Monday 5 August 2019 4:17 am

British expertise can unlock investment opportunities across the world

Alok Sharma is secretary of state for international development.

Stood in a power plant in Lagos, Nigeria, I heard how UK aid has helped supply electricity to 300,000 people. It is powering street lights, schools, hospitals. It is critical to Nigerians receiving healthcare, an education, accessing jobs, and lifting themselves out of poverty. 

Last week, I travelled to Nigeria in my new role as the international development secretary to see first-hand how UK aid is changing people’s lives.  

British support is helping Nigeria move beyond aid through investing in infrastructure like the Viathan Independent Power Plant. While I was there, I took the opportunity to encourage British businesses to invest in this incredibly young, dynamic, entrepreneurial country. But currently, Nigeria’s burgeoning potential is constrained by infrastructure and barriers to private investment.

Before I entered politics, I worked in corporate finance and the City for 15 years, so I understand the value of foreign investment. 

When I was the PM’s infrastructure envoy to India, I was part of the team that helped develop the masala bond market in London. These have been a real success, enabling India to raise much-needed finance on the London Stock Exchange without assuming  the significant risk associated with borrowing in foreign currencies. 

Since they’ve been introduced, masala bonds are showing their potential to mobilise long-term funding for infrastructure in India, as well as sending a clear signal of the demand for high-quality investments within the country. Now a number of private sector development projects in India have been financed through the bonds, including the first green masala bond which is now supporting the deployment of solar energy – providing clean, renewable energy to homes and businesses across India. 

While I was in Nigeria, I discussed with vice president Osinbajo the idea of doing the same thing with a range of African currencies, such as the Nigerian naira, and creating a jollof bond – named after the well-known west African rice dish. He was enthusiastic about the opportunity for these bonds to support Nigeria’s growth and infrastructure. 

My conversations with British businesses operating in Nigeria and Nigerian entrepreneurs was a reminder of the great appetite for investment in Africa. This appetite will be turbo-charged by the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London next year. 

The summit will bring together institutions like the City of London, London Stock Exchange Group, World Bank, African Development Bank, and the IMF with African governments and businesses. 

Using London’s unique and world-leading ability to attract significant private sector investment, we can identify those barriers and realise the economic potential for countries across Africa.  

UK aid is already supporting the expansion of Nigerian infrastructure. The Viathan Independent Power Plant is a great example of where UK aid goes beyond money. As well as financial support, British engineers provided technical assistance and policy advice for the building of the plant. 

The plant is now a tremendous success, showing that UK aid, whether financial or technical, makes a real difference on the ground.  

Gridworks is another example of our ambitions for Africa. Supported by the UK government, it will invest more than $300m in Africa’s electricity network over the coming years. Sustainable, affordable and reliable power is one of Africa’s largest infrastructure challenges – I am proud to say that we are helping countries meet that challenge head on. 

As the international development secretary, my job – as it has been for my predecessors – is to lead the UK’s work to end extreme poverty around the world. We have made a lot of progress, but there is more to do. 

By using my experience and British expertise in countries around the world, we can use private sector investment to realise the potential of countries like Nigeria. 

Securing long-term, sustainable prosperity across Africa will help countries to end their reliance on aid and build their trading relationship with us. The case for a truly Global Britain is hugely compelling.

Main image credit: Getty

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