SA has always been open for business
President Cyril Ramaphosa's message at the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London was: “South Africa is open for business, and it should be an investment destination of choice.”
That was before reality in the North West province bit, forcing him to (wisely) take his leadership where it was most needed. Thankfully he had experienced members of his cabinet and business leaders in tow during his working visit earlier in the week. Apparently they wowed the Brits.
To me, our membership of the Commonwealth is as bland as a cucumber sandwich.
While there is no objection to 53 nations pledging recognition of Her Majesty the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, my African heart burns for something with a common African denominator.
To me, CHOGM and the Commonwealth remain nothing more than a fellowship of former dominions of the British Crown.
Let the Commonwealth continue as its members desire, but its African contingent has to be unified on issues that affect our continent.
The other condition for me is that the future of Britain-Africa trade relations be shaped by a win-win mentality, rather than the Empire-takes-all dispensation that got us where we are.
Post-Brexit, Britain will be concerned about its ability to build or maintain a winning partnership with the hub of the new world economic order, which is Africa.
It will want to promote London as the financial capital of the world and secure a handsome share of the Africa Rising action for British companies and investors.
That is what anyone in charge of a First World country would do. The question is: Are Africans sufficiently confident and effectively organised to emerge from this bull run as equal partners, instead of perennial colonies - of Britain, China, the US, Russia or whoever has the money to dazzle our eyes?
That brings me to one minor detail coming out of President Ramaphosa’s working visit: the glee surrounding his R850 million deal.
The money, said Prime Minister Theresa May, will go towards the creation of “a wealth of opportunities” for business in South Africa and to poverty alleviation.
When a developed nation offers you money to “help identify and dismantle barriers to trade within Africa and beyond, creating a wealth of opportunities for UK business over the coming years”, vigilance is called for, Mr President!
That vigilance starts with making sure that Pretoria needed and asked for the money, with clear terms and conditions of what it will do.
While there is no denying that the alleviation of poverty and the creation of jobs would come in handy, everything has to be on our terms.
My little exposure to foreign aid in Africa has always shown me a smelly underbelly.
Unless we write the script for how the R850m will be delivered, it could easily end up paying British consultants, instead of delivering concrete impact.
The other hidden risk to this talk of “dismantling barriers to trade within Africa” is that these include non-tariff barriers.
Corruption is key among the top non-tariff barriers in Africa. When a developed nation works with Africa to dismantle non-tariff barriers, and corruption ranks high among them, a window is then created for a Big Brother syndrome to creep in.
We might end up removing barriers by hiring expats, while overlooking qualified and experienced African professionals, whose only crime - punishable by marginalisation - is that they are not corrupt. Before looking elsewhere, therefore, this removal of barriers ought to restore or build robust state institutions to deliver a better quality of life.
Africa has enough resources; and with no disrespect to London, it does not need R850m to facilitate trade.
Lastly, this trade facilitation had better incorporate intra-Africa trade, which currently stands at 15% of Africa’s total trade.
The next step could be for President Ramaphosa to visit his Tanzanian counterpart, John Magufuli, to compare notes on how to exterminate corruption. While at it, he might lure more African investors to our shores as well.
* Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business, a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a columnist for Destiny Man.
The Sunday Independent