The UK steps up to the plate in the new Scramble for Africa

Last week saw the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosting the UK Africa Investment Summit in London. The UK finally stepped up to the plate in pushing African business at the highest level and did so in a way that focused on collaboration and partnership in the key continent for the future.

I had the privilege of attending the Summit and many of the surrounding events, including a reception at Buckingham Palace held by TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen. From my direct experience I can see that these events all acted to emphasise a change in tone and purpose for the UK government in its engagement with Africa, and offered presidents and businesses alike the opportunity to hold a range of bilateral meetings and to development business around the Summit. In doing so whilst some cynics may be quietened for a while, it is clear that there is a way to go and that this is only the start of a long journey of catch up. By now we all know the level of investment needed simply to bridge the annual US$100 billion plus infrastructure gap and how much needs to be done to bring power, hard infrastructure, value-add, education and the 4th Industrial Revolution to benefit billions in Africa. Let's hope the UK can play its part in working with the continent to bring this about.

PM Johnson opened the Summit with a robust call for a new start for UK and Africa. He made clear that in his view this was an event whose time has come and that the UK should be seen as not just a friend, partner and ally, but a country to do business with. He also made clear that he appreciated that the UK has no "divine right" to this but asked Africa to look at the facts and what the country has to offer. He said loudly that the UK is a partner of today, tomorrow and decades to come, and is the ultimate one stop shop for any ambitious growing economy.

PM Johnson also acknowledged that the UK is in a competitive market but asked us to remember an Akan saying that "all fingers are not the same" and that all countries are not the same. In his view the UK has matchless breadth of opportunity and we offer something different and mutual, and he committed to working "Side by side every step of the way"! I am sure in the new scramble for Africa others will seek to challenge this, hopefully in a way which delivers even more for the continent.

The tone and intent of this speech and many of those around the Summit was definitely seen by most as positive and encouraging. In equal measure leaders of business are looking forward to clear, practical evidence of action. "Where's the beef?" they said to me. In fact the multitude of events and meetings around the summit and some announced deals have shown a positive way forward in this regard as well.

I know this because I have seen first-hand the hard work put into the Summit in advance by government to deliver this and the range of events around it. I was able to connect and speak to many friends from across the continent who attended the Summit and other events who echoed my views. This article is nonetheless personal and reflects my own engagement with the Summit and the events around it. Those events I refer to are simply a small number I attended amongst a myriad of others, to give a flavour of the intensity of the programme.

As a firm, we participated in various events, some of which we hosted at Hogan Lovells London offices. This began with an event hosting the Hon Olamilekan Adegbite, Nigerian Minister of Mines and Steel Development, in our offices to highlight opportunities in mining in Nigeria. I chaired a panel with my colleague Kevin Pietersen from our Johannesburg office and leading Nigerian SAN, Prof. Konyin Ajayi, to discuss how mining is becoming more important as the Nigerian economy seeks to diversify away from a reliance on oil, and London was considered the right venue to promote this initiative. I then headed across town to the Hilton in Park Lane where I chaired a panel on infrastructure with the Hon. Joe Ghartey, Railways and Development Minister for Ghana at the Ghanaian Investment & Opportunities Summit. The following day I was honoured to interview His Excellency Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi at our offices.

I also attended the reception marking 100 years of Chatham House at Bonhams (finally a cultural event!), an impressive event with the Lionesses of Africa hosted by UK Africa Trade Commissioner Emma Wade Smith and the UK Africa Manufacturing summit. Many others I missed, but others can speak to those.

The AIS was a great, exhausting, but worthwhile series of events marking a new mood in UK's engagement with Africa. Let us hope we build on this in practical terms.

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