Chairman, Africa Legal Network (ALN)
Senior Partner, Anjarwalla & Khanna
What is your assessment of the current level of bilateral trade between the UAE and African nations?
CHEICK MODIBO DIARRA While trade between the UAE and Africa is for the most part improving, the level could be far greater. These two geographical areas have many things in common, including cultural similarities. Every two years, I participate in a meeting held by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, and in the last six to 10 years there has been a notable effort by the UAE to understand the dynamics of doing business in Africa. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce has opened offices in Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia, with Mozambique to follow. It is important to deploy representatives on the ground to understand the market, and, therefore, portray an accurate image to investors. Historically, investment has been impeded by inaccurate information that is often sensationalized in news and media. Africa suffers immensely from this. Typically, investors who are well versed in doing business in Africa will benefit from the diverse opportunities across the continent. Agriculture and mining are two of the most prominent sectors that attract interest from the UAE. The UAE stands to gain a great deal by investing in agriculture. Africa is blessed with arable land, while rising global populations will increase demand for food production. There are opportunities for investors in particular to produce rare and sought-after fruits in an organic way.
ATIQ ANJARWALLA There has certainly been a marked increase in trade being driven by three to four factors. First, there is a political will from the UAE government to deepen ties with Africa. The number of UAE embassies in Africa has expanded in recent years from two a decade ago to nine today. Additionally, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce has recently opened an office in Nairobi and plans to open more offices across Africa. This has deepened trade links between the UAE and Africa. Moreover, we have witnessed some substantial investment by DP World in the Ports of Berbera and in Djibouti. The second factor is that the business community in the UAE has a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges in Africa than it did five years ago. Businesses are more strategic with their investments and now conduct comprehensive risk assessments. There is certainly a greater willingness now to invest in Africa: we have observed this shift since we began the ALN conference five years ago. We are helping portray an accurate narrative of investment opportunities in Africa and hope this increase in interest and investment continues.
What particular opportunities are you eyeing across the continent?
CMD An interesting aspect to this reality is when communities experiencing urbanization challenges are given the right to negotiate partnerships with suppliers of housing, water services, electricity, health, and education. The UAE experienced rapid urban growth in a short space of time and has vast experience in megaprojects. Every large city in Africa has the same issues, and communities could perhaps nominate an investor to build and operate the city for 10-20 years. We also need to incorporate smart city initiatives into our urban and social planning; for example, houses can be built with internet cables, or computers be built into housing units. This has multiple advantages, as tenants would gain access to information and education as well as housing.
AA There are a number of key observable trends, most notably mining, which has been a prominent industry for Gulf investors. For example, Emirates Global Aluminum is involved in bauxite mining activities in Guinea. Moreover, the oil and gas sector is obviously prominent in the UAE, and there are some significant areas of collaboration on that front. In addition, we are seeing FMCG gaining momentum, with certain supermarkets exploring opportunities in Africa. We know that a lot of the large distributors of white goods are now highly active in a number of African countries. Interestingly, Dubai Islamic Bank has opened up an Islamic bank in Nairobi, so overall, the level of penetration in Africa is quite multifaceted. Similarly, financial services, FMCG, infrastructure, and telecoms are some key areas with increased collaboration. This appetite has grown in tandem with an increase in activity from the UAE’s two major airlines, Emirates and Etihad, who have both opened new routes and increased capacity on existing ones.
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