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​Unlocking our business potential with Africa is a must

HOPEFUL: Helen Grant MP

WHEN OUR new Prime Minister enters the famous black door of Number 10 Downing Street, the in-tray that awaits upon the leathered desk of state will be challenging, to say the least.

A huge domestic agenda, daunting matters of foreign policy, and of course, Brexit.
Leaving the European Union is not simply about facilitating our technical withdrawal though; it’s about resetting the UK’s relationship with our friends and allies across the globe.

And to truly make the most of the opportunities presented by Brexit, we must put rocket boosters under our trading and diplomatic relationships with nations beyond the confines of Europe.
Africa is truly a continent of opportunity; rich in natural and human resources, with a mature professional class and constantly improving governance. So much of the business and trade potential on that vast continent is, however, currently untapped.

The numbers speak for themselves; Africa boasts 16% of the world’s population but only 3% of global foreign direct investment and 3% of global trade in goods - yet they are open for business and hungry for engagement.

I witnessed the fever for commerce personally when I led a trade mission to Nigeria in 2017 and we were welcomed with open arms by senior government ministers and business leaders.

Reports confirm that African countries are moving toward global commercial engagement on a massive scale; According to the World Bank, of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world in 2018, six were in Africa, with Ghana at the top of the world ranking. Further, in the World Bank’s 2019 ‘Doing Business’ index, five of the 10 most improved countries are in Africa and one third of all reforms recorded globally were in sub-Saharan Africa’.

Presently we stand fourth in the league of foreign direct investment into Africa, behind savvy EU members France and the Netherlands, and then the USA.

Clearly there is room for us to move up these rankings and with vast markets available to UK exporters, now is the time to grow. Some of the most fruitful sectors include IT and comms technology, private education and training, agriculture and manufacturing – all things we are so very good at.

My aforementioned visit to Nigeria in 2017 is testament to the opportunities. According to business intermediaries Africa House London Ltd., who organised the trip, the mission has so far produced some $600m worth of joint ventures with local partners on industrial aquaculture, technical vocational training programs, road construction technology, environmental sustainability and plastics recycling - with other projects on the way.

By investing in Africa, the UK is also playing its part in the global International Development agenda that is so important for security, stability and prosperity.

To that end another opportunity arose from the 2017 visit that conjoins commerce and constitutional challenges, creating a unique opportunity.

I was approached by a state Governor and Attorney General about setting up a judicial training programme for their lower tier (Magistrates) courts and the court staff.

Accordingly, I approached the excellent judicial college in London and their ensuing scoping visit this year revealed many needs.

Magistrates currently have no specific training. When they are appointed, they ‘sit in’ for three months with an experienced Magistrate, who then ‘signs them off’ as fit to sit alone.
These judges can mete out sentences of up to 6 years (and much longer in certain child rights cases)!

It was also reported that in certain courts a massive 80% of cases that are appealed are successful, largely on the grounds that the judge did not comply with the procedural code.
To help address these challenges a pilot project is starting in August that is already generating great interest from other Nigerian States and may well cascade into other sub-Saharan countries with English Law as their base.

A sustainable programme of Judicial training will help deliver improved governance and reinforcement of the rule of law. That, in turn, will impact upon access to justice, corruption and human trafficking.

A successful roll-out could also generate healthy services revenue for the UK, but the underlying benefits of improving UK business confidence in African countries will be one of the keys to realising huge future prosperity for Britain.

Unlocking our business potential with Africa is a post-Brexit ‘must do’ and therefore I urge our new PM to remove it from the in-tray and put it on his priority list please.

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