Opinion: what Expo 2020 Dubai means to Africa

The international gathering will be a historic opportunity for Africa, and those who want to engage with this emerging continent
Making plans Marjan Faraidooni, senior vice president of Legacy Impact and Development at Expo 2020 Dubai
By Dr Tarek Oliveira Shayya
Thu 09 Nov 2017 02:32 PM

More than one-third of the 29 countries that officially signed contracts for their participation in Expo 2020 during the International Participants Meeting held in Dubai in October were from Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of all African nations have already either publicly or privately confirmed their participation. The enthusiasm of African nations underlines their understanding of the opportunities that this particular Expo provides. They realise that it demonstrates the potential for non-African nations and multinational businesses to use Expo as a platform to build their relations with a dynamic continent whose economic importance is becoming increasingly critical to the global economy.

The African opportunity

Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to Africa are expected to increase to about $65bn in 2017, from $59bn in 2016, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in June, as growing regional integration helps to improve Africa’s global competitiveness. As many nations around the world juggle stagnant GDP growth, an ageing population and a dearth of potential in traditional investment markets, they are pivoting south, where a burgeoning middle class and the youngest population in the world are helping to fuel greater investor opportunities.

Several Gulf firms are already leveraging this opportunity with multi-million dollar investments in various African states. Expo’s Premier Telecommunications Partner Etisalat operates in 12 African countries, including through its majority stake in Maroc Telecom. DP World, Expo’s Premier Global Trade Partner, is one of the biggest port operators in Africa and is constructing a $35m Kigali Logistics Centre in Rwanda. Asia has also long understood the opportunity in Africa, with China, India, Singapore and Malaysia all in the top 10 investor economies in Africa between 2010 and 2015, according to the United Nations World Investment Report.

Much of this FDI passes through the UAE in one way or another, which is already by far the most popular thoroughfare to and from Africa, both thanks to Emirates’ 20 African routes and the emirate’s strategic development as a hub for multinational corporations that operate across Africa. Expo 2020 Dubai will build on the UAE’s longstanding history as a strategic trade port on the ‘southern silk road’, which connects Europe, Asia and Africa. These are not new connections; they have been occurring for centuries. But there is more than capital to gain from using Dubai and Expo 2020 as a platform to and from Africa.

Building bridges in Dubai

Knowledge-sharing is increasingly sought, and Expo 2020, through our theme, ‘connecting minds, creating the future’, aims to facilitate this further.

Expo 2020 is the first to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, so we are approaching it from a new perspective. This will be an Expo for all developing nations, including those in Africa. For the first time, every nation will have its own pavilion, under Expo 2020’s ‘one nation, one pavilion’ policy – a key plank of our strategy to create the most inclusive and collaborative expo in the event’s 166-year history.

This policy will give each nation a platform to create their own opportunities to network, discuss, and solve problems relevant to their nation.

Through their individual pavilions, countries will be able to tell their unique story. Countries such as those in Africa will be able to move beyond tourism and culture (which have typically been how they have engaged at an Expo) to more substantive content.

This deliberate, and unique, strategy is based on our belief that collaboration and communication between all – and on an equal footing – is key to addressing global problems and advancing humanity.

The equal participation of African nations will also help to disseminate the ‘real’ story of Africa, challenging the stereotypical narrative often associated with investing in or visiting the continent.

South meets south

We are bringing together more than 200 countries, businesses and NGOs, and we anticipate 70 percent of the 25 million expected visits to be from people outside the UAE, the highest proportion in the history of World Expos.

This is an extraordinary opportunity to create enduring value. Whether it be a start-up in Africa forging a relationship with a firm from Europe that allows it to enter international markets, or nations from Latin America and Africa collaborating to solve a shared problem, Expo 2020 will be designed to facilitate such connections, physically and virtually.

Expo 2020 understands that there is momentum building across Africa, and the potential for home-grown innovation and South-South collaboration.

Our social impact programme, Expo Live, is already demonstrating this, with 13 of the 45 grants made in the first two rounds of the Innovation Impact Grant Programme made to start-ups that specifically operate in Africa. These are innovators that have proven to have a positive impact on society, the environment, or both.

As well as a financial grant, the recipients receive business support to help them potentially take their solutions across the world.

We hope to see more African innovators included in future rounds of the programme. Africa is rising fast and Expo 2020 Dubai is set to play an invaluable role in this story.

Dr Tarek Oliveira Shayya, Board Director and Chief International Participants

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