South Africa

Africa losing out should be a deal-breaker

Africa losing out should be a deal-breaker
January is here again and the special breed of the world’s rich and influential are in faraway Switzerland with one thing on their mind: improving the state of the world.

Some African leaders would have gone there straight from London. From being guests of Brexiter-in-Chief, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Alok Sharma, his business-like secretary for international trade. Perhaps one is nothing but a grumpy outsider, but pardon me for not getting excited about Sharma’s closing remarks: “The UK is entering this decade with a new sense of purpose; we are open for business.”

Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May had expressed her “vision 2022” for the “UK to be the G7’s number one investor in Africa, with Britain’s private sector companies taking the lead”. How prophetic.

President Cyril Ramaphosa stayed away from both events; which serve a purpose only if you have a solid plan. To his credit, the man who is gearing to take over as AU chair next month, declined the invitations in order to “give attention to pressing domestic priorities”.

Eskom, SAA, troubled and incoherent top six; we can settle for Minister Tito Mboweni’s tweets to keep us posted about Davos and trust Minister Naledi Pandor to step up.

Twenty-one African countries were in London, and Sharma’s shindig turned out to be not too bad a day at the office.

“We started the day with £6.5billion (R122.5bn) of deals and have ended with billions more,” he said gleefully. “We have already signed trade agreements with 11 African countries, covering over 40% of the UK’s total trade with Africa”.

Trade deals with developed countries bother me - the details short-change Africa.

Major partnerships with key African economies like Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda to finance several infrastructure projects are about “mobilising private sector funding in infrastructure to help plug the annual $2.5 trillion gap that the poorest countries need to meet the Global Goals”.

Focusing on the “design of a new UK project development facility, to develop a pipeline of investible projects and generate additional private sector investment into low-carbon, sustainable infrastructure”, gives the UK too much control. Project development often favours rich countries.

They skew it to channel the bulk of the promised billions back to the pockets of their consultants or those from allied countries.

Some of the agreements from the UK-Africa Investment Summit are: £80million for energy provision by Aggreko in Ivory Coast; Rolls-Royce selling engines worth £50m to EgyptAir; Anglo-Tunisian Oil and Gas gobbling up £26m in Tunisian gas assets; Contracta Construction UK upgrading a teaching hospital (£120.5m) and an airport (£40m) in Kumasi, Ghana; Savannah mopping up gas assets (£315m) in Nigeria, among others.

What are the African countries getting in return? Did Africans insist on localisation, skills and technology transfer or indigenisation of parts of these deals’ value chain?

Let us hope our representatives did - or may the exploitation continue! In the meantime, let us ramp up intra-Africa trade and invite the UK and other well-meaning investors over for trade talks; on our soil, on our terms.

Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs