For UK businesses, trade with African markets presents an increasingly significant export opportunity, writes Adam Harris, Head of Civil, Infrastructure and Energy at UK Export Finance.


The scale of the opportunity in Africa for UK businesses has been demonstrated by the strong growth in demand UK Export Finance (UKEF), the UK’s export credit agency, has seen across Africa in recent years.

The government’s Export Strategy recognises that trade plays an important part in efforts to support developing countries in a way that aid spending alone cannot. It also recognises UKEF’s vital role in helping UK businesses play a part in economic growth and development around the world, in many cases bridging the financing gap.

During her visit to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya in 2018, the Prime Minister set out the government’s ambition for a partnership between the UK and African nations to deliver shared prosperity, and also highlighted the gap in private sector liquidity. As economies in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to grow, UKEF is seeing rising demand in its support for UK exports to the region.

A major driver behind this demand have been the region’s ambitious infrastructure development programmes across a range of sectors – health, transport, power generation water and agriculture. These are fast-growing economies, with growing populations and emerging middle classes, and a need for infrastructure that will support their rapid development.

In 2018-19, UKEF provided more than £600mn to support infrastructure projects in Angola and Ghana. In Angola, we supported the design, construction and equipping of three hospitals in Luanda and Cabinda provinces under a contract between ASGC UK and Angola’s Ministry of Health, which will deliver over 500 beds and provide specialist services including radiology and intensive care.

UKEF also supported IQA Group’s contract to upgrade two power substations in Viana and Gabela, significantly reducing north west Angola’s dependence on oil-generated power. These are the first projects UKEF has ever supported in Angola, and with further transactions likely to follow, UKEF is playing a vital role supporting Angola’s infrastructure development and growing UK supply to this market.

In Ghana, UKEF support includes the redevelopment and modernisation of Kumasi Central Market by Contracta Construction UK. With nearly 800,000 people visiting every day, it is West Africa’s largest market and vital trading hub for the Ashanti region. UKEF’s support is enabling the improvement of vital infrastructure including electrical networks, water supplies, and public transport.

Support was also provided for QG Construction’s contract to modernise Tamale Airport in the northern region of Ghana, which will increase tourism and boost socio-economic development by improving connections to the north of Ghana. UKEF support is also behind Ellipse UK’s contract to construct the Bekwai hospital, which when finished will have 120 beds, an emergency department, a maternity ward and an operating theatre.

These three recent projects build on our past support for UK exporters in Ghana, which includes US$400mn in support for GE’s contract with the Offshore Cape Three Points project. This extraordinary project is helping Ghana achieve its COP21 commitments for climate mitigation – equivalent to taking 1.2 million cars off Ghana’s roads each year or planting 152 million trees. It also includes the expansion of Kumasi Airport, improving transport links to Ghana’s second city to encourage trade and tourism.

But our support has not been limited to these two markets. Other projects supported by UKEF in the past few years include the expansion of the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, delivered by BAM Nuttall, and the construction of Kabaale Airport in Uganda, by Colas UK. Looking to the future, we have a strong pipeline of prospective projects in a wide range of markets including Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal and Benin.

UKEF is delighted to be supporting projects across Africa, and we are working hard to develop and deepen our relationships across the continent. With our innovative and flexible product range, including our increased capacity for direct lending and our ability to offer local currency financing, we look forward to playing an increasingly vital role in ensuring customers across Africa can access UK companies’ world-class products and services.

To find out more about how UKEF can support your business realise its growth potential please visit: