meet and greet

UK-Africa Investment Summit announced for April 2024

By Nicholas Norbrook, Umaru Fofana in Freetown

Posted on March 9, 2023 10:14

South African President’s state visit to the UK
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomes President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa to 10 Downing Street, London, ahead of a bilateral meeting during his state visit to the UK. Picture date: Wednesday November 23, 2022. Stefan Rousseau/Pool via REUTERS

The UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will host a major UK-Africa conference in April 2024, as London tries to flesh out its post-Brexit relationship with allies beyond Europe.

Prime Minister Sunak will host the UK-African Investment Summit on 23-24 April 2024 in London, bringing together Heads of State and government from 24 African countries.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly says: “Affirming the UK’s position as a leading investor in Africa, this second African Investment Summit in London will build on our successes since 2020, which have combined the strengths, innovations and expertise of the UK and our partners across Africa to support reliable, sustainable and long-term investment.”

The UK-Africa Investment Summit is part of a busy calendar of continental-focused meetings; the US, China, Russia, Turkey, Germany, Japan, and France have all either held Africa conferences in the last year or are planning one in 2023.

Post-Brexit economic diplomacy

With the UK arming Ukraine forces fighting the Russian invasion, the geopolitics of the moment are not lost on the continent, especially given the renewed diplomatic and military engagement of Moscow in recent years, from the Sahel to the Central African Republic.

However, the summit announcement also comes as the UK attempts to construct its post-Brexit economic diplomacy. The Developing Countries Trading Scheme that will cut tariffs on 99% of African goods that enter the UK comes into force this year. UK policymakers hope this scheme will help fight shortages in things like fresh agricultural produce and that it will also leverage financial expertise to bring new custom to the City of London.

[…] there is literally a whole world out there, [to] which we have not necessarily given the time and attention that we should have over the previous decades

“Europe is still a really important trading partner”, Nigel Huddleston, UK Minister of State at the Department for Business and Trade tells The Africa Report. “But there is literally a whole world out there, [to] which we have not necessarily given the time and attention that we should have over the previous decades”.

He insists that the conference is for two-way trade, rather than just a beauty pageant of African investment opportunities for UK companies. As Africa becomes “the powerhouse that it inevitably will [be], and becomes wealthier, there will be more African investors looking for opportunities to invest around the world”, says Huddleston. “And we would love them to be looking at the UK”.

A reboot may well be necessary for the UK-Africa relationship. The last decade has seen a gradual disengagement of major investors, as multinationals like Shell, Standard Chartered and Barclays withdraw from Africa.

Nevertheless, the UN Conference on Trade and Development says the UK is the largest holder of foreign assets in Africa; and certain sectors show signs of growth. Vodafone, while exiting the Ghana market, was part of the consortium that purchased Ethiopia’s first new telecoms licence.

Beyond English-speaking countries

The UK is also trying to diversify its commitments beyond English-speaking countries.

British International Investment (BII), the UK’s development finance institution, is the largest investor in Cote d’Ivoire’s power sector, through its subsidiary Globeleq. BII is also using their convening power to “bring in global players like Dubai Ports World, a best-in-class ports developer and operator, to jointly grow port investments in Africa”, says BII’s Africa Head Chris Chijiutomi.

Critics will point to three cuts to the UK’s aid budget in the last three years – a multi-billion pound drop in funding –  while a deal with Rwanda to process migrants who arrive in the UK has been criticised by rights groups, such as Amnesty International.

“We have great concerns, because people are being human trafficked in a despicable way”, says Huddleston. “It’s just not the best way to facilitate the movement of people, and we want to make sure that we are continuing to be an open country”.

The UK in 2020 held its first UK-African Investment Summit, where officials say £6.5bn ($7.7bn) of deals were secured.

The 24 countries who will attend the April 2024 meeting are:  Algeria; Angola; Cameroon; Côte d’Ivoire; Democratic Republic of Congo; Egypt; Ethiopia; Ghana; Kenya; Malawi; Mauritania; Mauritius; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; South Africa; Tanzania; Tunisia; Uganda; and Zambia.

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