Opentalk: Dubai-Africa, A new era of growth and prosperity with His Excellency Hamad Buamim

Dubai sits at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. To say that this is a strategic location would be a major understatement. This city is an incredible story of entrepreneurial success and has become an inspiration for African countries and other developing nations across the globe.

In anticipation of the 2019 edition of the Global Business Forum Africa in Dubai (GBF Africa), FurtherAfrica had the privilege of talking to the man leading an institution that plays a fundamental role in supporting the development of Dubai’s business community. His Excellency Hamad Buamim, President and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been at the helm of the non-profit public organisation since 2006. International expansion is a major focus for Dubai Chamber which operates 10 representative offices around the world, including 4 in Africa.

Since it began building its presence in Africa, the number of African companies registering with Dubai Chamber has increased steadily to exceed 17,000 with these businesses contributing a great deal to the volume of Dubai-Africa trade in recent years. Under the theme, “Scale-up Africa”, GBF Africa 2019 will focus on forging connections that can lead to joint ventures and partnerships among aspiring young entrepreneurs, established businesses and governments.

Fabio Scala:
Thank you very much for your time today Your Excellency. It is an honour and a privilege to talk to you. Across the globe, chambers of commerce play a supporting role to economic development, however I can’t help to begin by expressing my admiration on how the Dubai Chamber does so much more by taking charge of initiatives such as the GBF. Could you please tell us about the mission and the role of your institution?

H.E. Hamad Buamim:
Certainly – and thank you for your kind introduction. As a brief background, Dubai Chamber was established in 1965 to be a trusted partner to Dubai’s business community. In its role it acts as a bridge between the emirate’s progressive government and its dynamic private sector. The chamber focuses on boosting business performance by encouraging innovation, facilitating international expansion and promoting entrepreneurship – all with the ultimate objective of creating a resilient and responsive knowledge-based economy that is equipped to help Dubai meet existing and future challenges.

Dubai Chamber focuses its efforts on ensuring a stimulating environment for the private sector, improving ease of doing business and enhancing economic competitiveness in line with the objectives of the Dubai Plan 2021. Through high-profile events like GBF Africa, our international offices, trade missions and other activities, we promote Dubai as a global business hub with the aim of attracting businesses and investors from around the world.

Through its extensive year-round programme of seminars, forums, presentations and networking events, Dubai Chamber works to provide the organisations and companies it represents with unequalled business opportunities. It equips them with the knowledge and tools businesses need to succeed and grow, as well as provides them with access to business opportunities in promising markets. Dubai Chamber members benefit from a wide range of value-added services and support that encompasses networking, market intelligence, business-to-business matching and smart solutions that save companies time and money. More than $27 million is currently being invested by the chamber to raise awareness about business opportunities in African markets and we have already made a great deal of progress in building bridges between the UAE and African business communities.

 

Fabio Scala:
Right, I see, so connecting with other economies is at the core of the Chamber. Could you elaborate about Dubai’s relationship with Africa?

H.E. Hamad Buamim:
Dubai has always enjoyed a strong trading relationship with Africa thanks to the emirate’s close proximity to the continent and its status as a preferred hub for African companies. In recent years, the relationship between Dubai and Africa has taken on a new direction following the 2010 instructions of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to place a stronger focus on the continent as an economic partner to Dubai and the UAE. Supporting this strategy, Dubai Chamber scaled-up efforts to increase its presence and activities within Africa and is constantly evaluating new expansion opportunities on the continent. Over the last five years, the chamber has established new platforms and channels for dialogue between public and private stakeholders, organised high-level trade missions between the UAE and African countries, launched the “Africa Gateway Portal” that provides valuable business insights into promising African markets and identified business opportunities in African countries that offer the most potential for our members.

At the centre of this strategy are Dubai Chamber’s representative offices in Africa, which are strategically located in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique. We have plans to open additional offices on the continent in the near future. Before deciding on a location for our offices, we conduct a comprehensive analysis on the challenges and opportunities associated with doing business in specific countries, as well an evaluation of their prevailing economic, political and social environments.

The importance that the UAE attaches to Africa can be gauged by the steady increase in investment flows from the UAE to the continent. Greenfield investments from the UAE to Africa doubled from $1.81 billion in 2017 to $3.93 billion in 2018, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2019. Home to many of the world’s fastest-growing economies, Africa offers tremendous business potential that has remained largely untapped. It is clear that Africa offers fertile ground for investors seeking rewarding returns in new markets, with the rapid expansion of African economies a particular attraction for startups and SMEs focused on entrepreneurial activities.

“Since the opening of the Maputo office, Dubai’s non-oil trade with Mozambique has grown to reach $408 million in 2018, while the scope of bilateral trade has broadened considerably, as the African country continued to diversify its economy”  – H.E. Hamad Buamim

Fabio Scala:
I have experienced myself the great benefits of working with Dubai, due to tax agreements with Mozambique. Speaking of which, in 2016 you opened an office in Maputo showing the commitment to the region through a time of recession. Could you share some of your strategies for Africa going forward?

H.E. Hamad Buamim:
Dubai Chamber’s decision to open an office in Maputo came at a time of heightened interest and economy recovery in the Mozambican market. The chamber recognised that the country’s investment boom, coupled with its strategic geographic location on the south-eastern coast of Africa and its extensive natural resources of coal, gas and minerals, would lead to new business opportunities,especially in the spheres of infrastructure, Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plants, power generation plants and chemical manufacturing.

Since the opening of the Maputo office, Dubai’s non-oil trade with Mozambique has grown to reach $408 million in 2018, while the scope of bilateral trade has broadened considerably, as the African country continued to diversify its economy.

Dubai Chamber is focusing its efforts on evaluating and identifying new business opportunities in Africa that UAE companies can benefit from. Through its investments, international offices and the GBF Africa platform, Dubai Chamber is aiming to capitalise on that potential and facilitate new partnerships between African and UAE companies that can lead to mutual benefits and economic growth.

Financial services, retail, logistics and travel & tourism, are among key sectors which offer the most potential for future collaboration between businesses in the UAE and their African counterparts. Several UAE companies have already established a presence in Africa and there is strong interest on the part of businesses in the UAE that are currently eyeing expansion opportunities across the continent.

The ever-expanding trade links between Africa and Dubai are positive sign that our efforts are bearing fruit. We look forward to exploring investment opportunities in new sectors and areas that UAE companies can benefit from. Going forward, we will continue to monitor economic developments and market opportunities in Africa and facilitate trade and commerce between the UAE and African companies.

Fabio Scala:
That’s very exciting. I believe we are gaining momentum in the region and Dubai is well positioned to take a leading international role – lots of opportunities, especially for young entrepreneurs. Actually that is one of the focuses of this year’s GBF, right?

H.E. Hamad Buamim:
Yes, entrepreneurship is one of the central themes of this year’s Global Business Forum on Africa (GBF Africa). The event will put the spotlight on successful startups from UAE and Africa and will share their insights and perspectives. Given the important role that startups are playing in fostering innovation, filling market gaps and reshaping the business world, we decided to devote more attention to this segment. This time around, we are introducing a new element to the GBF Africa platform in the form of the GBF Mentorship Program – a newly launched initiative that has facilitated cross-border cooperation between African entrepreneurs and their UAE counterparts. As part of the programme, five African startups and five UAE startups were selected and matched with mentors who can support them in key areas to enable them to acquire valuable expertise. At GBF Africa in November, these startups will have the opportunity to showcase their offerings and speak at the event, giving them access to a global audience. This is the first time that we have aligned the efforts of our entrepreneurship arm and the GBF series and we are excited to see what new opportunities and possibilities will be created by the initiative.

Entrepreneurship is a key pillar of Dubai Chamber’s strategy, which aims to boost competitiveness and growth within Dubai’s private sector in line with the Dubai Plan 2021. Our entrepreneurship arm, Dubai Startup Hub, organises a wide range of programmes and initiatives that empower startups and provide them with the knowledge, tools and support they need to succeed and grow. We have also forged valuable partnerships with chambers of commerce and institutions from around the world to facilitate and promote collaboration between our members and other startup communities.

Fabio Scala:
As my last question, what is message for the African entrepreneur looking to establish or to develop a business relationship with Dubai?

H.E. Hamad Buamim:
Dubai offers a wealth of advantages for African entrepreneurs seeking to establish operations in the region. These include its world-class infrastructure, state-of-the-art logistics facilities, attractive free zones, business-friendly environment and ease of access to other markets. The city is a hub connecting Africa with the Middle East, South-East Asia and the world. Dubai International Airport is the largest airline hub in the Middle East, and Jebel Ali Port its largest marine terminal.

There has never been a better time for African entrepreneurs to enter the Dubai market than the present. Connectivity between Dubai and Africa has improved greatly over the last decade and new business opportunities are opening up in the lead up to Expo 2020.

To add to that, the UAE government has recently introduced several new initiatives and measures to enhance the country’s attractiveness as a global business hub. Some of these efforts include a 10-year residency visa for investors, 5-year residency visa for entrepreneurs and 100% foreign ownership in mainland companies. The UAE already serves as a regional hub for African companies that have found success there and leveraged the country’s strategic geographic position to expand their global footprint. Given the new economic reforms and incentives, there is now more business potential in the UAE that African startups can explore, especially now that the country is actively looking to attract high-potential startups from around the world that have innovative solutions to offer.

[Article by Fabio Scala]