Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to today’s African Business Safari event, looking at the Economic Community of West African States. This is the second event I have hosted for Association here in the House of Lords. I was honoured and privileged to be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from them at the dinner which they held at the Connaught Rooms last year.
I was born in Kenya and raised in Uganda. Whilst I have lived in the UK for many years I always maintain that my heart remains in Africa. I am very keen to promote more business between United Kingdom and overseas. Africa and African enterprises are very close to my heart both personally and professionally.
United Kingdom is doing well in economically and financially and our growth is expected to be about 3% in 2015. We need to do trade more with overseas countries and I feel that more should and can be done to increase the bi-lateral trade between UK and the African countries. With this view in mind I have already spoken three times in the House of Lords emphasising the need for us to expand our trade with Africa.
Last week I have tabled a debate to be heard in the House of Lords specifically on the subject of expansion of trade between United Kingdom and Africa. We of course already have a successful African diaspora here in the UK who have achieved great success in business and in the professions. We should encourage even more of these people to think about getting involved in African business. They certainly already have the knowledge and the resources. Indeed, the UK shares a commonality of language and laws with many parts of Africa. This provides us with a strong basis upon which to build our relationship further.
Africa is a huge continent, with an enormous wealth of diverse economic and cultural opportunity. The population is set to double by 2050, meaning there will be huge potential to grow the economy and make it more competitive. African economies generally showed great resilience following the financial crisis and have maintained an impressive momentum of growth. Overall continent-wide GDP growth is projected to rise to 4.5% this year, and 5% next year. Furthermore, many African states have been members of the much-admired “7% club” in recent years.
Today’s discussions are focusing on West Africa, and the work of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS is made up of fifteen member countries that are located in the Western African region. I would like to pay tribute to the vision and innovation of ECOWAS, in building what has become a pillar of the African economy. It is realising its vision of collective self-sufficiency for its member states, creating an integrated region with mutual access to resources and investment opportunities.
This year marks the group’s 40th anniversary and is an impressive milestone on a journey that will hopefully raise the standard of living for millions of West Africans. The Western region achieved growth of 6% last year and is projected to continue outperforming the continent as a whole. This was despite the Ebola virus outbreak, one of the greatest challenges in the region for many years, hitting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone particularly hard. Unfortunately, the great economic progress made by these countries in recent times has been set back as a result. Thankfully, these economies are projected to recover again next year.
Africa is moving quickly to improve its investment climate and conditions for doing business. Last year, a World Bank report found that Africa comprises five of the top ten countries in the world with the most reforms making it easier to do business. Four of those countries – Benin, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and Togo – are members of ECOWAS, which should be acknowledged as a huge complement to the community.
The same report found that since 2005, all African countries have improved the business regulatory environment for small and medium-sized businesses. Foreign Direct Investment is gradually moving away from mineral resources into consumer goods and services.This is in response to the needs of a rising middle class. However, with minerals and ores still accounting for two-thirds of Africa’s merchandise exports, the five-year low in global commodity prices could present challenges for the economies.
We must also acknowledge that ECOWAS encompasses Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa by a considerable margin. Nigeria continues to enjoy significant growth and I hope that the UK and others will recognise its potential, particularly in the non-oil sectors.
Indeed, the further potential of Africa as a whole must not be underestimated by the global business community. Unlocking all of this potential from Africa and harnessing it with the rest of the world will depend upon effective communication and an understanding of the challenges the region faces. I hope that today’s discussions will serve this agenda.
Ladies and gentlemen, today we are going to hear from a number of distinguished speakers, who will discuss their specific industries.