For hundreds of years, the business capitals of Africa were in Europe – in London, Paris, Berlin and Lisbon.
Despite decolonisation, money still flows from Africa to European financial hubs, but over the past decade business headquarters have geographically shifted. Not back to Africa, but to another former British colony: Dubai.
There are now more than 21,000 African companies in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It’s a number that has increased by over a quarter since 2017, according to Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry figures.
The emirate has also attracted 45 Middle East and Africa headquarters of multinational companies – compared to just 26 in Africa, according to a 2018 report by Infomineo, a data and research outsourcing provider specialising in Africa and the Middle East.
The amount of capital and number of businesses dealing with Africa started to rise around the same time as the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago.
“There were big inflows of Africans to Dubai from 2011 onwards. The Arab Spring actually helped open Dubai and the UAE to greater interest from African countries,” Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor to Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based consultancy, told MEE.
The number of tourists from Africa has increased from just 6,954 in 1984 to 600,000 in 2016, reaching 810,000 in 2019, equivalent to 6% of all visitors, according to Dubai Tourism figures.
Overall trade with Africa also surged, from 3% of Dubai’s total trade at the turn of the century, to 10% in 2018.
The African continent has become the third largest trade region for Dubai after Asia and Europe, according to Dubai Customs.
“Years ago it was the Russians coming in, then the Chinese, and as that tapered off we were seeing Africans, with an explosion of wealth in this direction,” Scott Cairns, managing director of Creation Business Consultants in Dubai, told MEE. “It has slowed a little bit (over the past year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic) but once travel is allowed again we will see Africa re-emerge, as it is so close for building up business, and to commute (from Dubai) for projects.”