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Opportunities Continue To Outweigh Investment In Africa

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“Africa is a continent with extraordinary challenges, and it’s a copout just to wait for governments to deal with them. If you see a problem, then think about how you can solve a piece of it” — Strive Masiyiwa, chairman of the pan-African company Econet Group.

Africa’s slow progress can be a cause of concern for prospective investors. However, investing in the emerging sectors will long-term benefits to those willing to wait. Strong demographics, rising sectors and abundant resources are some of the long-term growth opportunities. There are several investment opportunities for those who want to bring about a positive change in the conditions of the continent, while achieving long term yields from the same. According to RMB Investment Attractiveness Rankings, the best countries to invest in are Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa.

Agriculture

Agriculture is one of the top sectors in Africa with an immense growth potential. The sector contributes to over 15% of Africa’s GDP and has shown a good growth rate due to prior government policies that prioritise the sector to retain its sustainability and competitiveness. The top earning agricultural products are coffee, cocoa, maize and wheat with Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia and Uganda as the top producers.

Large areas of arable land, increasing use of technology, massive youth dividend, increasing government support and a large demand base makes agriculture an attractive sector for investment despite the problem of erratic rainfall pattern in some places.

By the year 2050, it has been predicted that Africa’s population will almost double with a growth rate of 2.7% per annum. To meet the growing needs of the population, substantial investment from its global peers is absolutely necessary. That will also help the sector to grow and enhance its status as a global competitor, help in economic diversification and also mitigate the prominent problems of undernourishment, poverty and hunger that exist in the region.

Manufacturing

Africa possesses an abundance of raw materials which can be easily turned to manufactured products for greater reliance on local products and increased exports of the same. The top three manufacturers in Africa are South Africa, Morocco and Egypt.

The growth of manufacturing can greatly drive economic growth and development in Africa. However, the sector faces challenges like lack of skilled-workforce, infrastructure gaps including low power supply and inadequate regulatory measures to address the prominent challenges. The import to export ratio of manufactured products in Africa is very high as Africa mostly exports unprocessed commodities. The growing manufacturing sector is making great advances in this aspect. It has already increased the total export goods from 18.7% in 2012 to 35.6% in 2017 and caused a significant decrease in imports implying greater importance to domestically manufactured products.

There has also been a shift in the focus of FDI projects from dominant extractive industry to consumer-facing industries like retail, technology, media, etc. This trend is expected to continue in the near future.

Retail

The African Development Bank is expecting the current 350-million-strong middle class to grow to under one billion by 2040. The growing middle class demography is contributing to the growth and modernisation of the retail sector which is greatly devoid of supply competition and requires investment to meet the growing consumer base. The market for essential goods constitutes the majority of consumer spending owing to the low-income levels in the economy and as the income-level status is not expected to undergo a drastic change in the recent future, the comparatively smaller market for luxury products will have a low growth rate.

As a large amount of consumer spending in Africa taking place in informal markets, due to absence of prominent formal retail presence, is unaccounted for, Africa is projected as an economy with low household retail-spending despite that not being the case.

“The Brookings Institute’s latest analysis on trends of the African consumer market shows that consumer expenditure has grown at a compound annual rate of 3.9% since 2010 and reached US$1.4 trillion in 2015. This figure is expected to increase to US$2.5 trillion by 2030.”

There are several cyclical challenges related to the retail sector, like low GDP growth, high inflation, dwindling credit extension. The challenges can be used as opportunities to enhance the growth of the sector by focusing on the development of the retail infrastructure and modern logistics spaces to satiate the demand for high-quality space from retailers looking to expand in Africa.

Finance

Finance is one of the top sectors in Africa which regulates the funding of all the other sectors. Financial innovation guarantees the diversification of banking sector services and facilitates the incorporation of capital market instruments to reduce investment risk.

Rwanda, The Gambia and Senegal have shown massive progress in financial system rankings. However, there has been an overall decline in Africa’s global financial standing from 2017 – 2018 due to a fall in the pace of reform of this sector.

The impact investing industry has shown substantial growth and is quite relevant as several countries in Africa lie below the global average score for Human Development (0.8) with declining levels of official assistance. The industry has made abundant impact across a wide range of sectors like Healthcare, Agriculture, Housing, Education and others. This provides ample opportunities for investment in several initiatives which will reap both financial and environmental returns.

Some of the prominent threats to this sector include underdeveloped market infrastructure due to limited funding, difficulty in gathering viable investment to meet financial and social targets, limited capital supply, unclear regulatory environment, inconsistent impact-measures and so on. These might prove to be a disincentive to many and hinder their investments. However, a far-sighted investor might implement innovative measures to meet the pending gaps and turn these challenges into opportunities to optimise social and environmental investments.

Infrastructure

Infrastructural inadequacy causes a huge hindrance to investment and growth in all sectors of Africa. There is a wide gap between the infrastructure needs of the continent and the amount being spent on fulfilling the need. There is an urgent need to bridge the gap through sufficient investment to meet the growth needs of Africa.

In countries like East Africa, Ethiopia and Tanzania, infrastructure investments in the form of new roads, energy support, transportation networks and others have led to guaranteed growth and transformation of the prevailing sectors. Construction has been primarily responsible for high economic expansion in Egypt. Infrastructural developments lead to employment generation via contractors, boosting aggregate demand. Investment in infrastructure by foreign players can prove to be very beneficial as it would provide the required sophistication to the local industry by supplying goods needed for large projects.

Real estate has evolved significantly, providing higher returns on investments, thus, becoming increasingly attractive to potential investors. Despite having a good growth potential, real estate has certain risks attached to it like complex legal considerations, such as property ownership rights, social instability resulting from inequality, and others. However, the growth drivers like sustained high demand driven by urbanisation, improved capital regulation, technological advancements in banking leading to a boost in investment rates, and expected GDP growth supporting the demand for housing easily overshadow the challenges.

Conclusion

For many years, Africa’s growth potential has been understated and misunderstood. It has been treated as a non-friendly investment destination due to the several challenges posed. However, there has been a worldwide lack of understanding the ease of converting the insurmountable challenges to opportunities. Africa’s growing population and prevailing problem of excess demand needs to be met via increased investment and innovation which will in turn lead to increased employment, decreased poverty and increased infrastructural development. Thus, despite Africa’s slowing global growth, if the prevailing challenges are addressed adequately, growth is inevitable.

Aakash Agarwal is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Economics (Honours) from Doon University, Dehradun, India. He has a research interest includes Global Economy, Financial Economics and IR Theory. His work has been published by the Diplomatist Magazine, South Asia Democratic Forum and the Kootneeti.

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Africa

Hydro-projects in Africa: Interview with Vladislav Vasilyev

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As widely known, Russia plans to hold the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022, as a further step to make inroads into Africa – that comprises a diverse collection of countries, each with its own set of development setbacks and challenges. The political culture and investment climate are, in fact, diverse but are also important forces in determining the levels of the economy.

As it aims at raising its economic profile, Russia is strongly encouraging Russian business leaders to prioritize sustainable development-oriented projects as a practical step towards raising the living standard of millions of impoverished population in Africa.

For instance, JSC Institute Hydroproject promises to transfer its experience in advanced and innovative technologies, and efficient use of water resources, especially ways of managing and ensuring reliable hydro-energy supply. JSC Institute Hydroproject can further help in the accelerated social and economic development in Africa. 

In this interview, Vladislav Vasilyev, Head of International Projects Department at JSC Institute Hydroproject, discusses his company’s efforts directed at establishing hydro-projects in Africa, further touched on the state support for Russian business in Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

– How important is African market for your company, JSC Institute JSC Institute Hydroproject?

JSC Institute Hydroproject has vast working experience in African countries wherein we have done designs of HPPs in Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea, San Tome and Principe, Tunisia, Morocco, Ethiopia. We would like to separately emphasize about the masterpiece high class engineering of the Aswan dam on the Nile river in Egypt. JSC Institute Hydroproject management has deep knowledge of the African market.

– What are your expectations from African governments, industrialists and agribusiness directors in cooperating on products and services of your company?

African countries are among the fastest growing in the world. About one and half billion people live there, and that constitute approximately 20% of the world’s population. At the same time, there is a big demand in infrastructure development. Even the United Nations, forming the “Sustainable Development Goals” emphasizes the high development needs of the African region.

The African market is a big challenge in all areas of water use, from land reclamation to large and complex knowledge-intensive industries, not to mention the usual but much-needed electricity generation. In this regard, we see many opportunities for cooperation with governments, industrialists and in the huge agroindustry.

– Do you envisage any key problems and impediments to developing business, especially in the sphere of agriculture in African countries?

Difficulties and obstacles are possible – this is life. However, we can look at things differently, and see the obstacles as opportunities and incentives. For example, the lack of land reclamation networks makes it possible to build and develop a water delivery system that can become a link to strengthen the local neighboring countries and peoples.

The construction of a hydroelectric power station requires a channel with a large water pressure, which means the presence of a water basin, a reservoir. This will not only provide the local region with electricity, but also provide water. Here are a number of issues that are being resolved with the participation of the design and survey and research school of such a company as JSC Institute Hydroproject.

– How competitive do you see African market for Russian companies, generally, and for your company, specifically? From the previous experience, what challenges Russian companies and investors face in Africa?

There are several challenges, which are still in place for Russian engineering companies on African market. Russia is still not a member country of African Development Bank. AfDB announces many tenders, which are closed to companies from non-member countries. Still it is only a few African countries, who signed an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation with Russia.

– Business needs vital information, knowledge about the investment climate and so forth. Do you think there has been an information vacuum or gap between the two countries?

In my opinion we can talk about the rapprochement of the positions of Africa and Russia, the formation of new and strengthening of long-standing ties. This is explicitly noted, for instance, by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Head of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Uganda, Olive Kigongo.

Joshua Setipa, Managing Director of the United Nations Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, says of the importance of high-tech companies: “It is important for us to continuously develop our partner network and establish cooperation with organizations that can help and support less developed countries with their technological and innovative potential. I am sure that working in Russia and, in particular, at the events of the Roscongress Foundation will help us to use the country’s opportunities for the benefit of others.” He said so at the recent Russia-Africa summit in Sochi.

– In your opinion, does the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit planned for 2022 hold an opportunity for raising the level of investment and business engagement with Africa?

Russia-Africa summit is unique platform that is expected to bring together corporate business directors and potential investors from both regions – Russia and Africa. We can simply agree that investments are always possible, and Russia is highly interested in them. This is also a state and business interest. Such people and companies are also among our partners. 

According to the achievements of recent years – this is not only the First Joint Russia-Africa Summit, but also during many previous bilateral forums, it is important to say that cooperation in the business sphere is just gaining momentum.

Now there is a lot of work to be done, including a well-structured and well-coordinated policy for Russian business, restructuring foreign policy and supporting economic circles – with African politicians, business people and residents of African countries. It is necessary to cooperate between scientific, technical, humanitarian, information, and digital platforms, and ultimately to develop common approaches for the implementation of our upcoming joint projects.

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Nigeria- Ghana Trade War: Where to from here

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Several months after a series of bilateral talks between the Nigerian government and authorities in Ghana aimed toward addressing the nearly a decade-long controversy that led to the closure of Nigerian traders’ shops in Ghana, the problems have not been resolved. Hundreds of shops belonging to Nigerian traders are still under lock and key; while most of the owners are stranded. A number of them said they beg to feed, as many of them remain reluctant to return to Nigeria despite a window created by the Nigerian government to facilitate their safe return.

What has happened so far?

President Muhammadu Buhari stunned Nigeria’s neighbors when he unexpectedly closed the country’s land borders to goods trade, saying the time had come to crush contraband trade. The land borders with neighboring Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger were closed to goods in August 2019, with partial openings and closings for people prompted by the coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020.

The center of the lingering controversy was a $1 million levy imposed on Nigerian traders and other foreign investors to pay Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) before the shops would be opened. The conditions set by the Ghanaian authorities had triggered a debate in Nigeria and within the African sub-region, which many considered as a breach of ECOWAS’ trade protocols.

However, on 19 June 2020, armed men entered the compound of the Nigeria High Commission in Ghana, and destroyed buildings under construction. Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama described the vandalism as “outrageous and criminal” and urged the Ghanaian authorities to make sure that they protect Nigerian diplomatic buildings. Nigerian residents in Ghana held a demonstration calling for Nigerian government to take action. Although a piece posted on the Nigerian High Commission website in Ghana places responsibility on a businessperson who had previously claimed he owned the land where the building was being built, Nigerians living in Ghana still took to the streets to protest for their protection. The Ghanaian foreign ministry also promised that security had been “beefed up”.

Flashback on bilateral talks

The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had last year summoned Ghana’s Chargé d’Affaires to Nigeria, Ms. Iva Denoo, with whom he discussed the closure of the Nigerian-owned shops in Accra with a view to addressing the problem. Onyeama described the action taken by the Ghanaian authorities as politically motivated. However, his Ghanaian counterpart, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, countered his allegation, insisting that the crackdown was on illegal foreign retail businesses in Ghana.

Botchwey, described in a tweet by Onyeama, tagging Ghana’s policy on retail business as a politically motivated move as ‘most unfortunate. She said the Ghanaian government did not target any particular nationality in the exercise. “Countries sometimes take tough decisions in order to enforce their laws, just as Nigeria took a decision to shut its borders to stop smuggling, despite its impact on ECOWAS member countries,” she had said.

Is Ghana innocent?

While it’s easier to quickly point a finger at Nigeria as the aggressor, given it’s the bigger country who opted to shut its borders, therefore creating a ripple effect in the smaller economies, Ghana also has laws that clash with ECOWAS protocol, which ensures the free movement of the community’s citizens, as well as free and fair trade. The 2013 Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act (GIPC) is one such Act. It prioritizes the interests of Ghanaian traders and business owners by designating certain only its citizens, whereby foreigners wanting to set up shop in Ghana must have a minimum equity capital of $10,000, run enterprises. That alone limits the number of foreigners – particularly from the poorer surrounding West African countries – who can successfully work in Ghana.

Where to from here

While tariffs can result in individual ‘winners’, a full trade war, protectionism, and a reversal of decades of globalization would damage economies across the board, hitting emerging markets particularly hard. COVID-19 has arguably pushed many countries towards concentrating on themselves, as many economies have been negatively affected in an exceedingly shocking manner. Although few expect to see the kinds of tensions witnessed in the 1980s when Nigeria expelled two million undocumented West African migrants, half of whom were from Ghana.

Key takeaways

  • Nigeria border closure weakened trade across West Africa
  • A full trade war and globalization reversal will benefit nobody
  • Nigerian traders have suffered the most; Ghanaians also faces pain
  • Traders have seen big losses.
  • Demolition of Nigerian High Commission building in Accra.

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Africa

H.E. President John Mahama Appointed As AU High Representative for Somalia

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The Chairperson of the Commission, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, has announced the appointment of H.E John Dramani Mahama, former President of the Republic of Ghana, as his High Representative to Somalia.

As the High Representative for Somalia’s political track, President Mahama will work with the Somali stakeholders, to reach a mutually acceptable compromise towards an all-encompassing resolution for the holding of Somali elections in the shortest possible time.

In fulfilling his mandate, the High Representative will be supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), to ensure that the mediation efforts and the peace support operation work together seamlessly.

The Chairperson of the Commission calls on the Somali stakeholders to negotiate in good faith, and to put the interests of Somalia and the well-being of the Somali people above all else in the search for an inclusive settlement to the electoral crisis.

This should usher in a democratically elected government with the legitimacy and mandate to resolve the remaining outstanding political and constitutional issues that are posing a threat to the stability of the country and the region as a whole.

The Chairperson of the Commission also encourages all the Somali stakeholders and the international community to extend every support to the High Representative, who will arrive the country in the coming days.

Ambassador Abukar Arman, a former Somalia special envoy to the United States and a foreign policy analyst says there have previously been interventions from neighbors have not brought Somalia the promised peace.

It is clear that no Somali can pursue a political career in his own country without first getting Ethiopia’s blessings. Already, Ethiopia has installed a number of its staunch cohorts in the current government and (along with Kenya) has been handpicking virtually all of the new regional governors, mayors and so forth.

In October 2010, the African Union appointed Jerry John Rawlings as the AU High Representative for Somalia to “mobilize the continent and the rest of the international community to fully assume its responsibilities and contribute more actively to the quest for peace, security and reconciliation in Somalia.”

That however, Ambassador Arman says the former Ghana president and AU Special Representative for Somalia is now assuming his new post with significant diplomatic capital, mainly resulting from the credible work of his fellow countryman, former president, and Special Envoy to Somalia, Jerry John Rawlings.

“On the other hand, he would be carrying the hefty political burden that comes with the so-called African Solutions for African Problems and its cash-gulping record. The concept is taken hostage by African sloganeers and foreign elements eager to advance zero-sum interests,” he wrote me in an emailed message.

Make no mistake, Somalia is held in a nasty headlock by a neighbourhood tag-team unmistakably motivated by zero-sum objective. It is their so-called African solution (not so much of the extremist group al-Shabaab) that is setting the Horn on fire.

According to AFP news report, Mogadishu had been on edge since February, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s term ended before elections were held, and protesters took to the streets against his rule. But a resolution in April to extend his mandate by two years split the country’s fragile security forces along all-important clan lines.

Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital. The fighting drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and divided the city, with government forces losing some key neighborhoods to opposition units.

Under pressure to ease the tension, Mohamed abandoned his mandate extension and instructed his prime minister to arrange fresh elections and bring together rivals for talks. Indirect elections were supposed to have been held by February under a deal reached between the government and Somalia’s five regional states the previous September.

But that agreement collapsed as the president and the leaders of two states, Puntland and Jubaland, squabbled over the terms. Months of UN-backed talks failed to broker consensus between the feuding sides.

In early May, Mohamed re-launched talks with his opponents over the holding of fresh elections, and agreed to return to the terms of the September accord.

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has invited the regional leaders to a round of negotiations on May 20 in the hope of resolving the protracted feud and charting a path to a vote. In the meanwhile, the international community has threatened sanctions if elections are not held soon.

Somalia remains the epicenter of global geopolitical and geo-economic competition. Some of the major ones are in a cut-throat competition that further complicates the Somalia conundrum. With its longest coastline, bordering Ethiopia to the west, Kenya to the southwest and the Gulf of Eden, Somalia has attracted many foreign countries to the region in East Africa.

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