Geoff Wilks
Industry Investment

UK businesses urged to tap into African market after BREXIT

British businesses are being urged to see beyond Brexit and look to new opportunities in Africa by an architecture and engineering firm celebrating 20 years of success in East Africa.

FBW Group has operations in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania – but its roots are in the UK and it has a base in Manchester. It has now unveiled ambitious expansion plans across all four countries.

The company’s growth plans come as the UK government works towards its ambition to be the largest G7 investor in Africa by 2022.

That ambition was announced by Prime Minister Theresa May on a visit to Africa, alongside a range of measures to boost trade and encourage UK investment, including the creation of a new Africa Investors Board.

An Africa Investment Summit is also planned later this year. It will bring together the UK and African governments, alongside major international investors to grow awareness of opportunities on the continent and ensure progress towards the 2022 goal.

FBW Group says, regardless of its attempts to leave the EU, opportunities for UK businesses in Africa, with its young and dynamic population – set to make up a quarter of the world’s consumers by 2050 – are clear.

FBW, a major player in the region’s construction and development sector, was founded in 1994 by architects and engineers working in Tanzania, including Geoff Wilks, from Stockport, who is still the chairman of the group.

He arrived to work for an international company, recognized the opportunities that existed and established the business that was to become FBW Group.

Geoff said: “There is a strong desire in East Africa to build trade links between the UK and East Africa post-Brexit and there are opportunities for UK businesses across the region.”

Architect Paul Moores, originally from Manchester, is group managing director and is based in the group’s head office in the Ugandan capital Kampala. He joined the business in 1998.

He said: “We’re seeing strong signs of growth in all the countries we operate in and we have plans to expand driven by the economic opportunities that are arising across the region.

“There is a growing belief that in Uganda the oil industry is about to really take off, with large multi-national operators looking at the country. We’re now gearing up to take advantage of that and to help deliver the infrastructure that will be needed.

“There’s also opportunity in Kenya and we are already working to deliver major prestige housing projects as development on the outskirts of Nairobi gathers pace.

“And we’ve got strong expansion plans in Rwanda where we are working on a number of tourism-related development projects on behalf of international investors, with more in the pipeline.

“The country’s ambition to become the region’s IT hub is also set to create big opportunities there, we believe.

“We’re involved in developments in all sectors, from retail and leisure to housing and education as well as offices and healthcare.”

Geoff added: “To succeed here you have to understand the local legislation and business ethos.

“You also have to recognize that an enormous amount of business is conducted on trust. It pays to partner with companies and organizations already based in the region, if possible as they have those contacts and have built up that trust.

“We’ve seen large organizations come into the region to try and set up and they have failed. The reason is they have treated it as an extension of their existing home business and it’s not. It is a different type of business environment.

“Because we have been operating and working here successfully for more than 20 years we recognize these subtle differences. However, there are similarities that you see anywhere in the world, delivering value for money still remains paramount!”

Multi-disciplinary planning, design architecture and engineering group FBW currently has a workforce of more than 30 professionals delivering high-value construction and development projects in East Africa.

The group, which has recruited some of the top talents in architecture, design and engineering in East Africa as part of its plans for growth, offers a wide range of in-house professional building and technical services.

They include pre-design services, development consultancy, building appraisals and condition surveys, project management, architecture, civil and structural engineering, MEP engineering, telecommunication engineering, and other building consultancy services including master planning.

FBW’s portfolio of successfully delivered developments includes the British High Commission in Uganda, several high profile commercial office towers in the city and the Kampala International School as well as the National Teachers College and hotels on the shores of Lake Victoria.

In Tanzania, the group has delivered hotel resorts, hospitals, shopping centres and a major mixed-use development in the capital Dar es Salaam.

In Kenya, its team has worked on residential, commercial and mixed-use developments in Nairobi and the Tatu City development project in Kiambu, including the large-scale Tatu Waters residential plan and delivery of the Crawford International School.

Its Rwandan projects include ‘The Downtown’ – a retail, commercial and transport hub in Kigali, a signature library building for the Kigali Institute of Science and technology, together with Hotels and a number of tourism and leisure developments.

It also played a major role in the creation of ‘the Lord’s of East Africa’ – Rwanda’s national cricket stadium.

FBW has also successfully completed engineering projects for a range of businesses including a Coca Cola bottling company and breweries in the region and is currently involved in the master planning of several large-scale industrial parks and logistic clusters, funded by UK government aid.