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First Ever UK-Africa Investment Summit Held in London
On January 20th, government officials and business leaders from the UK and twenty-one African nations came together for the first ever UK-Africa Investment Summit. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the summit acknowledging Africa’s considerable business potential and presenting the UK’s intention of becoming Africa’s “investment partner of choice.” Johnson emphasized that we live in a competitive globalized world, and that the UK’s flourishing economy and robust private sector can play a critical role in fostering mutually beneficial investments and commercial relationships in Africa. “Africa is the future,” Johnson declared. “And the UK has a huge and active role to play in that future.”
Another key highlight of the event was the commitment by the CDC (the UK Government’s development finance institution) to invest a further £2 billion by 2022 in Africa and the SDGs.
Empower Africa’s Vice President of Business Development and Operations Shai Bernstein attended the Summit to discuss Empower Africa’s mission of promoting sustainable economic development in Africa with key relevant stakeholders. Shai’s highlights included meeting and networking with influential people such as the Presidential Advisor on Economic and Financial Policy in Sierra Leone Joe Demby; President of the Africa Business Club at London Business School Zandile Nkwanyana; Deputy Head of Mission at the Israel Embassy in the UK Sharon Bar-Li; Vice President of Commercial Business at Windward Ron Crean; and, Founder, and Chairman of Future Planet Capital Douglas Hansen.
Several prominent African entrepreneurs attended the Summit and took to the stage to share their plans for a modern and connected Africa. Kenyan Ciiru Waweru Waithaka, CEO & Founder FunKidz, a successful startup that makes functional children’s furniture, insisted that Africa’s energetic and innovative youth just needed to be given the opportunity to build a strong private sector, and that “manufacturing SMEs are the answer to questions on economic sustainability in Africa.”
Expanding commercial engagements in Africa is good not just for Africa – it will also boost the global economy and allow the rest of the world to benefit from African innovations. For example, Charles Ofori Antipem from Ghana, Co-Founder Dext Technologies, has invented the “Science Set” – a mini portable lab making it easy for young students to perform basic experiments and get excited about science. The Science Sets are currently being tested by 500 schools in the UK, and Antipem has already secured requests from 24 other countries worldwide. Charles urged investors to invest in young entrepreneurs taking the leap: “ Africans are going to transform the continent and the world with their ideas, solutions, and companies.”
One of the themes during the Summit was Africans’ role as witnessed through the success of Mpesa in Kenya. Africa’s economy is moving at a substantial pace with talks and action about sustainability such as the Republic of Seychelles’ world’s first blue bond and Kenya’s sovereign green bonds.
While investors identified the main growth sectors in Africa as infrastructure, job creation, power, and manufacturing, African entrepreneurs called on the need to build and implement strategies to include sustainable growth. Participants did not shy away from identifying existing challenges, such as restricted access to technical support and financial services, that can prevent vulnerable groups like women and youth from utilizing existing opportunities.
Monica Musonda, CEO of Java Foods, and Tatu Gatere, Co-Founder & COO of BuildHer, discussed their experiences as female entrepreneurs in Africa. Lawyer turned entrepreneur Musonda, who founded Zambia-based Java Foods in an effort to tackle malnutrition through the private sector, stressed that the continent will never achieve its full economic potential if women are not given an equal seat at the table. Gatere, who founded BuildHer in Kenya to teach women construction skills, urged policymakers to tackle challenges that keep women from establishing and maintaining businesses, since women “are often the pioneers of community. If you help women you have a trickle-down effect on children and families.”
During the Summit, the UK took the opportunity to announce a £80 million infrastructure partnership between the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and the African Development Bank.
The summit concluded with a reminder that prosperity cannot be created through government alone. Commercial partnerships and a linkage to global markets will ultimately create economic development in Africa that is more stable and has more room to grow.