Dubai looks to deepen relations with Kenya beyond oil business


Hamad Buamim, the Dubai Chamber CEO. PHOTO | COURTESY

Dubai trade officials say the Arab emirate, which has successfully ploughed oil wealth into other sectors from tourism to real estate, wants to double non-oil trade and investments with Kenya.

Dubai, as the commercial and trading hub of the Middle East, has long been regarded as the gateway of trade between Kenya and the rest of the world.

But the relationship between the two countries has been marked by huge trade imbalance in favour of the UAE.

The UAE exported Sh186.6 billion worth of goods to Kenya in 2017, comprising largely of machinery and electronics and manufactured articles and textiles while the Kenya sold goods valued at Sh30.5 billion to Dubai.

Kenyan exports in the same period were mainly vegetables, pearls and live animals.

Dubai business leaders said this week that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has singled out Kenya — East Africa’s largest economy — as “one of the most promising business partners for Dubai” in the coming years.

“We are looking for a win-win partnership with Kenya,” said Hamad Buamim, president and chief executive of the Dubai Chamber, on Monday. “We believe Dubai holds the key to unlocking Kenya’s economic potential.”

He spoke with the Business Daily on the sidelines of the fifth Global Business Forum Africa Conference in Dubai.

The high-level three-day forum, held under the theme “Scale-Up Africa”, has brought together heads of state, ministers, policymakers, prominent business leaders, industry experts and entrepreneurs from Africa and the UAE to connect, collaborate and explore new avenues of economic cooperation. The forum is being attended by 1,200 delegates.

Mr Buamim said the emirate is ready to offer expertise to Kenya in traditional sectors such as logistics, infrastructure, retail, tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and finance as well as in new areas like information and communication technology.

The UAE is among the top 10 source countries for foreign direct investment in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a white paper released by Dubai Chamber and Economist Intelligence Unit ahead of the conference. The report by the Dubai Chamber released Monday ahead of the meeting of African leaders identified Kenya as a top market for export of plastics and rubber products, estimating the untapped potential at $88.2 million (about Sh8.9 billion).

In addition to being a major supplier of oil to Kenya, the UAE has emerged as a favoured shopping destination for Kenyans, who travel regularly to purchase household and office electronic appliances, automobile spare parts and motor vehicles.

The findings of the trade report indicate that the UAE’s exports of certain products, such as electrical devices, machinery, and vehicles, have exceeded their export potential to the African continent, a pointer to the strong trade links between UAE exporters and the Kenyan market.

Majid Saif Al Ghurair, chairman of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, termed Kenya a market of strategic importance to their country.

“We have adopted an ambitious expansion strategy focusing on the continent, which is being implemented through our four representative offices in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya,” said Mr Al Ghurair .

He said the Dubai chamber, which supports the growth of businesses in the emirate, was “closely monitoring developments and the business climate in Kenya to identify growth opportunities available”.

Such developments include the launch this year of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) earlier this year — a trade agreement between 54 countries.

The deal offers huge potential to boost UAE-Africa trade and investment flows, Mr Al Ghurair noted.

Kenya presents investment opportunities across various sectors as it looks to modernise its infrastructure.

Mr Buamim said any engagement with Kenya will be based on a “win-win” arrangement, alluding to perceived skewed partnerships between Kenya and China and the West.

Mr Buamim highlighted the importance of regional integration initiatives such as the East Africa Economic Community and AfCFTA in helping to remove trade barriers, liberalise investment policies and ease operational challenges related to international money transfers and payments.

Energy, health care, education, agriculture, rail and roads, airports, trade and logistics zones are areas open to investment in Kenya. With its well run, clean metropolis served by an efficient mass rapid transport system and overpasses, Dubai also offers vital lessons and opportunities for Kenya’s county governments.

Kenya plans to build oil and gas infrastructure and broaden its industrial base to diversify its agriculture-based economy.

Dubai’s aggregate non-oil trade with African nations between 2011 and the end of this year is expected to reach Dh1 trillion, (about Sh27.6 trillion) as the emirate continues to build its economic ties with the continent to further diversify its economy.

Cumulative non-oil trade with Africa has already reached Dh926 billion (about Sh926 billion) for the 2011-2018 period.

“Combined, these allow African SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] to expand operations across markets, creating attractive opportunities for [the Gulf] investors too,” said Mr Al Ghurair noted.