Serbia prepares for new push into African markets

Serbia prepares for new push into African markets
Uganda’s President Yoreveri Kaguta Museveni (left) with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic (centre) during a visit to Belgrade in 2023. / CCIS
By Clare Nuttall in Glasgow February 8, 2024

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (CCIS) has been actively engaged in market research across Africa for the past year, aiming to identify optimal investment prospects for Serbian enterprises, said Marko Cadez, president of CCIS, according to a press release from the chamber.

As Serbia gears up to potentially expand its economic footprint into Africa, it is seeking to build on historic ties from the Cold War era, when Yugoslavia was one of the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement that also included several African countries. 

Cadez highlighted the organisation of initial missions to Kenya and Angola, coupled with the establishment of robust partnerships in South Africa, as achievements by Serbian companies in Africa. 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is also understood to be planning his first major tour of Africa, which according to CCIS has been welcomed by Serbian enterprises. 

“The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia has been doing market research in Africa for a year now, in order to find the best investment opportunities for our companies. We have already successfully organised [our] first missions in Kenya and Angola and we have very good partners in South Africa,” said Cadez.

He outlined the potential for Serbian companies to succeed in African markets. "It would be a special opportunity for our companies to outperform far more developed countries present in the African continent. Taking all the parameters into account, from demography to increasing purchasing power, to natural resources and potential, Africa is a market of the future and a great opportunity for our economy," Cadez added.

Reviving ties 

Belgrade is reviving ties forged during Yugoslavia’s leading position in the Cold War era non-aligned movement to expand its influence and trading relations in Africa. 

African countries and other emerging markets are growing in geopolitical importance as a new Cold War looms. While Russia abruptly pivots towards the East and South in response to Western sanctions, Belgrade has been quietly building up its relationship with a number of African countries for several years. 

Serbia lacks the economic clout of China — which has built up a massive presence in Africa since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — or the long-standing, albeit troubled, relationships between former colonial powers and their former colonies. 

However, it still benefits from the former Yugoslavia’s role in founding the non-aligned movement alongside some of the major emerging economies. The movement made Yugoslavia – a relatively small Southeast European country – an important player on the global stage. 

In a New Year address, Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic highlighted Serbia’s relationship with countries in the Global South

“I am especially pleased that the Republic of Serbia is successfully raising the level of relations with friendly countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We want the historical closeness and mutual respect of our peoples to be a solid foundation for our cooperation in the future,” he said. 

"At the same time, we strive to develop cooperation with BRICS countries, ASEAN and the Non-Aligned Movement, which play a significant role on the international level." 

Several African countries including Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)Equatorial Guinea and Uganda have sent high-level delegations to Belgrade, while Serbian ministers have visited countries including Angola and Kenya. 

The visit by Serbia’s then foreign minister Nikola Selakovic to Angola in September 2022 was followed a month later by the opening of Serbia-based Nelt Group’s confectionary factory in the Angolan capital Luanda. 

In 2023, Trade Minister Tomislav Momirovic toured several East African countries. During his visit to Rwanda, he extended an offer of Serbian wheat and corn to the country at favourable prices.