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Russia-Africa Investment Forum: A bridge between Russian and African business

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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The Russia-Africa Investment Forum (RAfTIF) is one of the platforms that seeks to promote business opportunities on the African continent and serves as a bridge between Russian and African business. It primarily seeks to deepen understanding of the business climate, accelerate investment and partnership possibilities in Africa.

Ahead of the first Russia-Africa Investment Forum planned for November, Event Managing Director Irina Awote explains in this interview, taken by Kester Kenn Klomegah, what potential Russian investors and participants can expect from the African business leaders and politicians, and useful information from thematic discussion panels on the public and private sectors.

The first edition of Russia Africa Investment forum comes on in November, why only at this time nearly three decades since the Soviet collapse?

This has mostly been driven by economic factors, first internal that is within Russia, and second, external market influences that have occurred over time. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia primarily focused on building and strengthening its internal economy.

Today, the Russian economy and Russian industries have come a long way since the Soviet collapse – the Russian economy is a lot stronger than in the first two decades following the Soviet collapse, at the same time many Russian enterprises have since evolved and developed, many through partnerships with international organisations.

Russian industrial products are now much more refined and mostly on par with those of their international counterparts, both in terms of quality and appeal. Russian companies have become more savvy and experienced with working with international partners, as well as doing business in international markets.

As such, whilst there has been, for a long time, interest from Russia to revive its old economic ties with Africa. Russia and Russian enterprises are in a much stronger position today to capitalise on this opportunity than a few decades ago. At the same time, not ignoring the fact that the continued economic sanctions imposed by the West, has made Russia reinforce its strategic partnerships with other regions, and especially Africa where they have had good historical ties from the Soviet era. So the Russia-Africa Trade & Investment Forum is quite timely in this respect.

Can you point out some of its objectives for stimulating transaction, investment and possibly, flow of corporate deals to Africa?
The Russia-Africa Trade & Investment Forum (RAfTIF) aims to present Africa as an investment destination for Russian businesses, whilst promoting further business collaboration between the two regions.

The Forum will provide Russian organisations with the opportunity to explore business investment opportunities in Africa focusing on key economic sectors such as Infrastructure, Energy, Power, Agribusiness, Health, Transport and Logistics. At the same time, the forum will provide African organisations with opportunity for strategic partnerships, finance and joint venture collaborations.

The Forum’s objective is to help Russian companies to enter and work in Africa, both in exclusive as well as internationally integrated projects, as reliable business partners and expand their presence in the African investment field.

The Forum will inform Russian businesses about Africa, in understanding key legal, economic and political issues that surround Doing Business in Africa and at the same time inform African businesses about Russian business offerings.

The Forum programme has been designed specifically to provide participants ample opportunities for networking and discussions with a mix of formal and informal gatherings including plenary sessions, panel and roundtable discussion sessions, industry specific breakout sessions, country/state investment briefings and b2b meetings for more detailed discussions and knowledge sharing, making up the two-day programme.

Who will attend/participate? Is it the usual protagonists speaking about the continent, or can we expect something extraordinarily new?
Forum participants will be senior executives and decision makers from international companies, government agencies, banking and the investment community from Africa and Russia, as well as ministers of respective industry sectors and is already starting to gather high interest participation of delegations from countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya with more expected from other African countries. The speaker panel to date features experts from organisations such as the Africa Agribusiness Alliance, African Health Federation, AU Commission for Trade & Industry, Dentons, Control Risks, Renaissance Capital, amongst others.

We are very keen to see strong private sector participation at the event. We are working in close partnership with a number of business and trade organisations, such as the African Business Roundtable, East Africa Business Council, Africa Business Initiative – a Moscow based organisation specifically dedicated to developing Russia-Africa business relations, as well as with a number of Russia-Africa trade councils, just to mention a few.

With so many African summits and conferences with foreign countries such as China, India, Japan, Europe and many others, how different are you to the usual narrative regarding the continent?
Well, the fact that this event focuses specifically on Russian investment into Africa i.e. focusing on business and investment opportunities between the two regions – this is new and as such already makes it different!

It is the first and only event of its kind to be organised on this level, bringing together thought leaders, policy makers and investors from Africa and Russia including international organisations on one platform to address technical details related to funding projects, establishing partnerships and joint venture collaborations as well as showcasing sectors for viable investment returns.

As a private sector led initiative, the event takes on a much more transactional nature and we expect to have a wider participation of private sector enterprises allowing for more constructive dialogue and opportunity for establishing local partnerships.

Why are you holding an important Russia-Africa event in Dubai? Is there advantage it offers to boost this business event? And what are your final words…?
Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is the chosen location for the event as it offers easy entry access for both Russian and African delegations, and with its excellent connectivity – Emirates airlines, the national carrier, operates frequent routes, serving many cities in Russia and African countries – and its extensive business services, Dubai makes the perfect location as a central meeting point, allowing for wider and increased participation in the forum of business executives from both Russia and Africa.

Dubai is home to regional headquarters of many worldwide corporations and international SMEs, including many Russian and African organisations many of which service their Africa business interests from the Emirates. For participants to the forum, this means that they can take advantage of their participation in the forum in Dubai to tie-in other related business activities at the same time. Making their participation that much more worthwhile and cost effective – both in terms of time and money!

On a final note, we would like to take this opportunity to inform your readers that more information about the event, how to get involved can be found on the event website: www.raftif.com and we look forward to welcoming all to what promises to be a highly informative and interesting event this November in Dubai.

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

The Bust: WeWork’s diminishing stature of the perfect “start-up”

Sisir Devkota

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Until recently, the globally acclaimed startup, WeWork was transforming the future of office spaces and staff hiring processes. Truly, it was transformational in the sense that the startup was providing a vital service point to many multinationals around the world. However, Mark Dixon, the cofounder of IWG, another workspace solutions company, was not getting the trick. Here was IWG, a decently profitable startup with consistent annual growth, still unable to compete with the superstar of the industry. Soon after SoftBank poured cash into the company, WeWork was valued for more than $40 bn. Then, it was making headlines for overwhelm; now, WeWork is in a state of awe. As market reports suggest, WeWork even lacks the cash to fire its existing employees.

As Adam Neumann, the chastened cofounder of the dwindling company once proclaimed, co-working was the future and that employees would prove to become more productive and efficient. In his own words, different cultures and organizational goals would inspire the entire floor. Much as the concept is about renting an office space, Mr. Neumann deliberately did not elaborate on the nuisances of dealing with office neighbors, as seen from a tenant’s perspective. The idea would have charmed many organizations; it was a great opportunity to redeem operating costs or dealing with unwarranted office culture problems. Or, as many renting executives thought, WeWork would define the ground rules, aptly in accordance with global standards. For many, it was also an experiment for the future. Also, nobody could take away the fact of losing varied insights from “not” participating in what at first seemed like a once in a time revolution.

SoftBank, a Japanese conglomerate investing fund is writing the most important plot in the story. Strangely, both the rise and fall of WeWork has been catalyzed by SoftBank. However, the fact that WeWork was blessed by an investing fund is not strange, or surprising. Amongst sovereign funders, there is competition to stay one foot ahead of another. The Europeans have long stressed on how very few startups from their region go onto becoming a global giant. SoftBank’s associations elsewhere is a testimony to its deliberate strategy of staying ahead in the future. Notwithstanding the fact that the Japanese investors would have loved the idea of co-working space more than others. In early 2017, WeWork’s market value, shot over $40 bn, even though the company was registering profits below what Mr. Dixon’s firm were accounting to. There was a strange gossip in the market around why other investors were not jumping to what the SoftBank deemed as highly profitable. For many like Mr. Dixon and other investors, answers were soon to be found. If it could only be timely, Japanese angels would have anticipated why Mr. Neumann would sell his rights of the name, “We” in WeWork. It was a five million dollar (plus) exit for the charismatic man, whose venture was taken over by those who thought of multiplying their fortunes. SoftBank will be sorry for its decision to trust the hierarchy in Mr. Neumann’s leadership. Nevertheless, post takeover, Mr. Dixon will not be contemplating any further on why it has decided to appoint two CEO’s. Nor will there be any sort of contemplation on why the new appointees have secured their severance package before paying out dues.

As it stands, IWG is not doing a bad business in comparison to WeWork’s downfall. The American start-up was destined for success from its early years. Co-working will still be a grand idea in our times but filthy abundance in a short period of time has brought a winning project to a standstill. There will be other co-working competitors for IWG, but it will learn from the mistakes of a competitor who was bigger than the entire industry. If anything, Mr. Dixon will be smelling opportunities ahead.

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Alibaba on Platform Economy

Naseem Javed

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Alibaba on national mobilization of entrepreneurialism on platform economy: today, Alibaba sold $38 Billion within 24 hours: Around the world, currently, there are 100 nations with less than $38 Billion dollars in annual GDP. Imagine if this single company performed at the same rate for next 365 days, it would equal to annual GDP of Japan, Germany, India, France, UK and Canada all combined.  Bravo Alibaba, well done, the world in shock is now fondling in own toolboxes. 

Are Nations Awake: Are there enough reasons to explore how national mobilization of entrepreneurialism on platform economies and how it will uplift local grassroots prosperity?  Are there enough trade-groups, Chambers of Commerce, Trade Associations with enough skills to play in these AI centric digitally advanced and globally friendly market-places? Outside a miniscule number most seriously out-dated trade-groups are in rapid transformation so they too would become shiny butterflies for the new global-age.

Old days of old ways are now new days of new ways.

Salvaging of exportability lost during last decade: Nation by nation, the grassroots medium-size economy was basically, ignored, abandoned and rejected, killing exportable goods and services. So long the trade groups around the 200 nations stuck in their old fashioned comfort zones spanning a century, outside handful organizations most nations are in deep trouble. Observe how nations with riots have the most disorganized, disconnected trade-groups, not due the lack of funding but due to lack of poor leadership with little or no global age skills.

Uplifting working-citizenry after a lost decade on skills: So long the national leadership assumes that MBA degrees are the saviors of their next economy and so long the corporations feels comfortable that all their management is being well trained on YouTube, no additional proof of this fallacy is necessary other than decimated economies and chaos on the streets.

Understanding The Third Economy: During the first economy; rules of engagement and rules of balancing the books were established, the second economy; where fancy jargon was invented to cook the books to balance with political agenda and now the upcoming third economy where real numbers will balance the real books with real columns all managed by artificial intelligence and block-chain delivering honest picture instantly to all and all the times.

Alibaba proves the direct benefits of a Third Economy; such prosperity can only assured by respecting the balancing of pennies and cents with mobilizing millions of abandoned small and medium enterprises and using free technologies as starting base.  Such deployments are only possible when leadership is skillfully equipped to understand global-age and able to serve the special transformation demands, by firing the first person for incompetence for saying they have no new funding to change and firing the next person for disorganization for saying they are too busy and have no time to change.

Public sector around the world had almost all these resources available to deploy since last decade. Nation by nation, outside the top business sectors rest of the small medium enterprise players systematically abandoned and crushed were replaced by too big to fail nonsensical hype. Now national races in the age of digital platform economy will demand clarification on their internal conflicts of “digital-divide and mental-divide” and explain dysfunctional imbalanced spending on trade expansion without “national mobilization of entrepreneurialism” …it is also a fact that majority nations need massive in-depth-training at all top leadership levels to understand the new language of the new days.

It’s time to choose; either build world-class export promotion agencies, vertical trade groups to foster trade by global-age showcasing on platform economies and bring home some grassroots prosperity or allow restless citizenry and rise of populism.  It time to balance, that where public sectors mostly all over the world failed on such progressive affairs, technology has now blossomed as salvage operation with dramatic tools and deployment options. Is your national leadership ready now?  Not to sidetrack, this is not an exclusive IT issues; this is global age expansion and entrepreneurial mobilization issues. Deeper studies and debates are essential.

The world is changing fast is no longer just a cliché, now growing into a warning

National Transformation: Futurism of ‘creating local grassroots economy’ demands two distinct national mobilizations.  Firstly, creating skilled citizenry capable to swing with global-age demands and secondly, creating massive digitization of midsize economy to enable global-speed-performance to match trading with 100-200 nations. Mostly not new funding dependent but execution starved. Nations with such mastery will thrive and lead; generational transformation at magical speed with full deployments of platform economy is a prerequisite. Sounds rocket science, it is, but very doable and easy.

Rules of National Mobilization of Entrepreneurialism: To deploy such blueprints, launch a nationwide business-uplifting lifelong learning agenda for the entire export promotion bodies, Chambers, trade associations and also the entire small-medium-exporters base. Review this process meticulously every 100 days. Under right situation, the export promotion of the nation can easily quadruple within a year. It is necessary to keep asking what is blocking this and who is stopping this?

How do you mobilize public and private sector leadership after a lost decade on global-age expansion? With some 100 elections in 2019 alone and million promises on podiums the realities are hidden in creating real grassroots prosperity, now pending Presidential Elections of 2020 USA the mother of all elections will provide massive debates amongst calls of Impeachments, while December 12th Election of UK amongst calls of Brexit and European Union with loud and restless citizenry, a new world is unfolding. The public is informed, and slowly realizing what’s working and what’s not… deep silence at the public sector is not good, a growing sign of lack of skills. Urgent debates needed as 2020 starts with some dramatic shifts of markets, ideas and visions. We are now in the age of national mobilization of entrepreneurialism and platform economies.

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China’s Descending Rise

Todd Royal

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China is in a sustained economic slowdown. This is causing malignant unease among the political and economic leadership of the communist party in Beijing that governs China. Investing in China will be different, because:

“The country’s first sustained economic slowdown in a generation. China’s economic conditions have steadily worsened since the 2008 financial crisis. The country’s growth rate has fallen by half and is likely to plunge further in the years ahead, as debt, foreign protectionism, resource depletion, and rapid aging take their toll.”

Chinese social structures are under duress over their aging society. Formerly in the 1990s-early 2000s: “China had the greatest demographic dividend in history, with eight working-age adults for every citizen aged 65 or older.”

Once societies age, marital numbers decrease, and overall productivity plunges. China’s explosion of older citizens versus working-age will bring unique circumstances for global consumers. Factual evidence of slower productivity is evident throughout China, and will have to be considered for any financial or economic decision for decades ahead. The Chinese economic miracle bursting is largely due to aging demographics.

No one in western or eastern economic analysis circles or think tanks realistically saw this coming former President’s Deng Xiaoping opening of China. This was termed, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics (and/or) ‘socialist market economy,’” still ongoing. This slowdown will have deep ramifications for the global investment community, liberal order in place for over seventy-five years, and Chinese financial wealth that now spans the globe.

When countries age, and use reproductive rights to control populations, they become more assertive abroad, and repressive to its citizenry; this describes China’s social, political and economic philosophies that govern over a billion people. Since its one-child policy was enacted, Chinese economic productivity will plummet, “because it will lose 200 million workers and young consumers and gain 300 million seniors in the course of three decades.”

Suppressive economies have difficulty innovating, producing enough goods domestically, and integrating into world economic mechanisms that intends to distribute wealth globally. But this isn’t the first time these warnings have been made publicly.

Former Premier, Wen Jiabao gave a prescient declaration in March 2007 during the long march of economic progress when Mr. Jiabao had misgivings about China’s growth model by stating, “(Chinese growth had become) ‘unsteady, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable.” Recent numbers indicated China’s official GDP “has dropped from 15 percent to six percent – the slowest rate in 30 years.”

Expansionary Chinese growth hasn’t experience this level of downturn since the end of the Mao into post-Mao era. What this does for the Belt and Road Initiative that is paving the way for investments into Central Asia up to the Arctic Circle is uncertain? Deep investment difficulties could witness China stopping the flow of billions of infrastructure projects into countries and continents such as Africa desperate for growth.

Public figures from the Chinese government generally have the economy growing at six percent, but many analysts and economists peg the number(s) at “roughly half the official figure.” China’s GDP has consisted of bad debt that typical financial institutions and western governments will transfer from the state to public sector and ultimately costs passed onto consumers. For China’s wealth to increase when so much domestic wealth is spent on infrastructure projects to increase GDP these official numbers need context.

China has bridges, and cities full of empty office and apartment buildings, unused malls, and idle airports that do not increase economic productivity, and if that isn’t the case then infrastructure increasing economic measurements will decrease. Unproductive growth factors officially known are: “20 percent of homes are vacant, and ‘excess capacity’ in major industries tops 30 percent.” According to official Chinese estimates the government misallocated $6 trillion on “ineffective investment between 2009-14.” Debt now exceeds 300 percent of GDP.

What’s discovered is the amount of China’s GDP growth “has resulted from government’s pumping capital into the economy.” Private investments have trouble overtaking government stimulus spending, and Foreign Affairs ascertains “China’s economy may not be growing at all.”

Chinese economic growth – post-Mao – saw the country’s self-sufficiency in agriculture, energy, and water almost complete by the mid-2000s. Through economic malfeasance, population control, and resource decimation, “water has become scarce, and the country is importing more food and energy than any other nation.” Environmental degradation is destroying the basic necessities for every day survival.

This is where the world community and financial resources of east and west can meet needs, and grow interconnected, global economies. Energy is one of the biggest areas that China will engulf global energy supplies

The U.S. Energy Information Administration believes China will continue being the largest natural gas user in non-OECD Asia, and by 2050:

“Expects that China will consumer nearly three times as much natural gas as it did in 2018. China’s projected increase in natural gas consumption is greater than the combined growth of natural gas consumption in all other non-OECD Asian countries.”

Opportunities for liquid natural gas (LNG) facilities to be built globally, and in China to spur domestic and international economic activity are unlimited. As China goes, so goes Asia, and the world is now in the “Asian Century.” Investors, geopolitical strategists, and anyone concerned with global security should never believe it is wise to let China continue to falter economically and societally. Setting up investment mechanisms and diplomatic vehicles that benefit China, and the world community is a prudent choice.

When military choices defeat sound fiscal and monetary polices, the past 150 years have brought “nearly a dozen great powers experienced rapid economic growth followed by long slowdowns.” Normal, civilized behavior was pushed aside. What’s needed for Chinese economic growth is the free flow of information, managed wealth, consumer goods, and research/innovation.

Decades ahead, and current economic realities point to China being a great power that is under pressure, but still needs capital. A weak, unsecure China who isn’t satisfied with its place in the Asian hemisphere or global economic system isn’t good for continued prosperity. It would be smarter to engage and invest within China in the areas of energy, water, agriculture, and electricity where opportunities still abound.

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