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The Africa Global Business Forum was convened by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce in association with Comesa Regional Investment Agency under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, the Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Dubbed “Dubai-Comesa: Bridging the Continent to the World,” the event sought to explore the opportunities Africa offers the investor and showcase what Dubai can offer the continent in general, but Comesa countries in particular.
As organisation goes, Dubai put on a show of maturity and poise. Hosting an event with 3,000 participants with seamless ease reaffirmed the logistical genius that has belied the miracle in the desert that the city state is.
The infrastructural revolution attained over three decades and the ever evolving futurism in plan and action was as much on display as the logistical evolution attested by statistics. Dubai Mall was visited by 65 million people last year. Emirates Airlines has 26 flights to Africa daily.
As speeches go, a dialogue between Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese ICT billionaire philanthropist, and Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana, hit a high point rarely witnessed in a frank exchange between well-wired African thinkers before an international audience.
The eloquent elegance of two African lady ministers – Ammelia Kyambadde of Uganda and Hannah Tetteh of Ghana – served very well to show that we have no scarcity of leaders with an idea of where we should be going.
Yet throughout the exciting event, I had a growing sense of discomfort. Even with high level dialogue and encouraging evidence of growing Middle East attention to African emerging markets, I continued feeling something remained amiss.
Of course the easiest bit was the Kenyan in me feeling we are too consumed by domestic politics that our official profile on the international scene is hurting.
Seeing how Uganda rolled out a team led by their prime minister and most examples of promising investment destinations were highlighting countries other than my own fed into this more superficial sense of incomplete presence.
At the more fundamental level, I kept wondering how Dubai could be the bridge between Africa and the world. Banners loudly calling the city the gateway to Africa only added to this wondering.
As geography goes, gateways are usually entry points physically on the continent to be entered. Yet Dubai has become a gateway to at least eastern Africa. How has a seaport city 3,000 kilometres away become the gateway to Africa?
How do we explain that second-hand cars from Japan primarily destined for East Africa detour to Dubai before being re-exported to Mombasa, adding an avoidable 5,000 sea miles to their route?
We all know that some merchandise is debulked in Dubai because of the retail importers who cannot master the logistics and resources for full consignments. It is also a poorly kept secret that many Kenyan importers like the informal routings of imports through Dubai to Eldoret airport where evading import duty seems an accepted practice.
Methinks Dubai has feasted on an African malady. For decades African thinkers and leaders have shared the view of Dubai that the future is in services.
That rapid movement of goods and services are major pillars of the emerging global order. But while UAE has demonstrated how to move from idea gestation to project implementation, much of Africa remains at the level of superfluous promises.
Most governments in maritime Africa remain wedded to declarations about establishing efficient logistical bases for intermodal transport corridors. Dubai sees the promise but takes purposeful action to fill the void.
So it was at the gateway conference. We have the youngest population in the world. We have the largest reserve of natural resources. We have the largest rivers of clean water.
We have identified policy areas needing fast action. We promise to be the continent of the new millennium. Very sound facts these; and very reasonable direction for policy. But more than a decade since we started saying these nice things, we still surrender and squander opportunities to distant lands.
The insatiable appetites of political leaders for personal gain overshadow the opportunities we have to turn promise into gain. That is the only reason why Dubai is ahead of Mombasa as a gateway to Africa.
PARASTATAL heads who signed the Mombasa port community charter risk being sacked if their agencies do not deliver on the contents of the new entity. The charter signed between the government and the private sector aims at improving the movement of cargo from the port into hinterland