The reality of the business opportunity in Africa is often different to what SMEs first assume. Beyond the ‘glass half-empty’ headlines lies an expanding market in the second-fastest growing region in the world. Rapid growth has created opportunities for Irish exporters in key sectors such as international education, healthcare, ICT, telco, fintech and aviation.
The scale of the opportunity is evident in the market size alone. Eastern Africa is home to 460 million people, 6% of the world’s population. Kenya acts as an ideal gateway into the region’s target market of 250 million people, covering Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania, in addition to Kenya itself.
The market in the region is developing quickly in ways that benefit Irish businesses. Ethiopia’s economy continues to experience exponential growth, and Kenya, with its rising African middle class clustered mainly in urban areas. 30% of its middle class live in Nairobi, offering a dense market for exporters to the region.
The growth of the Kenyan middle class is creating opportunities for Irish exporters in sectors including education and healthcare. 400,000 African students travel abroad to undertake undergraduate and postgraduate studies every year, creating an enormous market for Ireland’s education sector. Uncertainty generated by Brexit has created huge potential for Ireland to increase the number of African students that study here. A number of Irish universities are leveraging opportunities in the sector. During a trade visit to Kenya, Griffith College signed a partnership agreement with Nairobi’s Riara University, which sees it support the education of the country’s growing youth population. Minister Coveney also awarded International Computer Driving Licence certificates to students who are among the country’s rising skilled workforce.
Irish companies are using innovative technologies to help improve the quality of the region’s medical care. Enterprise Ireland facilitated a multimillion agreement between Novaerus Ireland and Quinton’s Pharmacy, a Kenyan based company, which is set to change the landscape of infections control and prevention in East Africa. Through its partnership with Quinton’s, Novaerus is adding value to Kenya’s healthcare system, reducing the number of infections in hospital environments and creating cost savings of approximately €12 million.
Dublin-based company Vitro Software announced a multi-million US dollar contract with The Nairobi Hospital, one of the most prestigious private hospitals in East Africa. Vitro’s electronic medical record software helps reduce change management challenges and deliver better patient outcomes. Mr. Odundo of The Nairobi Hospital affirmed the importance of innovation to the partnership, saying, “This initiative will bear great testimony to our ability to be innovative in all matters that ensure the highest standards are met.” For Declan Daly, CEO Vitro Software, the agreement is a gateway to the broader East African region, “We are now well placed to grow, not just in Kenya, but to other sub-Saharan countries.”
A number of strengths make Kenya a great gateway for Irish exporters considering expansion to Africa. The port of Mombasa is a key transit point, not just for imports and exports to and from Kenya, but also to and from Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The national air carrier Kenya Airways flies to more than 50 destinations in Africa and has direct connections to Asia and Europe.
Recognising the potential of the market, Enterprise Ireland appointed a dedicated trade representative for Kenya, based in Nairobi. Furthermore, there are a number of planned conferences and trade missions, upcoming. Enterprise Ireland’s advisors can help companies to identify opportunities in East Africa, get introductions to Kenyan buyers and potential partners, and get informed about important procedures, market entry barriers and license requirements.