UK investors from several industries recognise that West and Central Africa is a fast-growing destination with the untapped potential for businesses to prosper over the next decade, and a growing middle class driving consumer demand. Dynamic African markets exist across different political and economic spheres, but all need to deliver jobs and socioeconomic benefits for their burgeoning youth populations. However, for most leaders and governments in the region, achieving this progress quickly while transforming economies in the current context of changing global supply chains and the energy transition is a daunting task. Nevertheless, certain sectors offer clear competitive advantages to investors while the skills gap in the region is reducing and decision-making has improved through better leadership and use of technology. By and large, African governments are better positioned to leverage the value of markets and resources, with more high-return opportunities arising for investors.
I have been privileged to work with decision-makers and entrepreneurs from West and Central Africa for almost ten years so I appreciate the complex trade-offs needed to create an enabling policy environment, address institutional shortcomings and attract strategic investment, including increasingly in digital services, as these examples show:
In response to the Covid-19 crisis, Togo has delivered several innovative projects, including the digitisation of government-to-people cash transfers. It was also the first African country to have its health pass recognised by the European Union.
Senegal’s health sector is undergoing profound modernisation, which has included the piloting of a world-class smart health card and new therapeutics manufacturing enabled by a vibrant ecosystem, public-private partnerships and impressive talent pool.
Côte d’Ivoire has strong ambitions to integrate global value chains while providing opportunities for local businesses. With access to quality cotton, enabling infrastructure and proximity to the right markets, the government has made significant efforts to revive its textile industry with a clear focus on sustainability and traceability.
Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo are both capitalising on their carbon-storing rainforests and incredible biodiversity to position themselves as influential stakeholders in global discussions on climate change. This will include at COP27 in Egypt this year, which is expected to give more of a voice and fairer economic prospects to African countries.
Despite security concerns in the Sahel, Burkina Faso’s banking sector is expanding and Niger is investing heavily in agri-food processing and renewable energy, reflecting a wider commitment from leaders across the region to focus on industrialisation as the main driver of prosperity.
Energy and agri-food are among the industries in which the private sector is expected to invest and innovate, with the potential to transform lives and address inequalities at scale. Across the region, governments, businesses and multilateral institutions are building integrated power pools based on global standards, expanding access to electricity in rural areas with smart off-grid solutions and transforming food systems through agri-processing zones.
It is great to see Francophone Africa showcase its potential to London’s investment community at the UK-Francophone West and Central Africa Trade and Investment Forum this week. There is no doubt senior officials and business leaders will use this momentum to accelerate the socioeconomic transformation of this booming region. Doing so not only makes good business sense, it is also a necessary step towards global poverty reduction and sustainable progress, including mitigating the associated risks of instability and forced migration. Healthy competition in bilateral trade relations will ensure better outcomes for emerging countries.