Despite conflicts and instability in parts, Africa’s fast growth and development, at least during the past decade, has attracted external countries mainly from Asian region, European Union (EU) and the United States. In this special interview, David Shinn, an Adjunct Professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs, a former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, and previously served as a Director of the Office of East African Affairs in Washington, explains some ways to engage Africa.
He further discusses the important institutional differences in each BRICS member countries that impact on the implementation of policies in Africa, whether to compete or cooperate jointly on development infrastructure projects, and finally identifies the tools and tactics some countries use to achieve their respective goals on the continent.
How unique is East Africa and the Horn for foreign investors and who are the proactive countries there?
This region, especially the Horn of Africa, has more than its share of conflict, which poses a special challenge for foreign investors. The three East African countries—Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda–have been more successful in attracting foreign investment because they have experienced less conflict in recent years and made a special effort to reach out to foreign investors. The investment has come from a variety of countries including the United Kingdom, Netherlands, India, Canada, South Africa, China, United States, Germany, and France. The Horn of Africa is witnessing a growing amount of investment from the Gulf States, but political instability is limiting investor interest. Before the independence of South Sudan, there was considerable investment in Sudan’s oil sector by China, India, and Malaysia.
While that investment remains, it is now shared between Sudan and South Sudan. Conflict in South Sudan has stopped new investment. Somalia and Somaliland attract investment from the Somali diaspora but foreign countries have been reluctant to go into both entities for different reasons. Somalia is not sufficiently stable and Somaliland is not recognized internationally and, therefore, poses legal challenges for potential investors.
While Djibouti and Eritrea are politically stable, their markets are too small to attract significant foreign investment. Of all the countries in the Horn, Ethiopia has in recent years been the recipient of most foreign investment from countries such as China, Turkey, Bangladesh and the Netherlands. Political protests that began last summer are beginning, however, to impact foreign investment. A number of foreign investments were destroyed during the most recent protests concerning a range of grievances. This will discourage others from coming.
China is still leading with investment in infrastructure, but are the United States and European Union competing or cooperating with China?
China is the largest builder of infrastructure in Africa today, but this is not foreign direct investment. These are contracts with Chinese state-owned companies financed by loans from Chinese government institutions, the African Development Bank, World Bank, etc. In some cases, the African governments finance the projects. Once the infrastructure project is completed, China almost never has any ownership involvement. Hence, it is not foreign direct investment, but a commercial deal financed by loans that have to be paid back by the African government. Private US and European companies are in a much weaker position to win these contracts because they have less access to financing from their own governments and tend to submit higher bids than Chinese companies. There are exceptions such as the Italian company that is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. In any event, this is an area where the US and European Union compete with China.
There are areas where China, the US, and EU cooperate. All three seek political stability in Africa and cooperate on UN peacekeeping operations, African Union efforts to achieve peace such as in South Sudan, and the anti-piracy campaign in the Gulf of Aden. There is occasional collaboration on aid projects, but there is room for much more, especially in the areas of health and agriculture. All three parties have partnered with Africa to achieve development and they all want to see Africa succeed economically. There is one area of major difference. The US and EU, to varying degrees, encourage open political systems, the rule of law, and free and fair elections in Africa. China is satisfied with whatever form of government exists in a particular African country and has no desire to be critical of any governmental system. African governments prefer the Chinese approach; many African civil society organizations prefer the US and EU approach.
In your view, can Russia (a member of BRICS) make any headway into the region?
The short answer is yes and, to some extent, it has. Following the end of the Cold War, Russia pulled back sharply from Africa, although it maintained most of its diplomatic missions there. Serious economic problems in Russia prevented it from reengaging in Africa until relatively recently. There has been an increase in Russian investment in Africa, especially North Africa and several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are prospects for greater Russian investment in Africa. Russian trade with Africa has been especially disappointing. In 2014, it exported $9.3 billion to Africa, most to North Africa, and imported $2.8 billion from Africa. This is less trade than Turkey has with Africa. Russia is energy self-sufficient; Africa just does not have much that Russia wants to buy. This situation is not likely to change any time soon. At the political level, Russia has demonstrated minimal high-level interest in Africa. Until it makes a decision to pay more high-level attention to Africa, it is difficult to see greater engagement at the political level. For the time being, Russia is preoccupied with Syria, Ukraine, and relations with China and the US. I doubt that it will be in a position in the foreseeable future to devote much attention to Africa.
What’s the best way for foreign countries to engage Africa?
I assume your question about the best way to engage Africa refers to engagement by governments outside Africa. If so, I think the process should be as follows. First, foreign governments should determine what kind of engagement individual African governments prefer. The foreign government must then decide if it is prepared to engage in that manner. If not, it should explain frankly to the African government why not.
If the engagement sought by the African government is the kind of interaction that the foreign government is prepared to do, then both sides should discuss the details. At this point, it is essential that the foreign government not mislead the African government that it can do more than is, in fact, the case. Western governments, compared to statist driven governments, have a handicap because so much Western engagement comes from the private sector, which Western governments do not control. This handicap also applies to a number of non-Western governments.
Now, looking at BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), are there institutional differences in implementing business policies in Africa?
There are institutional differences among the BRICS. The private sector is proportionally much more important in India, Brazil, and South Africa than is the case in China and Russia. The state-owned sector of the economy is especially important in the case of China. BRICS’ business practices and the degree to which their governments control business practices vary widely from one member to another.
Unlike many Western countries, however, none of the BRICS attaches political strings to their business engagements although they all, to varying degrees, impose economic conditions. These conditions include, for example, infrastructure loans tied to construction companies from the offering country and contractual arrangements for a percentage of labor from the offering country.
Can BRICS members, say for example Brazil, China or India, compete or cooperate with Russia on development projects in Africa?
I believe there are cases where BRICS’ members have already competed for winning contracts in Africa. This has especially been the case between India and China in the petroleum sector. While I don’t know of specific examples involving Russia, I would be surprised if Russia has not competed against another BRICS’ country for winning a contract in Africa. By its very nature, business interaction usually involves competition. At the same time, companies from two different BRICS’ member countries can team up in their effort to win a contract or start a business in Africa.
The area where there is more likely to be cooperation is foreign aid. China and Brazil have been cooperating on agricultural research in Africa. Theoretically, all BRICS’ members, including Russia, could cooperate on a development project financed by two or more BRICS’ members. The BRICS’ New Development Bank has approved its first package of four loans to Brazil, China, South Africa, and India worth some US$811 million. They are all in the field of renewable energy; South Africa received a loan for US$180 million. This is an example of cooperation but, so far, only to the benefit of BRICS’ members.
Do they have strategic differences that make it difficult for a unified approach in Africa?
I believe the BRICS have strategic differences that will complicate a unified approach in Africa. Each BRICS’ member country has its own interests in Africa. Each one has a different development model and political system. The size of their respective economies varies enormously from China’s nominal GDP of US$11.4 trillion to Russia’s US$1.1 trillion and South Africa’s US$266 billion. These countries have more differences than they have commonalities. I don’t believe this will result often in unity of action.
Ethiopia and Russia Need to Catch Up
“There is a need to catch up. We agreed to hold meetings regularly,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a media conference after diplomatic talks with his counterpart, Gedu Andargachew in Moscow. According to official reports, Lavrov and Andargachew held wide-ranging talks that were constructive and substantive, and focused on broadening cooperation between Russia and Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is one of Russia’s main partners in Africa. Both countries are tied by years of solidarity with the African countries in their fight for independence and decolonization. The creation of the African Union headquartered in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, was the culmination of the decolonization processes in Africa.
Throughout their partnership, they have gained extensive experience in mutually beneficial cooperation that meets the interests of both countries in various areas. As a result, Lavrov said they both agreed to stimulate the work of the joint economic commission and to encourage it to implement joint investment projects across a variety of fields, including energy, such as hydrocarbon energy, hydroelectric energy and nuclear energy.
They further noted the importance and interest of companies such as Rosatom, Inter RAO, GPB Global Resources, Russian Railways, KAMAZ and UAZ in working in Ethiopia.
There is a potential for cooperation between Russia and Ethiopia in science and education. Russia pledged to support biological research under the Joint Russian-Ethiopian Biological Expedition, which has been operating there for more 30 years.
Many Ethiopian students study at Russian universities, including civilian universities and those operated by the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry. Russia will expand this practice. And at the request from the Ethiopian government, Moscow will conduct two specialized courses for Ethiopian diplomats at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy next year.
With regard to other promising areas of interaction, which has a rich history, include military-technical and military cooperation. Ethiopian Minister of National Defence, Aisha Mussa, took part in the talks as part of the delegation. Discussions here was about agreeing on additional regulatory documents which will allow more effectively to promote cooperation in supplying military equipment and in other areas.
Lavrov and Andargachew exchanged views on regional and global questions. “We are on the same page on most issues, consistently advocate for strengthening fair and democratic principles of international relations, and searching for collective answers to large-scale challenges and threats, and respecting the right of each nation to independently determine its future,” top Russian diplomat said.
With regard to the African countries and the African continent, Lavrov and Andargachew strongly support the idea that Africans should have the decisive role in deciding on the paths to resolve African problems. There is no alternative to resolving these crises, or crises in any other part of the world, through peaceful political means, while relying on an inclusive national dialogue. The situation in Africa and the goals that need to be vigorously addressed in order to overcome several crises and conflicts, primarily, on the Horn of Africa, South Sudan and Somalia.
Africans Must Focus on What Unites Them Not What Separates Them
The majority of South Africans are appalled at the attacks on African migrants and refugees in the country by South Africans, said its Finance Minister Tito Mboweni at the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum on Africa.
“We welcome all Africans who have come to this conference; we welcome all Africans who live in South Africa. We are all Africans. We need to tell our people that what they are doing is wrong. These artificial barriers we have created and the hatred among ourselves must really become a thing of the past,” he said.
Responding to a question about the African Continental Free Trade Area, Mboweni said if Africa wants the free movement of goods, it also needs to ensure the free movement of people. “If free movement is supposed to happen, one cannot be in a position where you allow this person and not the other.”
Mboweni was standing in for Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, who was at Parliament to address protestors demanding action from the government on violence against women. Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum, said that addressing systemic violence against women is a top priority for the meeting and she urged all leaders to act against the problem.
Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said leaders at all levels, not just at the political level, must “dig deep to bring back social cohesion. We need to look at what binds us and not what separates us.”
Speaking on the issue of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Mohammed said that, while advances in technology are exciting, “the picture has shadows as well as light.”
Mohammed said technology is moving faster than the world’s ability to manage its impact and it is adding to the uncertainty of a world already unsettled by challenges such as climate change. “If governments cannot proactively manage the impacts, it will make our growth less inclusive with severe security implications.” Partnerships will be critical in addressing the challenges emerging from this new world.
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said the rapid pace of technology requires renewed frameworks for cooperation to be developed to deliver an inclusive and sustainable future for Africa.
“Africa cannot afford to be left behind. The Fourth Industrial Revolution can solve many of the issues that came with the first, second and third industrial revolutions. It is a catalyst for Africa to leapfrog into the 21st century,” said Schwab.
Cyril M. Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, in remarks read on his behalf by Mboweni, said Africa, along with the rest of the world, is dealing with the same question: how to harness the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in pursuit of development and economic growth. “And importantly, how to ensure that, as we take this quantum leap into the future, we do not leave society’s most marginalized behind.”
“Disruptive trends and technologies are changing the way we live, the way we work and do business, and the way we govern. We must respond with agility to craft a roadmap for navigating this new environment. We must ensure that our citizens are prepared, and, if necessary, that they are shielded from any adverse consequences. Our response must be collaborative, multisectoral and inclusive,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa said South Africa is not only working with its neighbours to develop a continental strategy led by the African Telecommunications Union, but it has also established a Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution to position the country as a competitive global player in this new space.
Three new Forum initiatives were also announced at the plenary session: platforms dealing with youth and employment, risk resilience and e-commerce.
Youth and Women Key to Making This Africa’s Century
Africa can achieve a step change in economic growth by addressing shortfalls in governance, reducing barriers to trade and – crucially – embracing the potential of its youth and women, heads of state from across the continent told the World Economic Forum on Africa today.
“We have the wherewithal to be able to reach for higher levels of growth,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa. “The future is great. It looks very bright for the African continent. If there ever was a time when Africa definitely could be said to be on the rise, this is the time.”
Optimism about intra-African trade is on the rise following the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which includes nearly every country on the continent.
However, Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi warned that leaders must now focus on the practicalities of easing cross-border commerce. “We need to remove all the barriers and put in the enablers to facilitate free trade, beginning in our neighbourhood,” he said.
If countries deliver on this, Ramaphosa said, AfCFTA could be “the greatest opportunity for economies on the continent to generate growth through trade.”
In a world where Europe faces shrinking workforces due to ageing and much of Asia soon will, Africa’s fast-growing population also offers a “demographic dividend” to drive future growth. Crowds of young Africans represent a huge resource to man the factories and service industries of the future, as well as a big potential market.
But that demographic dividend will only pay out if the young can find jobs – and that, in turn, will depend on skilling up the young.
“We need a rebirth of education for the 21st century,” said Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.
At the same time, women must be brought into the fold to a much greater extent, requiring a root-and-branch fight against gender discrimination. This must include opening up previously restricted areas of education such as science to women, said Ethiopian President Sahlework Zewde.
“The important thing is to invest in our young people … and empower women,” said Mandulo Ambrose Dlamini, Prime Minister of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. “I learnt that if you include women in leadership in your team, the level of intelligence increases.”
Hopes for Africa’s economy have been raised before. The continent enjoyed boom times prior to the financial crash of 2008, thanks to a commodities “super cycle” that saw sustained high prices for its raw materials. But prices for Africa’s minerals are well down on those heady days, while few countries have yet to escape the extractive model by managing to add value to their commodities. Now, however, there is a growing determination to achieve this, with Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Namibia’s President Hage Geingob both calling for value to be added to their country’s minerals before they are exported.
“The problem of investors or foreigners who come to Africa is that they come on their own terms. From now on, Africa must tell investors when they come, they come on our terms,” said Geingob. “Why should my diamonds go out in raw form?”
Mnangagwa, who said he is striving to rebuild Zimbabwe’s “collapsed economy”, said it is vital to understand the needs of the private sector for investment in technology that could add value locally.
The over-arching requirement is for African countries to reassure their own populations and investors that they can offer a framework for stable growth, said Seychelles President Danny Faure. “We need to deepen the reform that we are doing to better reflect the need for Africa have what is necessary in terms of good governance, transparency, accountability and the rule of law,” he said.
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