The UK-Africa Investment Summit 2020 held in London, last month was a muted affair despite the hype and hopeful win-win rhetoric about Britain forging new relationships with the continent.
British Prime Minister played host to African leaders and representatives in hopes of projecting an image of a nation free from the rules and regulations of the European Union and can, therefore,
chart a new investment path with Africa. Africa’s attractions to the rest of the world, particularly the major industrialized ones revolves around its rapidly growing population and economies, rising
middle class, and recent ratification of a continent-wide free trade agreement. With a rate of return on investment that outstrips much of Asia, all of Latin America and the average of the world’s
developed economies, there is little doubt about the money to be made in Africa. Africa’s potential wealth in minerals, oil and gas that is waiting to be discovered and extracted is yet another key attraction to leading industrialized countries all of which are well aware the continent holds the key to their future development and prosperity.
But it will not be easy for London to forge a new relationship with the continent
because although times have changed, evidence on the ground suggests that UK aid, trade and investment
patterns still reflect an old picture of Africa, a picture that remains rooted in a colonial and paternalistic mind-set of working with primarily agricultural societies and rural people with few skills, basket cases requiring reward and punishment. This attitude is routinely borne out when British officials speak to Africans and their leaders not just in private but in public meetings.
UK leaders seem fixated on prescribing for Africa the reforms it should adopt to make them more attractive to investors, to work up the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, curb corruption or meet environmental and social standards. This outdated mind-set is also reflected in the types of goods—raw materials made up mostly of fuel, precious stones and fresh fruit and vegetables– UK imports from Africa.
This is also the only plausible explanation why up-to 51 per cent of UK’s investments in Africa still goes into mining and quarrying while 34 per cent goes into financial services despite the continent offering investment opportunities in other more lucrative and high-return on investment areas such as manufacturing, technology and construction sectors in which the United Kingdom invests in
other parts of the world. This attitude further underlines the failure to invite Zimbabwe to the summit, ostensibly due to its poor record on human rights and corruption.