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Russia: Time to Finance Infrastructure and Investment Projects in Africa

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Over the past few years, Russian companies have shown an increasing interest towards investment and preparedness to compete with other foreign players in Africa, but they have also complained bitterly of lack of state financial support and investment credit guarantees from policy banks and money-lending institutions.

China, India and Japan, and more recently the United States have provided funds to support companies ready to carry out projects in various sectors in African countries.

This situation has sparked discussions among policy experts. For instance, Dr Martyn Davies, Chief Executive Officer of the South African based Frontier Advisory (Pty) Ltd, does not think that the Chinese model of financing various infrastructure and construction projects in Africa is replicable considering the current structure/nature of the Chinese policy banking system, adding that Russia’s banking sector operates quite differently.

There are now approximately 50 leading Chinese state-owned enterprises that are all Fortune 500 firms that are present in Africa, with the majority of these active in infrastructure and construction in Africa, he explained to Buziness Africa.

Explaining further, he said although the rapidity of and pervasiveness of their market entry into Africa has taken many by surprise, and the main factor that has assisted this speedy market engagement was that the projects were largely “de-risked” from a financial perspective.

Arguably the single greatest risk of contracting (with governments) in Africa is ultimately getting paid. In the case of the Chinese contracted projects, the Chinese state’s so-called policy banks have provided finance and have underwritten the infrastructure roll-out very often supported by sovereign guarantees from the recipient African state. No other (even development) banks have been willing to absorb such financial risks on infrastructure projects in Africa. This accounts for China’s “success” in building infrastructure in Africa in recent years, according to the academic professor.

“It is almost impossible for the model to be replicated in a true commercial sense. The only likelihood of similar financial structures arising is in the case of tied-aid for commercial purposes. I would argue that the strategy of China Inc. is resulting in a rethinking of how aid/developmental capital is being allocated or spent in Africa by other partners. This is especially the case with Japanese aid to Africa, with the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) meeting and the commercial outcomes from it evidence of this,” Davies concluded assertively.

When the former Chinese President Hu Jintao delivered a speech at the opening ceremony of the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), he indicated explicitly that “China will expand cooperation in investment and financing to support sustainable development in Africa. China provided $20 billion dollars of credit line to African countries to assist them in developing infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and small and medium-sized enterprises.”

Japan made a five-year commitment of $32 billion dollars in public and private funding to Africa, and the money to be used in areas prioritized as necessary for growth by the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).

Japan’s new pledge is nearly four times larger than its last commitment to the group. The plan of action is ambitious. Japanese funds will help in a number of areas, including trade, infrastructure, private sector development, health and education, good governance and food production

Suffice to say that the United States, Britain, Brazil and India have followed concretely Chinese footsteps with financial commitment towards sustainable development projects in Africa. These steps have, indeed, made competition keen for bidding for available infrastructural projects on the continent.

During the official working meeting with Barack Obama, South African President Jacob Zuma told his colleague: “The United States’ strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa that you launched is well-timed to take advantage of this growing market. We look forward to strengthening the US-Africa partnership and we are pleased with the growing bilateral trade and investment.”

For example, there are 600 US companies operating in South Africa which have created in excess 150,000 jobs for local people. Many experts still believe that Russian authorities have to provide incentives.

Charles Robertson, Global Chief Economist at Renaissance Capital, thinks that the major problem is incentives. China has two major incentives to invest in Africa. First, China needs to buy resources, while Russia does not. Second, Chinese exports are suitable for Africa – whether it is textiles or iPads, goods made in China can be sold in Africa. Russia exports little except oil and has (roughly 2/3 of exports), steel and metals (which is either not cost effective to sell in Africa, or again is the same as Africa is selling) and military weapons.

“Most importantly, Chinese firms see African growth as benefiting China, while Russia has less to gain from this. There is little incentive for Russian firms to operate in Africa…though Renaissance Capital sees opportunities, as does Rusal, and a few others. The problem is not investment credits or guarantees,” Robertson pointed out.

In his objective views, Russia has a northern hemisphere focus. And that explains why Russia has shown low financial commitment in its foregn policy implementation in Africa as compared to countries such as Japan, India and China.

According to Jimmy Saruchera, a Director at Schmooze Frontier Markets, an investment fund that works to support small-and-medium sized businesses in new emerging markets, suggested that both Russia and Africa needed work on a good trade policy, stable and transparent institutions are the fundamental ingredients, then tools such as credits and export guarantees can be more effective.

Dr Scott Firsing, a visiting Bradlow fellow at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA) and a senior lecturer in international studies at Monash University in Johannesburg, said “the absence of export credit guarantees can be a real obstacle to some in countries such as Russia because there are businesses and policy holders that look for these guarantees to help alleviate the fear of doing business in high risk markets like Africa.”

Export credit guarantees show the exporter protection against the main risks, which include political and commercial risks, in places such as Africa. This has been very successful for countries like South Africa, which even manage to stockpile cash over time due to the premiums being more than the payouts. Moreover, one can deduce that without such cover or this ‘safety net’, South African companies might have never taken such risks or would have been unable to bid or win contracts in developing economics, according to his explanation to Buziness Africa.

“I would suggest such a move that Russia has to design a policy strategy. One of China’s policy banks, the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) is the country’s largest lender for funding acquisitions and investments overseas, totaling more than its four main commericial banks. This has helped expand the overseas presence of Chinese companies like ZTE Corp and Huawei that wouldn’t have been previously unlikely without the assistance from such a policy bank,” he added.

According to Dr Firsing: a similar statement can be made of the importance of American institutions like their Export-Import Bank that supports American companies and their expansion into African markets. Obama’s latest African Power Initiative sees the Export-Import Bank granting up to US$5 billion in support of U.S. exports for the development of power projects across sub-Saharan Africa. Russia can learn a lot from the approach of these countries.

Professor David H. Shinn, an Adjunct Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs George, Washington University, suspects that Russia’s problem goes well beyond investment credits and export credit guarantees. Just look at Russian trade with Africa. It is embarrassingly low. Turkey has twice as much trade with Africa as Russia. Most Russian investment in Africa goes into large energy and mineral projects. China is investing in just about everything.

Professor Shinn, who was a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia (1996-99) and Burkina Faso (1987-90), wrote in an email interview to Buziness Africa, that lack of or weakness of Russian government incentives for investing outside Russia seems to be the significant part of its African policy problem, that compared, China does a lot of project financing in Africa.

He argued that western countries are also at a disadvantage because there is much more separation between the government and the private sector and there is no equivalent government state-owned sector, at least, not in the United States. Most Chinese investment in Africa occurs with the large state-owned companies, which work closely with the government. President Barack Obama recently tried to energize the US private sector in Africa during his recent visit, especially with the Power Africa initiative.

Interestingly, Russian policy experts have repeatedly called for state support for corporate investment initiatives as well as helping systematically private entrepreneurs to make strong strategic inroads into mutually viable investment sectors and to raise economic presence in Africa.

“Until recently, Africa was poorly represented in macro-economic forecasting and research, especially in terms of Russian-African relations,” wrote Professor Aleksei Vasiliev and Evgeny Korendiasov both from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of African Studies (IAS). Vasiliev is the current Director of the IAS and former Special Presidential Envoy to African Countries while Korendiasov retired Russian Ambassador and now the Head of the Department for Russian-African Research at the IAS.

They both authored an article published in June that Russia has officially declared promoting relations with Africa a priority goal. Assurances made by Russian officials in their statements that Africa is “in the mainstream of Russia’s foreign policy” have not been substantiated by systematic practical activities, and the development of relations between Russia and Africa has so far nothing to boast about.

According to the academic researchers, currently the scope for Russian-African partnership is significantly expanding and of the 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Western experts consider 24 to be democratic countries.They both argued that “through large-scale and purposeful participation in the international development assistance, Russia strives to advance its foreign policy priorities and strengthen the positions of Russian business in the African economic space.”

But, they pointed out unreservedly that the situation in Russian-African foreign trade will change for the better, if Russian industry undergoes technological modernization, the state provides Russian businessmen systematic and meaningful support, and small and medium businesses receive wider access to foreign economic cooperation with Africa.

Among other policy recommendations, they stressed “defining clear guidelines and priorities of Russian policy towards Africa, creating conditions for the promotion of Russian goods and investments in African markets, setting up mechanisms of financial support by the state of export and investment projects which is a compulsory condition for successful Russian business activity on the African continent and introducing tariff preferences for trade with African partners.”

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Economy

Côte d’Ivoire: Robust growth under the looming threat of climate change impacts

MD Staff

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According to the Economic Update for Côte d’Ivoire, published today, the short- and medium-term outlook for the Ivorian economy remains positive. The economy is expected to maintain a steady trajectory, with GDP growth of 7 to 7.5% in the coming years. Titled “So Tomorrow Never Dies: Côte d’Ivoire and Climate Change,” the report highlights the urgent need to implement measures to ensure that climate change impacts do not imperil this economic progress and plunge millions of Ivorians into poverty.

“The solid performance of the Ivorian economy, which registered growth of almost 8% in 2017, is essentially due to the agricultural sector, which experienced positive climate conditions. The economy also benefited from a period of calm after the political and social instability of the first half of 2017 and from more favorable conditions on international markets,” said Jacques Morisset, Program Leader for Côte d’Ivoire and Lead Author of the report. “The Government also successfully managed its accounts, with a lower-than-expected deficit of 4.2% of GDP, while continuing its ambitious investment policy, partly financed by a judicious debt policy on financial markets.

However, the report notes that private sector activity slowed in 2017 compared with 2016 and especially 2015, which may curb the pace of growth of the Ivorian economy in the coming years. Against the backdrop of fiscal adjustment projected for 2018 and 2019, it is critical that the private sector remain dynamic and become the main driver of growth. This is particularly important in light of the uncertainty associated with the upcoming elections in 2020, which could prompt investors to adopt a wait-and-see approach.

As economic growth in Côte d’Ivoire relies in part on use of its natural resource base, the authors of the report devote a chapter to the impact of climate change on the economy. They raise an alarming point: the stock of natural resources is believed to have diminished by 26% between 1990 and 2014. Several visible phenomena attest to this degradation, such as deforestation, the depletion of water reserves, and coastal erosion. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change could reduce GDP across Africa by 2% to 4% by 2040 and by 10% to 25% by 2100. For Côte d’Ivoire, this would correspond to a loss of some CFAF 380 billion to 770 billion in 2040.

This report sounds an alarm in order to spark a rapid and collective wake-up call,” said Pierre Laporte, World Bank Country Director for Côte d’Ivoire. “Combating climate change will require prompt decisions and must become a priority for the country to maintain accelerated and sustainable growth over time.”

The report pays special attention to coastal erosion and to the cocoa sector, which represents one third of the country’s exports and directly affects over 5 million people. With 566 km of coast, Côte d’Ivoire now boasts a coastal population of almost 7.5 million people, who produce close to 80% of the national GDP. Two thirds of this coast is affected by coastal erosion, with severe consequences for the communities and the country’s economy.

The Ivorian Government, which is already aware of this challenge and has prepared a strategy to confront it, must expedite its implementation. This would have the two-fold effect of developing a “green” economy and creating new jobs.

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Economy

A future of work based on sustainable production and employment

Simel Esim

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On the first Saturday of July each year, the international community celebrates the International Day of Cooperatives. This year’s theme, Sustainable consumption and production of goods and services is timely, as the ILO works towards a future of work that is based on sustainable production and employment models.

As head of the ILO’s Cooperative Unit, I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of cooperatives’ commitment to sustainable consumption and production.

In Northern Sri Lanka, for instance, after years of civil war, I saw how cooperatives helped build the resilience of local communities.

A rapid assessment at the start of the ILO’s Local Empowerment through Economic Development project (LEED) indicated that cooperatives were the only “stable” structures present in Northern Sri Lanka before, during, and after the conflict. Since 2010, the project has been supporting agriculture and fishery cooperatives by securing fair trade certification for their products and helping them establish market links.

I’ve also listened to inspiring stories from other parts of the world of how cooperatives have joined forces to contribute to sustainable consumption, production and decent work – often through cooperative-to-cooperative trade.

Some of these stories were shared at a recent meeting in Geneva of cooperative and ethical trade movements.

We heard how Kenyan producer cooperatives’ coffee has found its way on the shelves of Coop Denmark and how biological pineapples from a Togolese youth cooperative are being sold in retail cooperatives across Italy. We heard how consumer cooperatives in East Asia have developed organic and ecolabel products, while educating their members about the working conditions of producers and workers, as well as on reducing food waste and plastic consumption. We also shared ILO experiences in supporting constituents in the field.

The emerging consensus from the meeting was that cooperative-to-cooperative trade can help lower the costs of trade, while ensuring fairer prices and better incomes for cooperative members and their communities. Opportunities exist not only in agricultural supply chains, but also in ready-made garments and other sectors.

Cooperatives at both ends of the supply chain have been joining forces to shorten value chains, improve product traceability and adopt environmentally-friendly practices. At the ILO we have been working with our constituents to improve the social and environmental footprint of cooperatives around the world.

As the ILO continues to promote a future of work that is based on sustainable production and employment models, a priority for us in the coming years is to facilitate the development of linkages between ILO constituents and cooperatives. The aim is to encourage joint action towards responsible production and consumption practices, the advancement of green and circular economies and the promotion of decent work across supply chains.

Source: ILO

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Economy

Mongolia’s Growth Prospects Remain Positive but More Efficient Public Investment Needed

MD Staff

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Mongolia’s economic performance has improved dramatically with GDP growth increasing from 1.2 percent in 2016 to 5.1 percent in 2017 and 6.1 percent in the first quarter of 2018. While short- and medium-term economic prospects remain positive, Mongolia faces core structural vulnerabilities that hinder its potential, according to Mongolia Economic Update, the latest World Bank report on Mongolia’s economy launched here today. The report also highlights the importance of improving efficiency of its public investment programs given extensive consequences from the overambitious and unrealistic investment programs implemented in the past.

“Last year was a good year for Mongolia with favorable commodities prices and the successful implementation of the government’s economic recovery program,” said Dr. Jean-Pascal N. Nganou, World Bank Senior Economist for Mongolia and Team Leader of the report. “This resulted in improved fiscal and external balances, triggering a slight decline of the country’s public debt.

The recovery is expected to accelerate with a GDP growth rate averaging more than 6 percent between 2019 and 2020, driven by large foreign direct investments in mining. Other than agriculture, which was severely affected by harsh weather conditions during the winter, most major sectors including manufacturing, trade, and transport are expected to expand significantly. On the back of increasing exports and higher commodity prices, economic growth will continue to have a strong positive impact on government revenue, contributing to the reduction of the fiscal deficit.

The unemployment rate dropped to 7.3 percent in the last quarter of 2017, compared to 8.6 percent a year earlier. Still, it increased to 9.7 percent in the first quarter of this year, reflecting Mongolia’s highly seasonal employment patterns due to difficult working conditions in the winter, especially in construction, agriculture, and mining.

The report highlights possible short- and medium-term risks including political risks, regional instability, climate shocks, and natural disasters. The most critical risk identified is a sudden relaxation of the government’s commitment to full implementation of its economic adjustment program supported by development partners.

In addition, the economy remains vulnerable to fluctuations in global commodity prices and a productivity gap. The best long-term protection against these two vulnerabilities is the diversification of the Mongolian economy.

To create a strong buffer against economic vulnerabilities, the government and donors should give a high priority to economic diversification that helps counter the ups and downs of the mining sector. Investing in human capital and strengthening the country’s institutions are the best way to support diversification, together with sound investments in crucial infrastructure,” said James Anderson, World Bank Country Manager for Mongolia.

The report takes a closer look at public investment programs implemented over the past five years, which surged until 2015, contributing to large increases in public finance deficits and the public debt. Mongolia needs to review and reshape its public investment policies and decision-making processes to improve efficiency of public spending, including clear project selection and prioritization criteria, as well as proper maintenance of existing assets.

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