Describing himself as “the most senior elected Brit in Brussels” and speaking ahead of 29 March when he and the UK’s 72 other MEPs were set to relinquish their mandate in the European Parliament, Syed Kamall is keen to speak about matters other than Europe. 

Kamall’s right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists Party (ECR) – the third-largest group in the European Parliament – is joining other groups promoting economic advancement in Africa, and it held its own 2019 Africa Summit in Brussels in January, at which Kamall spoke. Other speakers included representatives from the right-wing Heritage Foundation in the US and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

There are strong reasons for Europe to focus on African development. Stemming the flow of migration is one, as economic development in Africa should help create economic and employment opportunities that should in turn ease the burden of migration from the continent to Europe. 

According to a Brookings Institution report from 2019 (Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent in 2019), only 100m of the 450m Africans set to reach working age by 2035 are likely to find decent work if current economic and employment trends continue. And the Pew Research Center estimates there were 970,000 asylum applications from sub-Saharan African nations to European countries from 2010-17. Africa’s 2017 GDP of €1.95trn was less than a tenth of Europe’s €22.9trn. 

Yet there is more than one way of looking at Africa. One image is of rigged elections, corruption, conflicts and poverty. Another is of sectors vibrant with economic growth. A third perspective is that of political influence.


  • European Conservatives and Reformists Group co-chair
  • Leader of the UK Conservative Party in European Parliament 2013-14
  • Born in London, 1967
  • Studied London School of Economics
  • PhD, City University, London
  • Represented London as MEP 2005-19

syed kamall

Africa has featured highly in global politics, with the 2017 EU-Africa summit and the focus on Africa of the G20 summit of the same year, and the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, where China’s President Xi Jinping announced $60bn (€53bn) in financial support to Africa. US President Donald Trump’s Africa Strategy, announced last year, is intended to be a counterweight to China’s designs on the continent and recognises the importance of African prosperity to US security.

Growing European interest in African economic development also featured in EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address in September, which outlined a proposal to deepen the EU’s economic and trade relationship with Africa through investment and job creation. 

This is via a new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs plan to boost trade and improve the business climate. A Commission paper on the initiative reports that the EU is Africa’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 36% of Africa’s trade in goods, worth €243.5bn in 2017 – ahead of China at €107bn and the US at €44.2bn.

In 2017 the African Development Bank described Africa as the world’s second-fastest growing economy, with 2018 growth expected to be 4.3%. And according to the Brookings Institution’s 2019 report, over 400 African companies earn annual revenues over $1bn.

Kamall sees institutions’ growing interest as evidence that “there is a realisation you can no longer talk about Africa in the old way”, by which he means development aid. 

“Many African countries are experiencing economic growth on an unprecedented scale. Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana were amongst the fastest growing economies in the world in 2017. Issues such as investing, lending and increasing growth and banking capital are high on the political agenda in African nations.”

Kamall continues: “I’ve seen, in any major town or city, bustling marketplaces with plenty of entrepreneurs. The challenge now is how you turn their short-term profit into long-term capital. The entrepreneur is faced with the problem, ‘if I earn some money and put it in a bank, will it be there tomorrow? Or, if I buy some land, how can I be guaranteed that the land will be there for me in the future? Or will some government have taken it away?’.” 

While Kamall warns of poor governance and the need to reduce corruption, he highlights large-scale investments. For example, in 2017 Siemens agreed with Uganda and Sudan to co-operate in the areas of power supply, industry, transportation and healthcare. 

Kamall says growing trade means “clearly there are opportunities” but he adds that when one invests it is not only money that is involved. “It is also knowledge and materials which have to be part of the deal.” Investors have to “look at which countries they feel comfortable in” but he notes that risk can also be reduced by investing alongside a development bank, which can provide a risk guarantee. 

There is no shortage of global organisations seeking to promote Africa. The Washington-based Emerging Market Private Equity Association brings together over 300 global firms – including institutional investors, fund managers and industry advisers – managing more than $5trn in assets. 

Among recent examples of investments from its members are the Africa-focused private-equity fund manager, Helios Investment Partners, and global investment firm Gemcorp Capital, which have reportedly invested $116m in the Gambia-based telecommunications company, Africell.

Another example is AP Moller Capital’s Africa Infrastructure fund. It is the fund management affiliate of global shipping and industrials group AP Moller-Maersk, and has achieved $865m in capital commitments.

The Brussels-based European Business Council for Africa represents 4,000 European companies working in Africa. Others include the Emerging Market Private Equity Association, the Hans

Seidel Stiftung, Conseil français des investisseurs en Afrique, and Invest Africa. Even the EU’s Committee of the Regions plays a role, recently giving an award for entrepreneurship to a textile firm in Libya. 

We regret that Jeremy Woolfe, the writer of this article, sadly died immediately before publicatio