British Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to Africa is very important because it opens fresh opportunities for business. And Africa is ready to do business with Britain.
As an African-born British businessman with roots in East Africa, I am delighted that Mrs May is visiting the continent for the first time as the British premier at what is a pivotal moment in the UK’s economic future.
Britain and Africa need each other more than ever before. While Africa and the UK share so much in history, a lot has changed, affecting the tight bond.
The UK is home to the one of the largest and most influential African diaspora communities. My own life story of being a part of this diaspora, and heading a network of businesses rooted on the African continent, shows how the UK and Africa are becoming closer.
I arrived in the UK as a young man fleeing Africa because of war. I am now the CEO of Dahabshiil, a network of some of Africa’s largest financial services companies employing more than 5,000 people and consisting of tens of thousands of agents across several African countries, the United States, the UK, Europe and the Middle East.
On June 23, 2016, the British people voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, in what has come to be known as “Brexit”. But while Brexit continues to be an intensely argued issue in the UK, most people in Africa are not sure what to make of it.
To me, however, one thing is clear: As the UK looks to new economic opportunities outside of Europe, Africa is one place it cannot afford to overlook.
Africa’s abundance of untapped natural resources, its rising use of technology, a growing middle class hungry for the UK’s educational institutions to come to Africa and much more offers real opportunities for UK businesses in a continent where English is mainly the universal language.
To realise these opportunities, Mrs May must loosen the financial and trading structures between Africa and the UK.
Her biggest challenge will be to talk to entrepreneurs from Africa and show UK’s hunger to exploit the economic opportunities available — just as Turkey, the Arab Gulf countries, India and of course China, among others, have in the recent past. The reality is that these countries have had a much more proactive response to business in Africa than what traditional allies 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 Africa, particularly East Africa.
Notably, East Africa 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 US on Monday.
Even Africa’s smallest nations, like Djibouti, are now being transformed into major port and logistics hubs for the continent. Britain cannot afford to miss the 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 Mrs 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.
I am aware that both British and African business people are waiting for clarification on what the departure of the UK from the EU will look like.
Whatever that agreement entails, we, the business community, would like life to be easier. We would like stability, so that Africa and Britain can continue to trade — indeed, to increase and diversify the levels of trade — and to create jobs in both territories.
We are keen for financial transactions to be easier and regulations and other issues to better reflect the current African reality and ensure smoother operations for those who are fully compliant and respectful of them. Together, we can overcome the fear of the unknown and to address challenges.
Dahabshiil has worked for over 40 years with entrepreneurs in Africa and the UK. I hope that in the next 40 years we will see trade between them grow to such levels as those between British and Asian business people.
Mr Duale is the CEO of Dahabshiil, a money transfer company with a huge presence in Kenya and East Africa. [email protected]