK. The most important message was Britain’s intent to boost trade with Africa. May talked about opening doors for more economic partnerships.
As an African-born British businessman with roots in East Africa, I was delighted that May visited Africa for the first time as Prime Minister at what is a pivotal moment in Britain’s economic future.
The UK is home to the one of the largest and most influential African diaspora communities. East Africa was definitely happy to welcome her because the visit opens fresh opportunities to do business with the UK. May captured it well when she said as Britain prepares to leave the European Union, it is committed to a smooth transition that ensures continuity in trading relationship with Kenya, ensuring Kenya retains its duty-free quota-free access to the UK market.
Britain and East Africa share a history; one that has shaped the ideals of the East African nations.
But while UK and East Africa share so much in history, much has changed affecting the tight bond the two shared.
I arrived in the UK as a young man leaving Africa because of war. I’m now the CEO of Dahabshiil, a network consisting of Africa’s largest financial services companies employing over 5,000 employees and consisting of tens of thousands of agents across several African countries, the US, the UK, Europe and the Middle East.
The British voted to leave the European Union in what is now called Brexit. And whilst Brexit continues to be an intensely argued issue in the UK, most people in Africa are not sure what to make of it. But to me, one thing is clear: As the UK looks for new economic opportunities outside Europe, Africa is one place it cannot afford to overlook. The continent’s abundance of untapped natural resources, its rising use of technology, its growing middle-class, who are hungry for the UK’s educational institutions to come to Africa and much more, offers real opportunities for British businesses. To realise these opportunities, May had too walk the talk and must loosen the financial and trading structures between Africa and the UK.
After her visit, her team that remained behind in Africa have a big challenge to talk to entrepreneurs from East Africa and show UK’s hunger to exploit the economic opportunities available just like nations such as Turkey, the Arab Gulf countries, India and of course China have in the recent past. The reality is that the Chinese, the French, the Indians among other nations have had a much more proactive response to business in Africa than what they traditionally have had.
The UK has a lot of catching up to do if it is to make the most of what is a historic opportunity to recast the relationship between them and East Africa.
The East Africa region is rapidly growing. Witness the seismic changes under Prime Minister Abiy in Ethiopia, which is the fastest growing economy in Africa, and in Kenya, whose President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a large infrastructure investment deal with the United States on Monday. Even Africa’s smallest nations such as Djibouti are now being transformed into major port and logistics hubs for the continent. Britain cannot afford to miss an opportunity to be part of this growth
I’ve worked with previous Conservative prime ministers and leaders, such as David Cameron and William Hague, but what is different for May is that she leads Britain at a time when new, dynamic and reform- minded leaders are taking the helm in key African countries with business at the top of their agenda.
Dahabshiil has been working for over 40 years between entrepreneurs in Africa and the UK. I hope in the next 40 years, we will see trade between them grow to kind of levels of trade between British and Asian entrepreneurs.