The future of investment in Africa

The Annual AVCA Conference, held between the 3rd and the 7th of April in Abidjan, provided the private equity and venture capital industry with an important platform to discuss the most pertinent investment opportunities and issues in Africa. For the continents’ biggest investors, investment into infrastructure remained a priority. This makes senses as Africa remains underserved in this area. The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa reports that although governments are keen to build new infrastructure, they still lack the ability to develop proposals needed to attract institutional investors.

The report stipulates that of the total $2 trillion raised globally for infrastructure projects, only $59 billion was received in Africa. This sum represents just 3%. In the promotion of investment into projects and specific sectors, many States still suffer from the poor quality of their ‘signature’ due to the lack of substantial financial resources.

There is some reason to remain positive, investments went well in 2016. Private equity players invested $3.8 billion in 145 deals across Africa last year with a range of businesses from agriculture and energy to healthcare and financial sectors. But over and above gaining support from foreign and multilateral partners, African countries will also need to develop domestic financial capital market instruments for infrastructure. It has become imperative for Africa to bridge the gap between individuals with very high liquidity on one hand, and a private sector and States that struggle to finance themselves, on the other. A doubling of domestic saving available on the continent would bring Africa into line with other emerging regions and would provide at least 250 billion dollars (about 180 billion euros).

Is it not time then to move away from relying on taxes and uneven commodity revenue to look into pension funds to back infrastructure projects? Even in countries where there has been pension reform there is a still a dearth of financial instruments which limits the ability to use pension funds to back infrastructure projects in the first place. The role of the State is fundamental in inventing the necessary instruments to reinject the funds mobilized into the real economy.

Channeling remittances to create diaspora bonds can help play an important role in plugging the development gap. Nigeria is the world’s fifth biggest destination for international remittances with 5 million Nigerians living abroad and sending money back to relatives, according to Western Union. Nigeria plans to raise 300 dollars by selling diaspora bonds, issued in June 2017, targeting Nigerians living abroad.

The challenge is to make each citizen a full-fledged investor contributing to the development of his country. Success stories already thrive in the area of collective management with the recent launch of initiatives promoted by private actors (Amethis West Africa, for example, is the first investment fund registered in Côte d’Ivoire) or public actors (in Rwanda, Agaciro Development Fund aims to capture the saving of migrants).

We must not underestimate the place of innovation in contributing to the prosperity of the financial industry. It is not unusual for state projects to serve as “guinea pigs” before reaching the local private sector. After all, the Renaissance Dam, the most important in Africa, kick-started with the funding provided by the Ethiopians.

How African trade and migration are shaping globalization

Globalization is not simply a process that started in the last two decades or even the last two centuries. It has a history that stretches thousands of years and Africa has been at the heart of international trade for far longer than we imagine. From the trans-Saharan caravans and the triangular trade, from the colonial counters to the Coltan of the Kivu, the continent has lived at the pace of the different periods of globalization, without always being in a position to influence or control, let alone take advantage of, global transactions.

Whether one thinks globalization is a “good thing” or not, it is an essential element of the economic history of mankind. According to Amartya Sen, Nobel-Prize winning economist, globalization “has enriched the world scientifically and culturally, and benefited many people economically as well”. Those more skeptical about globalization associate it uniquely with free market policies and an increase in inequality levels. It is true that Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, has lagged behind other regions in the spread of the global economy, and the overwhelming majority of Africans have not benefited from the purported promises of global prosperity.

But globalization also encompasses the exchange of commerce, culture, ideas, information, people. Global networks have created opportunities for nations and communities to operate on a much larger scale worldwide. Previously disparate locations on the globe are now linked into extensive systems of communication, migration, trade and interconnections. This very phenomenon also makes it possible for emerging countries to strengthen their local and independent identities while working to be part of larger transnational alliances.

In this context, what are the questions that Africa needs to ask itself in order to propel itself to a more proactive actor in globalization?

Trade deals need to show that nations are open for business by putting people’s interests, not just corporate interests, at their heart. What must we put in place to resolve the tensions between democracy, the nation state and global economic integration?

A key feature of globalization is connectivity, as illustrated by the expansion of marine and terrestrial fibre optic cables. This offers unprecedented broadband infrastructure and opportunities to master the digital revolution. How will technologies, central to Africa’s economic and social lives, empower African populations?

Africa has the potential to develop a particular model of globalization. This model is the more pertinent in a world context coloured by the British vote to exit the European Union and the result of the recent US presidential election. The latter events are a symptom of popular disenchantment with globalization and a desire for the reactionary raising of national barriers. On the other hand, Africans continue to be outward-looking. In this context, the phenomenon of south-south migration constitutes an important capital for the continent. Can we redefine migration dynamics away from the binary brain drain / brain gain debate into one of holistic continental development?

Globalisation is not a zero-sum game. It is a two-way traffic involving a historical process of border crossings and hybridization and everyone should benefit from it. There is space yet for Africa, through a particular and renewed set of global transactions, to positively influence the direction that globalization will take in the future.

The Inaugural African Economic Platform will strengthen common policies

A new structure to strengthen the South-South economic and political axis was launched in Mauritius last month. The inaugural African Economic Platform (AEP), an Agenda 2063 programme, was attended by the Chairperson of the African Union, several Prime Ministers and high profile personalities of the continent. The AEP is an initiative driven by Africans to provide the policy space for Africans across all key sectors, to set their own agenda, explore realistic continental and global opportunities, and ways of implementing this agenda. Organized by the African Union Foundation, the African Economic Platform is an event to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of African economies and to identify opportunities in various sectors.

The AEP created an avenue for dialogue amongst a range of sectors, including the African political leadership, business leaders in the private sector, universities and intellectuals. All these different stakeholders are critical to driving the economic transformation agenda. The private sector plays a key role in investment, industrialisation and intra-African trade. The higher education sector provides skills development and are the locus for research and innovation. Governments ensure the implementation of fiscal and macro-economic policies and other environments for economic transformation.

The idea for an Africa focused economic platform originated from the need to ensure that annual meetings among African policy makers and regional business leaders do serve the top priorities in Africa’s drive for development and growth. The launch focused on the employment challenges arising from the skills gap witnessed by the disconnect between Africa’s industry requirements for economic growth and the output from academia. The need to develop an integrated African economy to enable the continent to realise its potential for stronger competitiveness in the global economy was also at stake. The outcome of the inaugural AEP, which focused on South-South cooperation, a commitment to Made in Africa and intra-African trade, bodes well for the continent.

At this launch Forum, measurable short to medium term milestones were set in relation to the promotion of intra-Africa trade through the food and agricultural products that the continent produces: livestock, poultry, fish, seafood, among others. Strategies were developed following the conference, including the establishment of a joint standing committee to facilitate trade relations; to remove the obstacles to the movement of goods and services; and to promote joint efforts among African financial centers to facilitate investment. Africa needs USD 200 billion annually over the next four years to reach its targets, while Foreign Direct Investment is USD 60 billion a year. Air connectivity was also reviewed, with the development of a master plan for the African continent in the pipeline.

The AEP launch was a meeting of great minds to discuss how the continent can harness its vast resources to enhance the development of the African people. It is now time to come forward with concrete plans to accelerate investment and competitiveness in Africa. NEPAD has already been active on the front of Human Skills Capital Development through its Skills Initiative for Africa Programme, launched this April. Leveraging the potential of the African Diaspora to participate in and advocate for Africa’s integration and development is a point we will take up next week.

The spectre of recolonisation

Among the many challenges facing Africa, there is one that cuts across them all and with painful echoes of our recent history, the possible recolonization of the continent. There has been a disturbing sense that foreign actors are taking hold of the assets and the growth of the continent. This fear is multifaceted, there is the fear of not being able to respond to the challenges of 21st Century Africa in autonomous fashion, the fear that it is the last chance to give the continent a push with the help of international partners, and simultaneously it is felt that this is the moment to stop the depletion of Africa’s natural resources. This fear, which is more or less rational and justified, translates a crisis of confidence creating doubt as to the basis for a clear pathway to sustained and long term development.

This state of affairs is dangerous because it can lead to withdrawal. We have recently seen a number of African countries threaten to leave the ICC. The ICC was founded with the idealistic goal of trying the perpetrators of the world’s worst atrocities and premised on the idea that nations must work in harmony. But the perception that the Court has been targeting Africa, at a time when the continent is asserting its political and economic independence, has not been well received. Mistrust is settling in, not the least from Uganda in the case of Dominic Ongwen, a Ugandan Rebel Leader abducted as a child. The ICC is going through an existential crisis and the outcome of this case will set an important precedent for international criminal justice and determine the allegiance of African countries.

The question of recolonization also arises through the presence of the United States, China, India, France, Britain, Germany, Japan on the continent, powerful countries which all have important and increasingly competitive stakes on our lands. China, in particular, has a strong presence on the continent, with one million Chinese nationals and a burgeoning economic presence in Africa. Chinese capital investment into Africa, up to July 2016, had increased by 515% from full-year 2015 figures with more than $14bn invested in Africa by Chinese companies. China acquires the raw materials like oil, iron, copper and zinc that it urgently needs to fuel its own economy but builds and improves infrastructure such as roads, railways and telecom systems which are necessary to Africa’s manufacturing sector. This can be a win-win situation only if Africa governments are in a position to negotiate the deals in a way that makes financial, legal and economic sense for their respective countries.

In our dealings with foreign countries, there has often been a weak enforcement of environmental laws to our detriment, through illegal logging depleting our woodlands, unregulated and overfishing of our seas by other countries and the poaching of protected species of animals. Growing multinational investments in industrial plantations are also contributing to deforestation. Are we still supplying goods such as cocoa, sugar and tea to the West to the detriment of our own environment? Is the abundance of land, lax regulations and cheap labour, that we are too easily prepared to trade off, working against our ability to determine our own destiny?

The independence we acquired around 50 years ago requires ongoing nurturing in the tough questions we need to ask ourselves over the price we are willing to pay for accelerated development.

 

 

International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda 7 April 2017

In making strides towards the goal of transforming our continent into “The Africa We Want” – a peaceful, strong and united Africa, reflection on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda reminds us that we cannot take our peace and security for granted.

Current and past events in African and around the world, as evidenced by the high number of people displaced by war, conflict or persecution, which now stands at almost 60 million, builds a strong case for prevention of conflict to come to the fore in all that we do. Prevention has become an essential aspect of foreign policy due to the nature of today’s conflicts, their growing complexity and the fact that conflicts are more intra-state than inter-state. Moreover, the presence of powerful non-state actors and violent extremisms all make it necessary to strengthen early warning and preventive diplomacy mechanisms.

On the African continent, efforts for peace are on the increase, as demonstrated by an ever growing number of peaceful transitions of power, with recent examples being Nigeria, Ghana, Cape Verde, to mention but a few.  At the beginning of the 1990s, there were approximately thirty ongoing conflicts, but now they have been reduced to about a dozen. In addition, we are also witnessing Africa’s integration through regional and continental efforts, under a direct manifestation of the “ownership principle” that is the cornerstone of an African prevention and development policy embedded in the African Union.

Reflecting on Rwanda today, the words of Wole Soyinka ring true:

“Given the scale of trauma caused by the genocide, Rwanda has indicated that however thin the hope of a community can be, a hero always emerges. Although no one can dare claim that it is now a perfect state, and that no more work is needed, Rwanda has risen from the ashes as a model of truth and reconciliation.”

Together with Africa’s 1.2 billion people, the NEPAD Agency commemorates the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, in order to eventually see a continent where all guns are silenced, a continent in which its people flourish in a culture of human rights, democracy, gender equality, inclusion and peace.

The African youth should be invited to co-create its future

Increasingly the youth, who constitute an overwhelming majority of the population of African countries, feel disenfranchised from their political representatives and other figures of authority. This is a youth which is connected and exposed everyday through television, via the internet or the radio to foreign realities, and one which exercises, therefore, a degree of autonomy in relation to traditional lifestyles. Our youth are no longer confined to developing their identity and aspirations based upon the place in which they live or upon the answers that the elders are prepared to give.

On the other hand, traditional leadership often remains problematic in Africa. Political figures and other figures of authority find it difficult coming to terms with the increasingly fluid identities and fragmented authority in the modern African state. Eventually this state of affairs could lead to the progressive breakdown of the norms which have sustained African life till now. This process has taken place in other parts of the world. But it is taking place at such an accelerated pace on the continent that the question needs to be asked as to whether it could threaten the development pathway of Africa.

However, here is another way of looking at the issue beyond a simple juxtaposition. Culture is not static but always changing as each generation contributes its experience of the world and discards things that are no longer useful to them. African countries are already largely multinational, multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries built on European ideas of the modern state. The source of traditional authority and legitimacy, blood and land, has mostly since been replaced by civic ideas of democracy. Today this democracy seeks new energy, as it does across the world. To be able to harness the energy and ambitions of our youth into a positive force we must create space to allow them to co-create the future.

The youth bulge in sub-Saharan Africa has not escalated into political violence. But we should not wait for a climate of us-versus-them to settle. Governments need to continue to invest in all levels of education, in vocational training and, most of all, in policy that creates the incentives for higher investments to absorb the country’s labour. Traditional leadership styles need to give way. Barriers against transparency need to come down, allowing access to public information, open data and creating, in the process, a more meaningful participation in the political process. We need to build the bridges necessary to allow the voice of the African youth to shape party policy, and contribute to their country’s crucial dialogues over nation building. So, let us create the conditions for a real partnership with the youth, sending a strong signal that their involvement is an integral part of the transformation of the continent.

The farmer, an entrepreneur like any other

African agriculture is no longer a traditional way of life, it is a business. And like any other, it will grow, through investment and access to markets. The African farmer, like any other entrepreneur, and perhaps even more so, needs to take into account the uncertain nature of business. The farmer will be at the mercy of market flux and climate change. They will need to access finance, manage their own accounts, and diversify their assets, or perish.

The energy, the ideas and the motivation are there but not every good idea will be funded. The continent has yet to produce enough productive and profitable small businesses. According to the World Bank sub-Saharan Africa has only a quarter as many small businesses as Asia, relative to its population. Government borrowing drives up interest rates for everybody else. Interest rates to farmers in parts of East and West Africa can be as high as 20-45%. The World Bank found that only 1% of Nigerian farmers borrowed to buy fertiliser last year since small farmers find credit access difficult. But mobile technology is changing this, opening new and more advantageous lending rates to farmers. Governments and investors are also channelling huge investments into infrastructure and power, initiatives facilitated by NEPAD.

There are also many opportunities to be exploited in doing simple things for local markets. Better management skills, more judicious use of fertilisers are key skills that can be made widely available. Hybrid seeds, in particular, which are being developed in Africa for Africans, hold much promise. Governments and NGOs are rapidly teaching farmers how to plant the new seeds. One-stop-shops such as the charity One Acre Fund, in Rwanda, provide their clients with seeds, fertiliser, know-how and credit. Creating facilities to allow farmers to store crops securely and the opportunity for food processing near farms will help reduce waste as well as provide decent paying jobs.

Social networks are also primordial to the success of entrepreneurial farmers. There is a correlation between strong social networks and flourishing business. Our role models need to be flagged especially in those areas where there are few successful companies that would-be entrepreneurs can aspire to, or few successful friends in business who can be sought out for advice.

We have witnessed a different kind of farmer through the success story of Rotimi Williams, the ambitious 35 year-old Nigerian entrepreneur and rice farmer. Previously a journalist, Williams is the owner of Kereksuk Rice Farm, the second largest commercial rice farm in Nigeria by land size. Having lived and worked abroad for a while, he returned to Nigeria with no farming training but with a willingness to learn. He trained himself through every article he could find on Google and then put these skills into practice. His farm of 45,000 hectares employs today more than 600 locals, leveraging on a sense of community and remaining attuned to the cultural approach of the indigenes to farming.

Agriculture is a business and promoting smallholder agriculture does not preclude the promotion of ambitious large scale, commercial farming for Africa.

 

 

 

Technological leapfrogging: the other side of the coin

The technological leap has been one of the big themes of the African economic history for the past 10 years. Today, it represents a huge transformative potential insofar as infrastructure development and socio-economic challenges are concerned.

Africa has, indeed, taken the bull by the horns in embracing mobile technology, demonstrating leadership in innovation in the mobile ecosystem. Mobile penetration across the continent is high at 60%, and more than 50% of those users have access to the internet. Africans develop services and apps for the continent, providing information on market prices, weather, health and even good farming practice. Drones are becoming more widely available with prices starting as low as $300. They can help farmers with mapping their land, with construction and mining, even market research. Parts of Africa have already come a long way in developing mobile money payment systems that give the unbanked millions a chance to move into the formal economy.

We will likely see transformations that touch the fundamental aspects of our lives in ways we cannot yet expect, all made possible by the presence of the mobile phone on a continent with limited infrastructure.

Nonetheless, the following anecdote illustrates the caveats in relation to technology. Nji Collins Gbah, 17-year old Cameroonian, is Google’s new coding champion. He is a first African and one of 34 winners of the annual global Google Code-in competition. But Nji Collins Gbah’s hometown in Cameroon has been cut off from internet since mid-January.

It is important to not generalize or count on the transformational power of technological leaps in a naïve fashion. Technology will not take care of everything. Africa also needs basic services before it can use high-tech solutions, a minimal of infrastructure and government policy. We will need national and regional plans to incorporate the Digital Economy into our overall business strategy. South Africa, Botswana and Kenya have taken the lead to flesh out ICT plans and infrastructure. There are now growing expectations on African countries, conscious of the success of Silicon Savannah, to follow suit.

A big hurdle that technology innovation faces in Africa is access to energy. About 620 million Africans live without access to electricity. Yet mobile phones need to be charged and transmitter towers need power. Limited infrastructure on the ground also leads to congested mobile networks. Further constraints presented by data costs, regulation, and financing, have proved a drag to start-ups.

Our cities remain crowded, fragmented and disconnected. This means that commercial, industrial and housing infrastructure investment has been unable to keep up with the rise in urban population. The result is that congestion and the associated costs currently outdo the expected benefits of urban concentration. Effective urban planning and coordinated infrastructure investments should be prioritized strategies in helping Africa’s cities.

Having the tools for high-tech solutions is one side of the coin, talent creation, training people to use the tools is the other side. We have a demographic advantage with more than 70% of the rapidly urbanising population under 30. This young population wants nothing more than a phone, access to information and a chance to create something new. Investing in our human capital through excellent training is the precursor to capitalizing on technology.

The coproduction of public policy, a route for innovation in Africa

Public-private partnerships are key to the sustained development of Africa. But here is another partnership framework, deserving of our full attention and investment, one that will improve good governance, productivity and efficiency.

We can no longer look at policy through the lenses of the model of governance of the early postcolonial days. It is no longer a small patrimonial elite that has the prerogative to think through a national vision for the people. Whereby in the previous top-down model, citizens were seen as passive consumers of the public services created and delivered by governments, co-production revalorizes citizens as key agents with the capacity to co-create policies. Public policy then becomes a shared responsibility, benefiting from the buy in of the people and leading towards better outcomes in the long run.

We will achieve so much more through this route. For example, NGOs will be more likely to participate in the execution of those policies that they have helped to shape. This paradigms shift needs to take place across the public and private sectors. While a number of private companies have shown a willingness to invest into Corporate Social Responsibility, they do not always consult the communities whose lives they wish to impact. This gap in communication, buy in, pertinence and engagement results in wasted opportunities for both parties.

Local financial partners and impact investors are also key actors in this revamped policy model. The South African Royal Bafokeng Holdings is a sovereign wealth fund and a community-based investment company whose growth uplifts and creates wealth for the Royal Bafokeng Nation, a 100,000 strong Setswana-speaking community. It is considered to be Africa’s most progressive community investment model, with total assets under management at approximately $4 billion (http://www.bafokeng.com). They are also driving diversified and sustainable economic activity by recruiting several manufacturing companies to expand the nation’s exports beyond raw materials and natural resources.

The solutions we bring and the opportunities we create must clearly draw from existing African assets. There is wisdom in working with the grain by involving influential and traditional institutions. Another such inspiring example is the Lebou Community in Senegal. Their traditional system has guaranteed the access of all members to existing resources while also overseeing conservation and sustainable development. Their collective management of natural and human resources is an African model to the rest of the continent and to the world.

We have recently seen the role of the Catholic Church as an agent in brokering political stability in DRC. In December 2016, when the political crisis broke out leading to the death of dozens of civilians, it was the Catholic Church that negotiated a successful and peaceful transition deal, saving the country from havoc. There is no reason why their voices should not be heard beyond politics in matters of investment and public policy.

There is room to go even further in this experiment of co-production of public policy. For it to be a truly innovative and creative space, we must quickly engage the youth as actors of their own lives and agents of the future. Across the world, the gap between the expectations of the youth and the delivery of policy makers is growing, but it is also one that provides an innovative platform, and the more so on the youngest continent of the planet.