By Nick O’Donohoe, CDC Group Chief Executive Officer
It’s not every week that you can address millions of people about a topic close to your heart – the importance of investment to Africa’s development. On Monday of last week, ahead of the UK-Africa Investment Summit, I had the opportunity to do that, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme about the role of the private sector in economic development.
The summit, which brought over 20 heads of state and ministers together with business leaders from across Africa and the UK, really put this topic on the agenda. Naturally, post-Brexit trade and UK opportunities drove some of the conversation. But what was particularly important for me was the obvious attention being given to development, as well as the positioning of Africa and the 54 nations within it as a potential partnership and an exciting hub of entrepreneurship.
The enthusiasm and energy generated by the conference – and the attention it brought to Africa’s investment opportunities – were heartening.
From our perspective, the event provided a fantastic platform to engage in the dialogue around the opportunities to work in partnership with Africa countries and businesses. And as part of this, we were able to announce $400 million of new transactions across Africa and our commitment to deploy £2 billion in Africa over the next two years.
And we were pleased to see that the UN’s SDGs, which drive our work, were being used at the summit as the language to describe the development challenge in Africa. They are used by governments, by companies and by investors and that’s the value of them. They focus the discussion and I hope that going into the UN’s Decade of Action they increasingly become the guiding force for impact investment in Africa and further afield.
But the summit’s ambitious goal is not an easy one and as successful as it was, the day must be seen as the first step in a process which cannot be achieved overnight. The message of Africa’s investment potential is one which must be reinforced over and over again, delivered not just with rhetoric but with data and figures. At the conference my sense was that while firms and sectors for whom Africa is already important were present and vocal, there is still more that needs to be done if we are to involve those that are not already active in the continent.
My hope is that the attention given to the summit will have piqued the interest of a broader set of investors and businesses, encouraged them to consider the potential that Africa offers, and increased their confidence about what steps to take next.
That interest in Africa is on the rise globally. China is not the only country with an interest, despite the country’s significant investment into the continent over the past 20 years; others such as France and Japan are active and keen to grow their presence in Africa. However, African economies want a broad set of relationships and the natural affinity many African leaders have for the UK leads them to look to us. There is an enthusiasm for Britain as a partner and that came through during the day.
Each country is different, of course. There were common discussions throughout the day – the need to create jobs for young people was front and centre, alongside the need for economic infrastructure and support for SMEs. But the investment needs of different countries are a more complex picture – if you compare the investment needs of Angola with the needs of Kenya for example, the difference is stark.
So how do you measure whether or not the summit achieved its aim? There’s no straightforward answer. But the day was fuelled by passion and good will, reinforcing both Africa’s investment potential, and the UK Government’s commitment to the continent.