Gulf investors seeking opportunities for trade and investment in Africa should set their sights on the food agriculture industry and gold mining in Mali, according to the country’s former prime minister, Dr Cheick Modibo Diarra.
His comments came as around 400 members of the Gulf and global investment community gathered to discuss the opportunities for trade and investment in Africa at the ALN Annual International Conference in Dubai on Wednesday.
“The Gulf should focus on two things: one is agriculture. Right now Africa is probably the place on the globe that has the most arable land still available, and as the population of the world grows feed is going to become more of a problem,” Diarra, the chairman of ALN said during an interview on the sidelines of the conference.
Gulf investors have traditionally focused on East Africa, in the gold and hospitality sectors, he said. But as society becomes more sophisticated there is a burgeoning demand for bio and organic produce that can be sourced from the continent he explained.
“So the people in the Gulf by teaming up with people in Africa can take the lead in the all the production of food in the bio form, which is now becoming a bigger and bigger market in the US, and of course the world,” Diarra said.
Investors from the Gulf should also continue on their track of gold investments, and refocus their sights on Mali’s abundant gold mines which are second in the world for gold production, he said.
“I know that most of the gold that is extracted in the world transits through Dubai, and it is a big business,” he said.
“So why not go and invest in the mining business of gold in Mali.”
In his address Minister for Culture, Youth and Social Development, Sheikh Nahyan highlighted the importance of promoting trade and investments between Africa and the Gulf region.
He said cooperation and collaboration among governments and private investors can propel African development to another level and help Africans realise their full potential.
“For most investors, acquiring first-hand knowledge of the African continent can be both costly and time-consuming. ALN is to be commended for bridging this gap by providing investors with detailed insights and local expertise,” Sheikh Nahyan said.
The 54 countries in Africa present a “tremendous” unrealized potential to investors in the Gulf, he said.
“When you consider the rich natural resources the vast arable land, the large and growing population, and combine this with the great interest and entire participation in the global economy you realise that there are important opportunities waiting to be developed and explored,” Sheikh Nahyan said.
In a keynote speech, former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, said the conference would seek to answer the question of ‘How to make Africa work’ more effectively, the theme of his new book ‘Making Africa Work.’
He said infrastructure, manufacturing, energy, governance, democracy and development were among the things needed for investment and business to flourish on the continent.
“We have seen that democracy and development make great bedfellows. If you are going to maintain consistency, continuity and sustainability then democracy is what you have, not dictatorship,” he said.
Karim Anjarwalla, managing partner of event organiser Anjawalla and Khanna, said that boosting engagement between public and private sectors in would be detrimental to solving some the problems faced by Gulf investors.
“How can business impactfully deal with government to create change that allows a better business environment?” was a key question that would be addressed, he said.
During the conference, delegates from Zambia’s Commercial Court signed a Memorandum of Guidance (MoG) with the UAE’s DIFC Courts to boost confidence in investors seeking opportunities in Zambia and the UAE.
As trade and investment between the UAE and Zambia’s thrives, so too does the number of contracts and legal disputes, officials said during the signing.
Chief Justice of DIFC Courts Michael Hwang said the MoG will clarify the procedures for how courts will interpret each other’s legal disputes.
“Today’s agreement will give additional confidence to businesses operating in the IAE and Zambia should a contractual dispute arise.
“I hope this will mark the beginning of a strong relationship with the high court of Zambia as our two courts work together to discuss an increasing number of businesses operating between the UAE and Zambia.
Held by an alliance of regional law firms, the African Leadership Network, the conference seeks to answer questions on the future of the continent and the opportunities and challenges of doing business there.