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Interview: Russia’s business and investment opportunities in Africa

Kester Kenn Klomegah



With new trends and directions in global business, African countries have to look to the Eurasian region as a huge market for exports as well as make efforts to consolidate and strengthen economic cooperation, says Tatiana Cheremnaya, the President of ANO “Center for Effective Development of Territories” and Head of the working group on public-private partnership “Business Union of Eurasia” in this wide-ranging interview.

She further discusses Russia’s economic relationship, challenges and untapped potential business and investment opportunities with Africa. She spoke recently in this interview with Kester Kenn Klomegah, an independent research writer on Russian-African affairs in Moscow.

How important is Eurasian market for African countries?

The Eurasian marketplace, in scale and capital intensity, is huge. It includes some countries of Europe and post-Soviet countries and rather fast-growing Asian countries. It is obvious that the interest among African countries for access to these markets is enormous both in the context of just entering the market of a particular country and implementation of joint interstate projects. In this case, first of all, we are talking about high requirements in the implementation in Africa of infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges, pipelines, electricity and the search for alternative sources of energy, communication, without which it is impossible to imagine a dynamic and systematic development of the economies of African States.

The implementation of such projects can be possible with the introduction of public-private partnerships. Here you can define several main points of contact between the Eurasian and African companies:

1. The implementation of joint projects in the framework of BRICS. We know that the unit includes one African country – South Africa. Today in the framework of the unit formed the New development Bank BRICS, the funding of joint transnational projects. In 2016, the Bank has approved the financing of the first investment projects in the BRICS countries totaling more than $1.5 billion.

2. Joint cooperation between the units of the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union. It is qualitatively new direction in the cooperation between the two blocs was laid in July 2016, when in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, the delegation of the Eurasian Economic Commission held talks at the African Union Commission. It is worth noting that the African Union itself includes the 54 African States, and in the area of Eurasia includes 89 countries. The scale of the Eurasian-African cooperation is evident.

3. Giant cross-country infrastructure projects, which can be safely attributed to the project Great Silk Road. Here the role of the Eurasian economic Union and the project “Economic Belt Silk Road” is the formation of a common economic space, institutional capacities mates, and the possible components of a proactive commercial and economic strategy of Russia and its Eurasian Economic Union partner. Project financing is also being implemented in the framework of interstate financial institutions creates a system of regional-global financial institutions with total capital to date $240 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, development Fund of Silk Road.

How challenging, of course, is this market?

Of course, to enter the Eurasian markets from Africa is quite difficult. Here we are talking primarily about the high-tech, and the competitiveness of African business. That is, on one hand, we have a cheap labor force, good climate, really good opportunities all appearing for business development on the African continent. But, on the other hand, it often happens that a business can’t compete with the Eurasian giants. However, in time within such a community as BRICS, or the cooperation between the Eurasian economic Union and the African Union, can be reached certain agreements on implementation of joint projects and the release of African companies into the Russian market, what needs to be done.

Do you also think that industrialists and business directors from the Eurasian region can cooperate with other foreign investors on projects in Africa?

Of course, we can talk about cooperation between the African and Eurasian investors. Generally, in the age of globalization, cooperation is a basic and necessary condition for the development of cooperation among countries and enhanced the pace of development of the economies of some African countries gives reason to predict the emergence of truly important and profitable joint projects.

It is worth noting that according to the World Bank, in 2013, among the 50 economies that have improved their economic performance since 2005, about a third owned by the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Studies conducted over the past three years also show that Africa today is no longer perceived as a backward region. It becomes an attractive investment and Eurasian countries see it as a place for prospective business.

It is worth noting that the basis for cooperation, for example, Russia and Africa are already actively created. So, in 2014, the visit of the official Russian delegation to Zimbabwe, where they discussed a number of key bilateral agreements designed to provide preferential treatment to investment from Russia. Russian companies interested in developing major infrastructure projects in the African region, primarily in the mining industry, and have the necessary experience, technology and expertise for the development of industrial and infrastructure projects.

Between countries today are considered joint projects that can participate in such major Russian companies as KAMAZ, Russian Railways, ALROSA, Uralvagonzavod and “Inter RAO”. In addition, to the infrastructure of the Russian-African partnership is also planned in other areas, such as automotive, agricultural production, implementation of joint projects in the sphere of development of agriculture, education and tourism.

Specifically, there is an investment in the republic of Ghana “One District, One Factory”. Opportunities to attract investment from the Eurasian countries have in most African States. For example, South Africa is the infrastructure in Zimbabwe and high-tech projects, and Ghana is the implementation of the “One District, One Factory”. All projects are very important for economic development of the African continent. But in each case for the investor is important, and profitability of such projects. For example, for the “One District, One Factory”, each individual plant will be measured from the point of view of expediency of investment of the investor. Here one should not expect miracles, but you need to work on each project with the Eurasian partners.

Do you think potential investors from the Eurasian region face competition for investment projects with other foreign players in Africa?

Yes, of course, investors of the Eurasian region are interested in implementation of joint projects. It is worth noting that today for the African continent, plays an increasingly important role in the foreign policy of the developed countries, is real struggle among the major powers of the world. For example, countries such as the United States, England, France, China, and India are gradually increasing its economic and political influence on the African continent. The interest of the developed world to Africa is, of course, largely from the increased need of their industry in the extraction of raw materials, which are present on the continent of Africa.

Furthermore, Africa is still untapped market for technology products and consumer goods. Also other Eurasian countries have interest in the continent; we can hardly compete with the leading world powers. Russian business is very interested in business development and their presence in Africa.

So in the near future can predict the development of the Eurasian-African cooperation in the field of business. In this situation it is necessary to search for effective forms of cooperation that have a solid foundation for the cooperation of business, addressing the goals and objectives of the Eurasian countries and Africa

So these Russian companies such as KAMAZ, Russian Railways, ALROSA, Uralvagonzavod, “Inter RAO”…how do you assess their influence or activities in Africa? What are their levels of operations in Africa? For instance, Russia Railways, how do you measure this company’s success as compared to China in Africa? China has completed railway lines in a number of African cities including Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

With regard to the participation of Russian companies in infrastructure projects in Africa, they are already there and as I wrote, will increase significantly. So, for example, Russian Railways is increasing its influence and implementation of joint projects in the field of railways, as Africa is actually very poorly developed railway infrastructure. If we consider the railway infrastructure in Africa, we note, for example that Algeria has an extensive network of railways in the north of the country; the rail infrastructure of Angola was virtually destroyed during years of civil war; in Botswana, Chad, the Gambia and Burundi passenger railways in general no; in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Guinea, Ghana and the Congo, there is one rail that is in poor condition; railroad developed only in Egypt, Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe.

There has been much activity in the railway sector in East Africa. From an economic point of view, it is a very profitable business. On the one hand, there is access to global markets and with another – stimulates regional trade. The countries themselves certainly can’t afford to implement such capital intensive projects, so come to the aid of other countries. And if the past is largely in the construction of railways helped the European countries, now in road infrastructure often puts China. Of the ongoing projects, it is worth noting the railway Mombasa – Nairobi to Kigali (Rwanda) and Juba (South Sudan), the road between Addis Ababa and Djibouti. The construction financing deals with Export-Import Bank of China. Except for the road construction, China also supplies and most of the rolling stock, including locomotives.

But the Russian Railways company is also one of the participants of the market of road infrastructure projects in Africa. In particular, the Sudanese government suggested that Russia participate in construction of Trans-African railroad from Dakar (capital of Senegal), in Port Sudan in the Red sea, which would connect many countries from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. In the future, this railway will connect the capital of Senegal, with the port of Djibouti. The management of Russian Railways said that the company is interested in participation in infrastructure projects in Ethiopia. The Russian Railways, in fact, can become a consultant or general contractor of the project in Africa, as the team has the necessary experience and knowledge.

As for the Russian company “KAMAZ” it is necessary to note that “KAMAZ” works in countries on the African continent since the days of the Soviet Union, the machine “Soviet-style” still can be seen on the roads of Africa. The share of the African continent in the global economy in the near future will increase, and the management of “KAMAZ” seeks to take advantage of a favorable situation. The company “MAZ” – the Russian manufacturer of trucks – in November 2016 began to put Africa right-hand drive trucks. While we are talking only about South Africa, but in the future cooperation is planned with countries such as Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia.

However, the Russian production is not always able to compete with the Chinese, because in many areas of work in Africa, China has the best position. But currently, Russia is strengthening its position in Africa, these projects that implement only experienced Russian companies.

How important is Russian Export Center for Africa? Which Russian products “Made in Russia” are being promoted in Africa market currently, again compared to India and China whose various products including consumer goods, pharmacy and automobiles very common in Africa?

The importance of the Russian Export Center is difficult to overestimate. Indeed, the Center is doing a great job for development, including the African market. According to the report of the Russian Export Center, export of Russian goods to the African continent increased by more than 50 percent in 2016. In Africa, the demand for Russian goods, while their exports to other countries, by contrast, only falls. Given that the difficult economic situation in Russia contributed to a significant decline in exports in almost all countries of the world, has shrunk by nearly a third to US$129,7 billion and in African countries we are seeing demand growth, contrary to the general trend of demand for Russian goods. The maximum growth of exports showed Algeria (US$556 million), Angola (US$298 million) and Egypt (US$178 million).

It should be noted that the attractiveness of African markets is associated with a low level of competition because the market is actually free for low-end products. As for China, here directly is not a competitor to Russia because Russia is a strong player and China is interested in markets with much greater capacity. For Russia as a country that traditionally exported only raw materials, Africa is a very good place to start. However, we know that African countries are fast growing. So, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts by 2016 economic growth in Tanzania 6%, Zimbabwe 3%, while, for example, in the USA only 2%. That is, for Russia, the African market is very interesting and we can talk about expanding cooperation with African countries to export products “Made in Russia” in various segments.

So what are the key problems and impediments to developing practical and active Russian-African business, especially in the manufacturing and consumer sectors, not theories but real active bilateral economic cooperation? What should be done from both sides, from Russian side and from African side?

The problems of effective cooperation between Russia and Africa are political in nature. Thus, the strengthening of Russia’s position leads to the strengthening of its influence in the world, including in Africa and vice versa, sectional policy has significantly reduced Russian exports.

The second problem for the development of Russian-African business is the lack of competitiveness of Russia which allows working only in the low-budget segment. This is due to structural problems in the Russian economy, the need for modernization, the bulk of the products produced during the Soviet Union.

The third problem is the unwillingness of the African market to cooperate, due to the strong backlog of the country in socio-economic aspects, for example, we are talking about the lack of qualified personnel, low standard of living of the population and hence the low effective demand.

The fourth problem is competition from the United States, China and India as more developed countries with more advanced technological solutions, and from the European countries as the former “patrons” of African countries. However, these barriers can be gradually removed by constant open dialogue between African governments and Russia, as well as directly between interested companies of the two countries. For cooperation with Russia is necessary to develop competitive solutions in terms of infrastructure development and proposals for the supply of consumer goods, as well as the removal of bureaucratic barriers. African countries need not only steps on the path to economic growth, but also political decision-making directed at improving living standards and increasing the stability of the political and economic systems of African countries which could significantly reduce risks for investing in African projects.

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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231,000 New Jobs Added in Western Balkans amid Ongoing Economic Challenges, Emigration

MD Staff



A 3.9 percent increase in employment over the last year has led to the creation of 231,000 new jobs throughout the six countries of the Western Balkans, according to the “Western Balkans Labor Market Trends 2018” report, launched today by the World Bank and the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (wiiw). Unemployment also fell from 18.6 percent to 16.2 percent, reaching historic lows in some countries.

Leading the way for employment in the region was Kosovo, which saw an increase of 9.2 percent, followed by Serbia (4.3 percent), Montenegro (3.5 percent), Albania (3.4 percent), FYR Macedonia (2.7 percent), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (1.9 percent). Despite this progress, however, low activity rates – particularly among women and young people – along with high rates of long-term unemployment and a prevalence of informal work, continue to pose challenges for sustained economic growth in the region.

“The region has made great strides in improving labor market outcomes over the last year – meaning more people are finding jobs,” says Linda Van Gelder, World Bank Country Director for the Western Balkans. “However, we continue to see high rates of people who are not in employment, education or in training programs and we need to find ways to link them to future opportunities.”

Youth unemployment of 37.6 percent is a key challenge for the region. However, this rate is down from last year and nearly every country in the region is experiencing the lowest levels of youth unemployment since 2010. Country rates range from 29 percent in Montenegro and Serbia, to more than 50 percent in Kosovo. According to the report, it may be difficult for young people who become detached from jobs or education for long periods to reintegrate into the labor market. They also face a wage gap, earning up to 20 percent less than those who find employment sooner.

The report also notes that female employment rates are on the rise but they still remain low by European standards. The employment rate for women across the region stands at 43.2 percent, varying from a low of 13.1 percent in Kosovo to a high of 52.3 percent in Serbia. The gender gap in employment has also narrowed since 2010, ranging from 28.9 percentage points in Kosovo to 9.8 percentage points in Montenegro.

“Economic trends in the region look to be headed in the right direction,” says Robert Stehrer, Scientific Director of the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies. “Getting more people, particularly young and women into employment remains one of the key challenges in the region to sustain economic and social convergence.”

A number of obstacles to employment need to be addressed to reduce ongoing emigration from the region, especially common among young, educated people. In order to address this, further knowledge is needed. Countries in the region should synchronize their data on emigration and improve the registration and publication of migration statistics. By utilizing high-quality data that is in-line with international standards on workforce composition – both domestically and internationally – will produce accurate analysis of labor market dynamics in the region and allow for the design of policies that can simultaneously address the challenges of emigration and reap the benefits of migration.

Better linkages between secondary graduates and the labor market, as well as earlier interventions to retain students, can improve opportunities for employment. Policies, such as child care, care facilities for the elderly, flexible work arrangements and more part-time jobs would also promote labor market integration among women.

The report was produced with financial support from the Austrian Ministry of Finance.

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Economic Growth in Gulf Region Set to Improve following a Weak Performance in 2017

MD Staff



The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region witnessed another year of disappointing economic performance in 2017 but growth should improve in 2018 and 2019, according to the World Bank’s biannual Gulf Economic Monitor released today in Kuwait.

The region eked out growth of just 0.5% in 2017 – the weakest since 2009 and down from 2.5% the previous year. The GCC region’s economies experienced flat or declining growth as lower oil production and tighter fiscal policy took a toll on activity in the non-oil sector. External debt issuance continued to rise to help finance large fiscal deficits.

Economic growth is expected to strengthen gradually, helped by the recent partial recovery in energy prices, the expiration of oil production cuts after 2018, and an easing of fiscal austerity. The World Bank expects growth to firm to 2.1% in 2018 and rise further to 2.7% in 2019. Growth in Saudi Arabia is expected to rebound close to 2% in 2018-19 and to strengthen similarly elsewhere in the region.

“Policy attention is shifting towards deeper structural reforms needed to sever the region’s longer-term fortunes from those of the energy sector,” said Nadir Mohammed, World Bank Country Director for the GCC. “While the recent increase in oil prices provides some breathing space, policy makers should guard against complacency and instead double down on reforms needed to breathe new life into sluggish domestic economies, to create jobs for young people and to diversify the economic base. Any slippage could negatively impact the credibility of the policy framework and dampen investor sentiment.

Looking forward, there are several downside risks that may weigh on activity. Lower than expected oil prices could exert pressure on the OPEC producers to extend or deepen their production reduction agreement and dampen medium-term growth in the GCC countries.

Although fiscal and current account balances are improving, the region continues to face large financing needs and remains vulnerable to shifts in global risk sentiment and the cost of funding. Geopolitical developments and relations within the region could slow growth prospects. Slippage in the implementation of country reform plans arising from weak institutional capacity will rob the GCC of the benefits of fiscal adjustment and of deeper structural reforms that aim to diversify their economies.

Over the longer term, the enduring dominance of the hydrocarbon sector in the GCC economies argues for the vigorous implementation of structural reforms.  The terms of trade shocks in 2008-09 and in 2014-16 barely dented the dominance of the hydrocarbon sector in the GCC, with the bulk of the adjustment so far driven by spending cuts rather than the emergence of other traded sectors.

Structural reforms should focus on economic diversification, private sector development, and labor market and fiscal reforms. The GCC states’ long-term ambitions are articulated in various country vision statements and investment plans, and aspire to build competitive economies that utilize the talents of their people.

Implementing these structural transformation programs requires continuing political commitment from the GCC governments.

Saudi Arabia has shown considerable leadership in this regard: the 12 “vision realization plans” associated with its Vision 2030 aspirations aim to significantly transform the economy over the next 15 years by lifting the private sector share of the economy from 40 to 65% and the small and medium enterprise contribution to GDP from 20 to 35%.

Transforming from an oil-dependent economy to a self-propelled, human capital-oriented one requires some fundamental changes in the mindset; some also call this a new social contract,” said Kevin Carey, Practice Manager at the World Bank.  “GCC countries do not need to discard their existing social contracts but rather to upgrade them to reflect new realities of low for long oil prices, increasing global competition and the long-term threats from technological and climate change.”

As with other Arab countries, the GCC states also face sustainability, equity and welfare challenges related to their pension systems. These issues need to be addressed urgently to prevent any negative impact on economic growth, fiscal sustainability, and labor market stability.

Among the potential solutions that could help improve pension outcomes, the Gulf Economic Monitor underscores the importance of improving efficiency by reducing the prevailing fragmentation in many of the GCC pension systems; making access and contributions as simple and systematic as possible through the strengthening of ID and IT systems and the capabilities of pension administration bodies; and strengthening the governance of pension institutions. If GCC countries wish to attract global talent, they will also need to consider potential solutions for expatriates that help to meet their long-term pension and financial security needs.

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Poland: Build on current economic strength to innovate and invest in skills and infrastructure

MD Staff



Poland’s economic growth remains strong. Rising family benefits and a booming jobs market are lifting household income while poverty rates and inequality are falling, says a new OECD report.

In its latest Economic Survey of Poland, the OECD encourages policy-makers to build on the country’s current economic strength and social progress in order to tackle major remaining challenges. To sustain rising living standards Poland has to develop its capacity to innovate and invest in skills and infrastructure, as is acknowledged in the government’s Strategy for Responsible Development. The report says that the level of expenditure on research and development, despite recent welcome rises and tax incentives, remains weak. Vocational training suffers from limited business engagement which is hindering many of the country’s plentiful small enterprises from modernising and improving productivity.

Poland is also ageing rapidly. The working age population is projected to decline markedly over the coming decades. The lowering of the retirement age risks increasing poverty among the elderly, particularly women, says the OECD. Women often have patchy career paths and their retirement age is now set to remain unusually low. Workers should be made aware of the benefits of working longer for their future pension income, the report says.

Despite efforts to improve childcare, it remains insufficient and expensive, especially in rural areas. More investment in childcare is required as part of a range of measures to help combine work and family life and strengthen the number of women in employment.

Presenting the Survey in Warsaw, OECD Deputy Secretary-General Mari Kiviniemi said, “Poland is in a strong position. A dynamic job market together with the Family 500 + programme has helped make economic development more inclusive. Many people now benefit from new opportunities and rising incomes.”

“The time is ripe to ensure that living standards continue to rise. Strengthening innovation, improving infrastructure and investing in skills will be crucial. With rising labour and skills shortages, many employers now realise how important it is to invest in training. The government must seize this opportunity to engage with them.”

Measures to improve tax compliance have succeeded in shrinking the public deficit despite higher spending on social benefits. But more resources – or shift in how they are used – will be needed to raise  spending in priority areas such as public infrastructure, healthcare and higher education and research.

Limiting reduced VAT rates, increasing environmental taxes and giving a stronger role to the progressive personal income tax would raise additional revenue while contributing to more equity and a greener environment.

Plans to reform higher education and improve research excellence and industry-science co-operation are welcome, the report says. The general health status of Poles and access to healthcare are very unequal, while environmental quality is below the average of OECD countries. Tax rates on air and water pollution and on CO2 emissions are low and many environmentally harmful fuel uses are exempt from taxation. Raising environmental taxes would provide stronger incentives to replace ageing coal-intensive equipment with greener alternatives.

A clear immigration policy strategy is also needed to better monitor integration of foreigners in line with labour market needs, the protection of their rights and their access to education and training.

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