African nations are participating in Expo 2020 Dubai in full force this year, hoping to project an image of a modern and ambitious continent and to shed stereotypes of conflict and underdevelopment.
The six-month mega-event, delayed by the Covid pandemic, is a milestone for the wealthy Gulf emirate.
He spent some $ 8.2 billion to transform a barren stretch on the outskirts of the city into a breathtaking site bristling with high-tech pavilions.
As the massive project draws to a close before the scheduled opening in October 2021, African delegates touted their ambitions to generate trade and investment at a high-level meeting this week.
With nearly all African states represented for the first time, the Expo provides a stage to herald a “continent ready to move forward” and “a safe place to do business,” told AFP Levi Uche Madueke of the African Union, which has 55 members.
“Now is the time for us to touch the world and for the world to understand us, and also to see how they can work with us,” said Madueke, AU’s head of strategic partnerships.
Since the first World’s Fair was held in London in 1851, world fairs have been used to showcase innovations and as a branding exercise for participating countries.
And in its quest for influence on the international stage, the UAE has increased its political and economic presence in Africa in recent years, particularly in the Eastern Horn.
– “It’s from the past! –
Africa experienced 25 years of growth before slipping into a Covid-induced recession in 2020. It continues to dominate the bottom half of the global human development index.
Apart from exceptions such as Rwanda, Morocco and Kenya, African states also perform poorly on indices that measure the ease of doing business.
But Madueke said that despite the need to expand infrastructure and existing barriers to international trade, Africa has “a lot to offer” thanks to its rich natural resources and young population.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, long considered a country marked by conflict, corruption and human rights violations, seeks to attract investment from around the world.
“Often when we talk about Africa, the Congo, people will say – there is war in the east, there are rebels… No! “Said Eugene Manga Manga, Commissioner General of DR Congo for Expo 2020.” We have everything we need. If you go out at night in Kinshasa, life is good. “
Known for its rich mineral resources, the DR Congo will present its culture and its landscape in promotional videos with the aim of attracting tourists, from its pavilion which will also enhance the agricultural potential of the country.
“Congo has 80 million hectares of arable land. We only operate 10 percent, ”Manga said, adding that the country has taken steps to ease barriers to ownership and improve the business climate.
“This image of Africa that sells itself – in misery, suffering, war – it’s a thing of the past! He told AFP.
– ‘The goal is to sell’ –
At the Dubai meetings, members of the Beninese delegation said the country was working overtime to promote tourism by rehabilitating cultural sites and improving its business potential through economic reforms.
“The goal is to sell the destination,” said Ines Monwanou, the country’s main delegate at Expo 2020.
While expectations are high, even the heavyweights of the continent recognize that selling a revitalized image at Expo Dubai will be a challenge.
The Egyptian pavilion, with pyramids and hieroglyphics, will showcase the country’s ancient history and its vast tourist attraction, but the main objective is to attract investment and business cooperation, especially in new technologies.
“The world has started looking at Africa and rediscovering it,” said Ahmed Maghawry Diab, an official from the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry who represents the country at Expo 2020.
“The continent is having a lot of difficulties, but it has also started to develop. “
© 2021 AFP