It’s time to refocus Mauritian economic diplomacy towards the African Continent

The Southern African region is becoming attractive to world business community and Mauritius not only wants to expand its commercial activities on the African continent but also position itself as a gateway to this promising region. Now is a historic opportunity for Mauritius to take an active role through its economic diplomacy in the region and kick-start a more intensive political approach to investment and trade in Africa. Many of our businesspeople have begun to see the value of this strategic economic diplomacy but it is yet to be translated down to the operational level. Mauritius is, perhaps, in a unique position today to access its diplomatic leverage to these big African markets and extend its business expertise to the Southern African countries and other neighboring countries. With our dynamic private sector coupled with a progressive government I am very optimist that Mauritius will substantially enhance its economic standing in the region and beyond in the coming years.
It is undeniable that South Africa and Mauritius are among those few southern African countries that have successfully been able to use its foreign relations for its economic development. In the case of Mauritius, the country has always kept a very good diplomatic relation with Europe and has, thus, benefited most from the EU-ACP co-operation especially under the sugar protocol.
It is important for us to now understand the economic developments and geopolitical dynamics on the African continent and accordingly respond to the regional challenges and opportunities available in these emerging economies so as to pursue our economic interest. It is high time to develop a clearer and stronger economic diplomacy strategy for Africa which can assist Mauritian corporate sector to take the maximum advantage offered in these economies. Having visited most of the Southern African countries over the past twelve years, I strongly believe that bilateral cooperation will ensure Mauritius long-term economic progress but maybe we should focus on a limited number of countries that matches our strategic trade priorities.

Knowing the African Market
Enterprise Mauritius has been carrying out quite a lot of market surveys in the regions that are available on their websites. To further enhance awareness, I think it will be wise to also involve our media and press people in collecting and disseminating knowledge about African market. For example government may allocate some budget for sending teams of journalist from Mauritius to different parts of the Africa for some weeks. This government-sponsored team of journalist will help in information dissemination to a larger section of the Mauritian population through the press and Television programmes and at the same time deepen media interaction between Mauritius and other African countries.
Bilateral economic diplomacy through State visits
Apart from Mozambique, Madagascar and South Africa, there have been very few visits of the Head of Mauritian Government to African countries. The conduct of State-to-State relations is very important in economic diplomacy in order to secure long-term economic interests of Mauritius. It is obvious that economic diplomacy is something most visible and most followed during high-level visits and it helps bilateral trade to operate effectively. Part of the problem lays with the lack of present of Mauritian Missions in the region, for instance, we actually have only three Embassies in the SADC region, namely South Africa, Madagascar and Mozambique and the other two Embassies in Africa are based in Egypt and Ethiopia. Our businessmen have genuine complaints about it and it is clear that in order to derive the full commercial benefits of regional trade, the Mauritian Government will need to assist with appropriate economic diplomacy in addition to existing trade policy.
Enhancing the role of our foreign missions
The New government needs to put more emphasis on trade promotion through our Embassies in the region. Our foreign mission in the region should carry out aggressive campaign aimed at promoting our national economic interests in the African countries by regularly updating data on potential investment opportunities and negotiating trade agreements.
Our overseas mission staff should get more involved in the promotion of Mauritius investment in the Region. They should also supply information and advice on trade opportunities in the different African countries. As Afsar Ebrahim of BDO Mauritius recently stated “il faudra identifier des experts pour diriger les missions du pôle commerce et investissement dans les régions spécifiques de l’Afrique. Il nous faut des gens qui ont le flair pour le business et qui comprennent l’Afrique. On doit favoriser ceux qui ont le poids recherché pour porter notre drapeau sur ce continent”. Diplomatic representations can provide a superior level of trade and investment related knowledge. In the absence of these relevant information, companies often have to rely on trade consultants and also incur expensive business trips before venturing to the unknown market.  
Some people may argue as to why this government should waste taxpayer’s money to finance the promotion of private commercial activities overseas. There is also no certainty that the private benefits will exceed the cost of providing the public service. However, this argument does not stand in international trade! Government interventions always generate more benefits to the society than its cost. The Mauritian companies exporting or investing in the region will create more jobs in the country and will eventually bring in more foreign currency in the Mauritian economy. Besides, companies are the biggest taxpayers and contribute toward wealth creation in the country.
The economic agenda of the new government has several good measures for an African Strategy as mentioned in their “Government Programme 2015-19”. The Programme has more than 20 initiatives aimed at promoting the expansion of business in Africa and includes the positioning of Mauritius as the ‘virtual office’ of Africa. This move doesn't come as a surprise to me as I always believe that with an economy-driven and people-focused diplomacy for Africa, Mauritius will be able set up a new pillar for economic development and may be a second economic miracle.

Raj Khooblall is the Director of Finance at SADC Parliamentary Forum and is based in Windhoek, Namibia.


Commentaires

What a good marketing pitch? If African themselves do not investment in our country. Why others should invest? no body wants to see how Africa has invested out the continent and how they invested in their own country. Rule of law, property rights are very poor and tribal mentality still prevails. God luck my friend who want to invest. We learn it from Madagascar and even from Zim what next Nambia where the attempt to change the constitution......

You raised some very valid issues. In fact, I did mentioned in a previous article about the political risk involved. I was involved in the Mozambique project (Marromeu Sena Sugar Project) and we got very bad experience. But I must say, things have fortunately changed in Mozambique!
On a positive note, I would say: (i) Mauritius can focus on a few countries, say SA, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique; (ii) we will need the backing of Mauritian Government institution (it will mitigate political risk and reduce bureaucracy) and (iii) we may go for joint venture with local companies on certain projects.
On the issue of intra-trade & Investment, SA is the biggest player in terms of investment in nearly all the African countries (including Mauritius), eg South African Shoprite has being growing very fast in the region and has now more supermarkets outside SA.
As regard Namibia, it’s one of the most stable African countries, very neat and has the best road and infrastructure. I stay in Windhoek and the city is very disciplined. There are some minor constitutional change but nothing serious (in fact Presidents stay for only 2 terms here). I thought you want to say DRC where the President want to change the constitution to stay in power for 3rd terms.