opinionBy Henry Bellingham
"Too long a continent perceived as holding little but poverty and famine -a different view is coming into focus: one of opportunity and success," says Henry Bellingham
As we cross the finish line of the Olympic Games we should reflect, not just on the success of our Olympians, but also on the ongoing success of London as a global business hub. Africa is rightly a part of this. Too long a continent perceived as holding little but poverty and famine -a different view is coming into focus: one of opportunity and success. I have seen this in London over the past two weeks, not least when meeting members of African Diasporas and African companies keen to make the most of our wonderful Games to do business.
The Olympics have - more so than ever in this world city - brought Africa to London. And the continent is showcasing what it has to offer. Africa followers are already aware of its latent potential - its growth rate of 4.7 percent in 2011 clearly outstrips the European market. Our competitors have noticed the potential - China, India, Turkey, Brazil have all upped their game. The UK has too, but we need to make sure we are not left behind.
To the cynics, I say that African success is more than a blip. By 2050 nearly 1 in 4 of the world's population will be African. Nearly a quarter of the world's total land area is in Africa, with some 60 percent of the world's uncultivated cropland. The continent is already the world's top producer of many mineral commodities, with more than 10 percent of proven global crude oil reserves, and gas reserves of a similar level. The continent is leapfrogging much of the developed world in technology and is now one of the fastest growing telecoms markets globally. In the last 30 years economic growth has tripled Africa's middle classes, with all the new consumer power this ignites.
These developments will move some African countries from aid dependency to middle-income status. Ghana has already started those discussions with the World Bank and others. We are right to work with Africa to support capacity building, to create the right institutional framework to encourage investment and new jobs. Africa too has accepted the challenge. In January this year, the African Union signed up to a continental free trade area by 2017.
Africa has grasped the baton of the Olympics to promote itself. Last week I welcomed President Kibaki of Kenya and 11 of his Ministers to London. They took over Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor. To a packed business audience they showcased bankable projects from their development blueprint "Kenya Vision 2030". The UK is already the largest investor in Kenya, but we can do even better. And if the Olympics do go to Nairobi in 2024 as Prime Minister Odinga has suggested, British companies have shown what they can do in delivering world class infrastructure.
Nigeria was also in London in force. On its current trajectory Nigeria is set to become the largest economy on the continent in just a few years. At their High Level Business and Investment Summit I spoke about our joint commitment to double bilateral trade, and called for partnership in realising the immense opportunities. Their new Petroleum Industry Bill is critical. With the right investor-friendly legislation, the Nigerian economy will flourish, to the benefit of all Nigerians.
The President of Cote d'Ivoire was also in town. Before a 10 year conflict the country was the second largest economy in West Africa. They are determined to regain that status. We need to listen. Why? It is a country with a predicted growth rate of 8.3 percent in 2012. With the European and other historical UK export destinations headlining flat growth, it is these less-travelled markets we have to target if the UK economy is to grow. That is why I recently re-opened the British embassy in the capital, Abidjan, and why we are opening up in 5 new embassies in Africa to support more British business. It is why I take UK trade delegations focused on key sectors with me on many of my African trips.
African and UK athletes have won gold in London. But the prize for Africa and the UK is even bigger. It is win-win through partnership and growth.