THE CONTINENT OF GREAT POSSIBILITIES BY BOLA ATTA


Once upon a time, when the westerners came to Africa bringing education, religion, governance and trade, it was recognised that the continent, which had sometimes been dubbed ’the dark continent’, was a land of opportunities.
Many hundreds of years later, Africa, rich in resources (gold, diamonds, oil, gas, agricultural produce, people), is still as attractive as ever.

Africa is a continent with 54 countries and a population of over 1.2 billion people. That fact alone represents huge potential.

A continent that has been plagued with wars, religious strife, economic instability, poverty and all the other images that had everyone sending in help and Aid throughout the 80s, 90s and the turn of the millennium, for moral purposes.

The world had gone from an era of domination to the post independence age when African countries began to control their own resources to a relatively large extent.

The tides have turned once again. It is no joke when you hear expressions such as ‘Africa the new bride’ with many suitors. As much as this is beginning to become somewhat of a cliche, there are so many benefits to having many suitors to choose from. The best scenario would be if we didn’t have to choose at all. Can Africa really have it all and decide upon her own terms and conditions of marriage?

Today, China, a country of over 2 billion people, the dark horse, which came from behind and is threatening the supremacy of the world ruling power, is looking to Africa for expansion. And I mean economic expansion. It’s simply the way the world rotates. No matter how big a nation or a continent, there must be some form of interdependence for sustainability and even sometimes, survival. China has invested over $900 billion into the continent of Africa in various sectors ranging from power, to finance, even entertainment from a not so obvious angle. There is Germany with the ‘African Marshal Plan’ and France with a promising ‘Digital Africa’ initiative. Resources are coming in and less in the form of Aid but as capital for use in the development of the continent.

In July 2018, Tony Elumelu, the Chairman of UBA Group, where I work, hosted French President Emmanuel Macron in Nigeria. Macron declared that France was open for business with Nigeria and all of Africa. This summer, the French government will support the France Africa summit which will be held in Bordeaux and where many African presidents and business leaders will be invited to discuss the future of new business relationship that has already commenced between France and Africa. Billions of dollars in business deals will be sealed.

As the UK begins to disengage with the European Union in what is now famously known as Brexit, they are ready to look towards other alliances that will mitigate any weakening impacts of Brexit.

This week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson invited over 20 African presidents and ministers to London, to the UK Africa Investment Summit 2020. Amongst the presidents in attendance were Nigerian president Muhamadu Buhari, the Senegalese president Macky Sall, President Paul Kagame from Rwanda, President Mahama from Ghana and many others. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, prince William and his princess Kate hosted the important delegation to a cocktail in Buckingham palace at the end of the summit, to reiterate how important Africa is and has always been to the United Kingdom.  Earlier on in the day, Johnson had started his opening address at the summit saying that it was the first time the UK and so many African nations had come together for an event of this nature.  I was particularly interested in his first few remarks where he stated ‘We in the UK have a vital job in continuing to convince people across the (African) continent that we’re not just a great friend and ally, a reliable ally, but also the people you should be doing business with. We have no divine right to that business. This is a competitive world. You have many suitors.’

There is plenty of competition for Africa’s business but we have to be careful to ensure the gains are well measured and planned for. To reduce the outflow of proceeds of the returns on business partnerships and find ways for the revenues to circle back to Africa to develop our continent. We need to encourage start-ups to manufacture and produce not just for exports, but also for the over 1 billion  Africans on the continent. Tony Elumelu speaking on a panel at the UK Africa summit, advocated massive private capital investment as well as increased support to youth development as catalysts for driving the much needed economic growth on the continent.
I enjoyed the prime minister’s speech as he welcomed foreign students, Africans especially, to come and study in the UK and take back knowledge to develop their countries. I am a product of solid British education and often boast about how the British educational system is possibly the best in the world. Back in the day, Africans realised the value of this educational system and many who had the opportunity to do so, would leave home to go and study in the United Kingdom. Today, the Asians are also buying into this. 1 in 5 student at Liverpool University in the UK is from Asia. It is my hope that one day, our continent will be well developed to once again be home to some of the best universities and schools in the world.
For now, we need the foreign investment to develop critical sectors like transportation, power, education, health and technology. It is a two - way stream and many African businesses and investors are also looking to partner with foreign businesses at home and abroad.
The United Bank for Africa(UBA), where I mentioned earlier that I work, is a top pan-African institution with footprint in 20 African countries and operations in world financial capitals of London, Paris and New York. The UBA UK subsidiary is positioned as the bank of choice for financial interactions between Africa and the rest of the world, with specific focus on African businesses and institutions looking to expand into Europe in order to access new customers, partners and capital markets. The bank also focuses on global investors seeking exposure to African financial and capital markets.
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