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Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO of DP World Group, at the Global Business Forum Africa in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Africa has more growth and potential than any other market globally, and Dubai’s long-term infrastructure investments in the continent have laid the foundation for significant economic partnerships between UAE businesses and their African counterparts, Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO of DP World Group, said at the Global Business Forum Africa in Dubai.

“Africa has something that others don’t have – Africa has a growth more than any other potential market we have seen,” Bin Sulayem said during a session at the Global Business Forum Africa titled Partnerships for Prosperity. “DP World has long maintained a strong presence in Africa and adapted its ports and free zone model successfully in markets across the continent,” he said.

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO of DP World Group Anas Thacharpadikkal

Partnership with UK’s CDC

His comments came a day after the Dubai ports giant and UK’s development finance agency CDC Group announced plans to jointly invest up to $1.72 billion in logistics infrastructure in Africa over the next several years. The investments will initially focus on expanding ports operated by DP World in Egypt’s Ain Sokhna, Senegal’s Dakar and Berbera in Somaliland, CDC said. DP Word has committed to investing $1 billion over the next several years as part of the deal.

Highlighting the agreement, Bin Sulayem told the Forum that the investment plan not only reflected DP World and Dubai’s commitment to Africa but was also a vote of confidence in the continent. “This is their largest investment in 72 years and will open doors for many more countries to benefit from the investments. DP World has always been very passionate about Africa, and this will help the continent’s infrastructure growth,” he said.

Organised by Dubai Chamber, Global Business Forum Africa 2021 focused on conversations around the three pillars of Reset, Restore and Renew – taking a closer look at policy and regulatory reforms, models for innovative, sustainable trade and technology, the resilience of Africa, workforce challenges and the role of government in providing an enabling environment for business.

Critical role of ports and free zones

Bin Sulayem, also the Chairman of the Ports, Customs & Free Zone Corporation, highlighted the important roles of ports and free zones in facilitating economic growth. African countries can look to Dubai as a leading example of an economy that is reaping benefits from the significant investments it made over the decades in creating logistics infrastructure and business parks, he said.

"In Dubai, we are very optimistic about building the best relations with African countries, but what Africa needs today is transparency, governance and the provision of transportation networks to encourage the private sector, spur investments and make profits,” Bin Sulayem said. The mechanisms for achieving prosperity, he said, require African countries to work to provide opportunities for business success by enacting legislation and policies, in addition to providing logistical services, finance and infrastructure to enable businesses in the continent to attract major investments.

“Many countries insist on building new ports. [But] unless there is cargo, nobody is going to use the port. The big creator of jobs is industrial parks and free zones,” Bin Sulayem said.

DP World’s investment in Senegal

He cited the deep-water port in Senegal’s Ndayane as a successful example of DP World exporting the success it has seen in Dubai to the African country by creating a seamless transition between port, airport, and logistics.

“We are replicating what is in Dubai today in other countries,” Bin Sulayem said. Describing Senegal as a “fantastic country with a great government, highly educated people and pro-business attitude”, he said that DP World is investing €800 million in a port and an industrial park, and that the operator’s 600 hectares has been matched by another 600 hectares by President Macky Sall’s government.

“Where you are today [the Expo 2020 site, close to Dubai World Central airport and Jebel Ali Free Zone] is the best combination of seamless connection between a port, logistics and airport. We are doing the same in Senegal,” Sulayem told the Forum.

Bin Sulayem pointed out that challenges remain within Africa’s industrial sector and the capabilities of young people must be developed. "We are carrying out programmes to educate young people, involve them and refine their capabilities – this is part of our societal responsibilities in Africa. In the coming months, Dubai Ports will reach about 100,000 young people in Africa with specific programmes to qualify them to be active in contributing to business development and to growing the economies of their countries," he added.