“There are very few government cabinets in Africa that don’t include a Scottish educated minister and hundreds of Scottish educated business people in prominent roles and as business leaders” - Frazer Lang, 2021.
As industries begin to recover from the pandemic, Scottish Africa Business Association (SABA) founder and CEO, Frazer Lang believes that leveraging Scotland’s world-class reputation for higher education is key to unlocking exciting business opportunities in Africa.
“Scottish education is seen as a really premium qualification. In Africa’s case, there are some further historical links such as generations of Africans getting their education from Scottish missionaries that were prominent across the continent as well as Scottish universities being some of the first in the world to welcome students from Africa in the 19th century.”
Scotland’s contemporary academic relationships with Africa have been maintained through maritime trading colleges and university agricultural projects, enabling Scottish funding and African academics to pursue common goals. You only need to look at the relationship between the maritime trading colleges in Glasgow with the Bandari Maritime College in Mombasa, Kenya to see how these relationships can foster growth in a skilled and qualified workforce.
The future is Africa
With a median age of 20, there’s raw entrepreneurial energy in Africa. Countries like Rwanda and South Africa, much like Scotland, are becoming hubs for innovation in fintech, healthcare, renewables and telecommunications. Despite the fall in oil prices, private equity investment in Africa is on the rise and has grown significantly in the last two decades.
According to the IMF, Africa has some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. In 2020, tech firm Google continued its $47 billion investment to improve Africa’s connectivity with high-speed undersea cables, enabling Europe to connect with the region's emerging markets.
“Africa has the fastest-growing population on the planet, '' explains Frazer. “It has the biggest economic growth rates of anywhere else. It has a massive pool of untapped talent and a rapidly growing middle class with spending power. Things are changing fast though. These developing markets will not take long to become developed and we will then find ourselves up against the same competition we are in with the rest of the world.”
How Scotland is making investing in Africa possible
Working with Frazer to bridge the trade and investment gap between Scotland and the continent, Africa Legal's CEO, Scott Cowan, says their passion is about expanding Africa's footprint into Scotland and vice versa.
“Africa is a continent full of opportunities from raw minerals through to technological advances. With an average age of just 20 across the continent, the youngest population in the world is keen to consume international experience and education. Working with the legal profession gives us access to the majority of African companies looking at trading across the globe, and Scotland’s businesses will have access to relevant business partners through the Africa Legal community.”
As global investors continue to eye the continent with interest, Frazer adds that SABA’s extensive government and business networks help mitigate risks for Scottish businesses.
“We work with and have experts within our network who can assist in all areas and give authoritative advice. As an organisation, we accept that it can be a daunting place to do business but there are plenty of ways to mitigate risk, be it using trusted local partners, putting in that extra bit of groundwork, establishing how you move money and repatriate profits before you start a business. For most businesses, the ROI is better than anywhere else and worth the extra front-end work.”
Upskilling as a gateway to opportunities
In terms of initiatives, SABA hosts regular meetings with ministers and business leaders across the continent to promote Scottish expertise in various sectors, particularly education, skills training, agriculture, energy, maritime and healthcare.
“There is a growing professional services community building across the continent and having access to it enables the Scottish Government, educational facilities and businesses the opportunity to actively upskill and train the workforce... There has to be a fundamental investment through education and good business practice to ensure the future trading between African countries and the rest of the world is transparent” says Scott.
Traditional UK partner countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Morocco and Egypt still offer the largest opportunities but there’s a new crop of countries such as Rwanda, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Tunisia that are starting to develop an appetite for engagement with Scotland.
“I think universities and colleges do a very good job at amplifying the potential of the Scotland- Africa relationships, '' explains Frazer. “We would like to work with them more to engage alumni and harness this relationship and increase trade. That in turn, I believe, gives Scots, and Scottish companies an advantage when it comes to doing business on the continent. I remember clearly the CEO of a national oil company saying, without prompting, that he naturally gravitates towards the Scots when he is doing business as dealing with Scots makes him feel secure. We have a reputation for being tough but honest, a good combination in Africa!”