OBG talks to Sindiso Ngwenya, Secretary-General, Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa (COMESA)

Sindiso Ngwenya, Secretary-General, Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa (COMESA)

Interview: Sindiso Ngwenya

How can enhanced commercial links between COMESA countries and Dubai have a broader impact on their respective regions?

SINDISO NGWENYA: Dubai is playing an ever more important role in bridging the African continent with the world. As such, enhanced investment partnerships between Dubai and COMESA are delivering tangible prospects for economic growth across Africa. With 650 flights a week between Dubai and Africa, the emirate’s unparalleled connectivity is delivering global ideas, capital and expertise to COMESA countries. Trade between COMESA countries and Dubai has almost tripled since 2011, a relationship which is having an appreciable impact on both the economic development of Africa and the wider GCC. In addition, the role played by the Dubai Financial Services Authority and Dubai Gold and Commodity Exchange is proving an important one. Increasingly, they are playing an intermediary role, providing both stability and transparency to major transactions. For Africa, this relationship means increased investment and access to global markets, while Dubai and the GCC can benefit from increased trade and access to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

To what extent will a tripartite free trade area agreement that COMESA will sign in 2014 leverage Dubai’s status as a regional trading centre?

NGWENYA: The harmonisation of trade policy between COMESA, the South African Development Community and East African Community countries will have an appreciable impact on economic development in Africa. Through an improved investment environment, the region will be able to harness new opportunities emerging from important global trading and investment centres like Dubai. However, developing an attractive policy framework will only be the first step in leveraging new business opportunities from the Gulf. We must also be mindful of nurturing a greater understanding of the investment environment in Africa by developing awareness and interpersonal relations among the region’s respective business communities. Above all, investors will always look at the numbers behind a potential opportunity. In this regard, there are significant opportunities for high-yield investments in Africa.

What is being done to foster investment in Southern and Eastern Africa by UAE-based companies?

NGWENYA: COMESA’s permanent interest and agenda is concerned with economic growth and development. Gone are the days of the Cold War, when Africa had to choose between East and West. Now we are guided by rational investment choices, informed by our objectives of growth and development. For that reason, investors in the UAE are attractive to COMESA members because they are pragmatic. As such, COMESA has been taking an active role in encouraging UAE-based companies to make investments in Africa. The organisation will open a new office in Dubai, in conjunction with hosting an annual investment conference in the emirate. Through these initiatives, Dubai has the potential to act not only as an investment forum for Africa’s vast economic potential, but also as a conduit for global investment in Africa.

What role can Dubai play in reducing the infrastructure deficit of COMESA countries?

NGWENYA: There is currently an annual $42bn infrastructure deficit in COMESA countries. To that end, it will be essential to encourage new partnerships and investors to plug this financing gap. Dubai can play an important role in this regard, particularly in its capacity as the GCC region’s financial centre. Some infrastructure projects will be beneficial for exclusive private sector investment, while others will require a degree of public-private participation. Furthermore, if COMESA is able to attract the participation of key players in Dubai’s finance sector, it will be a catalyst for further investment in the region. It will be vital to promote these opportunities in Dubai, so the global investment community can be made aware of Africa’s potential.

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