The next big idea: Africa learns about Europe again

Thursday January 23 2020


By Karoli Ssemogerere

This week, newly elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the British government hosted in London a meeting with a number of heads of state from English speaking Commonwealth countries.
The meeting was a scaled down version of the much bigger meetings that China hosts halfway across the globe. China’s big infrastructure summit in 2018 had a price tag of $55 billion. The United Kingdom (UK) event was just Euros 7 billion.

Middle income countries such as South Africa, with the continent’s second largest economy simply skipped the event. President Muhammad Buhari of Nigeria attended but he also regularly visits the UK for medical attention. Tanzania’s John Magufuli in the throes of a big re-election campaign this year also stayed away. It’s difficult to pinpoint the success of a major idea without Tanzania’s participation.

At the heart of the meeting were a group of African strongmen in power for more than a generation. There were also fresh faces from the Conservative (Tory) or the sons and daughters of colonists and their workers.

In the UK, two of the four great offices of state (Home Affairs and Chancellor of the Exchequer) are occupied by children of Indian immigrants. It’s fascinating that the UK Border Agency has at its helm foreigners themselves policing each other.

Travellers to British airports are astounded that immigration counters are manned by British Asians and so do travellers to the United States at clerks who speak a Hispanic laced version of American English. Britain is making a big leap for opportunities to jump into Africa but Africa has been drying up on its own for years. Africa is thirsty, hungry and ambitious as the world’s future market.

The Chinese after studying the vagaries of the African tax code have chosen to set up manufacturing operations in the Africa to shelter themselves from custom duties. Smarter Chinese have put their brains behind Africa’s automotive industry, a long overdue idea but which may crash by relying on aging battery cell technology to fund initiatives like the electric car.


The African leaders in London have made some progress in the past 25 years, they are not under imminent threat of being wiped out a legacy of Africa’s chaotic fights and plunder of its natural resources.

The African epicentre was represented by Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda even though it missed Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan that are sitting on the world’s largest precious stones, oil, gas, hydro resources. CAR is one country where official highways in the north of the country like Ndele can only be reached after 40-50 km boda ride.

The Africans in London have not arrived with freshly packed fruits and vegetables for the ready to eat market but with lots of per diem to spend.

We are not exporting equipment to the UK probably that is not even necessary. The population of the UK after hitting 60 million in this decade is going to shrink a mix of aging and younger people choosing to live in warmer climates.

Already a significant of Britons maintain a second residence in warmer countries like Spain and Italy. The Africans may even have missed a chance to sell inter-generational digital connections between their much bigger younger populations and the shrinking iPhone population in the West.

African markets while subtle and low denomination are growing rapidly. Favoured by the rise in higher education, the African leaders may soon wake up their need to start spending younger leaders who understand this digital switch.

Some of the richer members of Uganda’s delegation like Foreign Minister Sam Kuteesa who have been successful in selling digital convenience in the telecom and media sector should have a clue about this.

The struggle companies like Tullow Oil which has for the second time in recent months revised downwards its oil and gas holdings, writing down its assets based on oil may be starting to understand this. Produce in Africa, sell in Africa.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.