Business & Economy

Making A Clamour On The International Stage

  • PublishedJuly 19, 2012

Despite its tiny size and a population of only 1.3m, Mauritius is hardly ever out of the news when it comes to finding innovative solutions to its needs. In this it has a great deal in common with another small island nation on the other side of the Indian Ocean, Singapore.

In my last editorial, I waxed very enthusiastically about Singapore following my trip there but all descriptions of that country pale against the reality of the place. Now Singapore is taking a very active interest in Africa and wants to position itself as the bridge between Africa and Asia.

This has, to some extent, sent the alarm bell ringing in other ‘gateway to Africa countries’ such as South Africa and Mauritius. It was therefore very encouraging to find that Mauritius has taken the bull by the horns and has now embarked on a vigorous programme of selling the island nation to the world as the preferred investment destination.

Mauritius has discovered that in the fierce dogfight for investments, those that hide their light under bushels simply disappear from the scene. You have to be seen, to be heard and to make a cogent and powerful appeal to all out there if you hope to win some of the investment funds sloshing around the globe.

Last month, (June), the Mauritius Board of Investment held an invitation-only workshop in London with the bold, if challenging title: Mauritius, Your Business Passport to Africa. Those invited included executives of British companies that have Africa on their horizons or plan to expand their operations.

The premise was straightforward: the business and investment climate has never been better in Africa than it is now; in fact, Africa offers the best returns of any region in the world and this trend, as speaker after speaker informed us, is set to continue for the next decade and a half. Now is the time to get into Africa or see the door slammed shut in your face further along the line.

But Africa is vast, diverse and has a number of pitfalls for the unwary investor. The solution? Register your company in Mauritius where legislation will guarantee the security of your investments and a phalanx of qualified professionals will see your projects sailing blissfully along. This new impetus to propel Mauritius centre-stage in the global marketplace is largely driven by Xavier-Luc Duval, the country’s young Finance Minister (and also Vice-Premier).

He pointed out that most foreigners tended to view Mauritius only as a holiday destination. “However,” he said, “tourism only forms 8% of our GDP – compared to 30% for the Maldives and 18% for Seychelles.” Instead, manufacturing, ICT, business outsourcing (BO), logistics and shipping, agriculture and fisheries account for the bulk of the national income.

He said that there were 110 accountants for every 100,000 population, more than the ratio in the UK or the US, as an example of the wealth of business professionals available on the island. Double-taxation avoidance treaties had been signed with 14 African countries and a further eight would be added to the list in the near future. Legislation on investment and land titles was watertight.

The message that came through was clear enough – investing in Europe or the US at this point in time must qualify as dangerously reckless; instead Africa, properly approached, was brimming with profit. And a proper approach to Africa was via Mauritius.

Surprising fact

It was therefore interesting to listen to the response from Henry Bellingham, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for Africa. He pointed out the surprising fact that bilateral trade between the UK and the whole of Africa amounted to around £40bn per annum while trade with the Republic of Ireland alone was £42bn! He said he was working to at least double the trade figures for Africa, implying that he expected to see a substantial increase in exports, among other matters, to Africa. In short, given the parlous state of European economies, it was becoming essential for Britain to ratchet up its trade with Africa.

This sentiment is being heard much more widely around Europe than ever before and the notion that Africa could be the saviour of some advanced economies is beginning to take root.

All this is wonderful news for the continent but it does not diminish the competition from other destinations. The old adage remains true – out of sight, out of mind. Mauritius is following the example of Singapore in making a clamour on the global stage. How many other African countries will follow its example?

Written By
Anver Versi

Award-winning journalist Anver Versi is the editor of New African magazine. He was born in Kenya and is currently based in London, UK.

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