Brexit is an opportunity to rethink our relationship with Africa

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Brexit is an opportunity to rethink our relationship with Africa

The Government still thinks of Africa as a mere beneficiary of international aid. Brexit is a time to rethink that and take advantage of the many trade and investment opportunities the continent provides the UK, argues Sebastien Kurzel.

Right now the government views Africa as a continent that needs international aid. But things have changed and this view is out of date.

If you look at just a handful of highly successful African entrepreneurs who have chosen to base themselves – and their businesses – in the UK, like Mzi Khumalo, Bernard Kantor and Kenton Fine, this should give you an idea of the calibre and potential of this continent.  

The government must wake up to the fact that our traditional view of Africa is wildly out of date, and the continent is now showing the first real signs of the booming region full of business and trade opportunities that it will become for us post-Brexit. 

Africa is a huge and diverse continent. While many of its 50 countries are still in the grip of poverty and political instability, and in others such as Nigeria and South Africa growth is slowing, other nations are on the cusp of transformation.

For example, Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda are all experiencing growth of more than 6% – a number on par or higher than China’s expected growth. Ethiopia is on track to have close to the highest GDP growth rate in the world.

Africa is fast becoming the centre of a new tech-growth explosion too. And this is something that cannot be ignored post-Brexit. It matters not just because the technologies being developed are ground breaking but for the fact that they will help support the UK – and the planet – in the future.

Many of the technologies being developed and tested tackle the kinds of issues that will undoubtedly impact not just Africa but the whole world. Food insecurity, climate change and population growth are issues that the UK is going to have to manage, and the long-term practical solutions may well come out of Africa.  

Many of Africa’s booming countries are also successfully attracting more global capital through progressive policies aimed at diversifying their economies and growing the middle class. One reason for this sudden upswing is the take-up of the internet, boosted largely by increased investment in infrastructure.

Internet penetration in Africa in 2011 was only 13.5%. Today it’s 35.9%. Yes, it’s below the world average and with no comparators you’d be forgiven for thinking this growth is slow growth. But between 2000 and 2012 the number of users grew at seven times the global average; that’s 3,600% growth, according to the Internet World Statistics. In Kenya alone, internet users went from 200,000 in 2000 to a whopping 19.6m in 2018.

There is a massive race going on to get online, and this has fuelled a boom in African entrepreneurship. In 2018 the number of startups grew by 32% and funding by more than 70%; estimates for the total funding of African startups vary but the best estimates reveal that in 2018 it was around $1bn.

The British government are in on the act. We’re ramping up our innovation partnership programmes, boosting access for African entrepreneurs to UK expertise, training and funding. But we’re not going anything like far enough if we want to get in early and reap the rewards.

France, however, is taking Africa seriously. Speaking at the VivaTechnology conference in Paris last year, French President Macron announced the launch of a 65m-euro fund dedicated to providing access to early stage investment funding for African startups, as part of the French Digital Africa initiative.

Digital Africa has been a great success over the last few years, providing a platform for African entrepreneurs, encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing, and facilitating access to funding.

It’s this kind of large-scale innovative government thinking about how to engage with the new Africa we need here in the UK. If we don’t act fast, we’ll find that our influence and ability to engage with Africa will be diminished, and post-Brexit that’s just not something we can afford to happen. 

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  • Sebastien Kurzel
    Sebastien Kurzel
    Sebastien Kurzel is a Masters student at LSE, and previously studied geology. He is interested in the interface between energy sources, geopolitics, and UK national security.
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