Africa Strategy: A Mere Slogan?

We have to move beyond the traditional trade fairs and road shows. Our industry associations should make greater use of economic diplomacy to open new markets

By Rattan Khushiram

The Africa Strategy was supposed to be another core element of the Economic Mission Statement (EMS) to transform Mauritius into a regional platform for trade, investment and services. This would be achieved through enhanced economic exchanges and improved air and sea connectivity, with the eventual creation of both a regional air and shipping company.

Mauritius aims to become an essential service node in the variety of network flows of the Indian Ocean Rim countries and a conduit to investments bound to and from Asian countries and a gateway for Africa to the rest of the world. Investors will benefit from Mauritius’ duty-free access to COMESA and SADC, the large number of tax and investment treaties with many African countries, a well-diversified financial services sector and the ease of doing business that Mauritius offers.

Most of the projects announced since 2015 have not been realized – the 40 hectares of land provided by the Senegal government, an Africa Fund of Rs 500 million, the creation of a 400-hectare industrial zone bordering the port of Ehoala in Fort-Dauphin, Madagascar, the creation of special economic zones with Senegal and Ghana and the development of a technopole in Ghana, government-to-government agreements with Togo and Burkina Faso for Mauritian ICT companies with a view to establishing a commercial presence to recruit and train local resources for software/application development and supply to regional and export markets…

Amédée Darga, director of Straconsult ABDS (Africa Business Development Service) thinks that our whole Africa Strategy lacks a coherent, rational and more targeted approach especially in the growth triangles like Mozambique, Kenya and Madagascar. We are dispersing our energies uselessly in regions/countries that will not be of any great advantage to us; he believes that Mauritius needs to focus, at least on investments, and trade in products in the region where we are better anchored. There are many more opportunities in the region that can support business as well the country’s growth.

Indeed, there is a great opportunity for stepping up trade. We have to move beyond the traditional trade fairs and road shows. Our industry associations should make greater use of economic diplomacy to open new markets, work to build platforms in the region to develop strategic partnerships, set up more trading posts and aim at becoming increasingly integrated into the regional production chains. Many of the economies of Southern and East Africa and the IOR-ARC offer tremendous scope as a base to tap third-country markets in the region. A more strategic and targeted approach may produce better results.

We have to continually revisit these regional policies guided by new insights for new directions in light of recent policy developments to achieve the long term strategic vision of the nation. For example, the proposal in past budgets of setting up Trading Houses in COMESA and SADC regions which “would provide a shop front, warehousing facilities, marketing services, selling bulk and breaking bulk and taking orders for Mauritian products” and the pursuit of economic diplomacy by our embassies will have to be re-examined. Export market information requires urgent attention.

Our institutions will have to think more globally in international relations, marketing and investment options and secure trade offices in key markets by being based in the Mauritian missions abroad. This will enable global knowledge acquisition-acquiring crucial market knowledge, finding the right people, firms and institutions and building the contacts for insightful information and leads. It will also influence the ways our business sells and markets our brands, builds relationships, secures resources and negotiates the best deals and partnerships for our industrial and SME sectors.

Mauritius will thus need to steer the changes in a direction that will be advantageous to its growth and development but only if it has a properly tuned and consistent new trade, regional and global strategy which is part and parcel of our responses to the global and regional challenges and new developments.

* Published in print edition on 26 April 2019

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