The first-ever Africa Investment Forum was a resounding success with some fascinating math: 49 projects worth $38.7 billion over three days, all for the continent.
On a breezy Wednesday morning in November in Johannesburg, there is a feverish bustle at the Sandton Convention Centre, one of South Africa’s most prestigious destinations for conferences. Known for regularly hosting world-class exhibitions and events, today, it is playing host to one of the most important events of the year.
The second floor of the convention center is pulsating with action and excitement as hundreds of businessmen and power women in sharp suits and African attire greet each other. At each corner of the grand room are huge posters with quotes that say, “People don’t eat potential! It’s time to turn potential into real deals,” and,
We believe that the growth of Africa’s economy represents opportunities for its neighbors
The word on everyone’s lips is transactions. The inaugural edition of the Africa Investment Forum (AIF), organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB), is officially opened by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The bigwigs of corporate Africa and political power brokers are all here, including Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, along with Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and Ethiopia’s first female president Sahle-Work Zewde.
The AfDB describes the forum as a collaborative platform for the economic and social development of the continent. The goal is to bring together project sponsors, borrowers, lenders and public and private sector investments to unlock billions of dollars that will accelerate investment.
The rationale is simple. Six of the 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, yet Africa has a mammoth infrastructure funding gap of $130-$170 billion a year.
The man called ‘Mr. Development’ in the October 2018 issue of FORBES AFRICA, AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina, believes there needs to be a convergence of stakeholders from all over Africa to broker deals that finally unlock the potential of Africa.
As with any conference with a multitude of minds, opinions are divided for this one too. On the one hand are those who quietly wonder whether this is going to be yet another three days of rhetoric and ambiguous targets that bear no fruit? Then you have those believers who are convinced that Africa is ripe for an integrated marketplace that can actually deliver real growth.
For these people, the AIF offers new hope. They believe that the continent’s largest and smallest economies are ready to come together and take charge of their own destiny.
According to the World Bank, year-on-year economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is slashed by two percentage points due to a lack of infrastructure. Analysts believe around $100 billion must be invested each year to eliminate the deficit and give African infrastructure a shot at competing with other developing regions.
Traditionally, the World Bank, the AfDB and African governments have sought to address the infrastructure gap by investing in larger infrastructure projects valued at more than $1 billion.
This means smaller-scale projects, in the $100 million to $200 million range, which are also necessary for the development goals of the continent, are neglected.
History shows that trade has the potential to transform nations.
Adesina believes this.
“The AIF is probably the most important game-changing initiative for accelerated economic development in Africa. It is a unique platform for investment, finance, transparent transactions and a genuine African marketplace for closing deals to accelerate the economic development of Africa. The fact is that no individual benefactor, no matter how rich, or government or sovereign wealth fund, or even a multilateral development bank, for that matter, can provide the resources to meet Africa’s critical economic development needs,” he says in his opening address at the conference.
According to Adesina, the solution is clear. Africa can and Africa must collectively work towards financing its development, requiring broad partnerships with the private sector and an appreciation of the realities of global investment partners.
“This will be an African investment marketplace where the AfDB and its partners will screen and enhance bankable projects and attract co-investors and facilitate transactions to close Africa’s investment gaps. This platform will reduce intermediation costs and improve the quality of documentation and information and increase active and productive engagements between African governments and the private sector,” he says.
It is that type of collaboration that brings Shamima Mallam-Hassam, Country Executive of Alter Domus, all the way from Mauritius to Johannesburg.
“We are a leading fund and corporate services provider, headquartered in Luxemburg, with an office in Mauritius. The purpose of being at the Africa Investment Forum is to meet with people that have projects in Africa, that we can help in their structuring, and use Mauritius as a platform for their investment into Africa. So this is a very high-level forum, where a lot of insights have been shared about where Africa is going and how there can be more collaborations to make projects happen,” she says.
Can developing nations thrive in a global economy without an international, collective mind-set? International organizations like the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) believe that for sustainable development to exist, more developed African economies need to break down barriers between them and less developed economies. To begin with, the continent needs to address rising unemployment.
“We need to create 400 million jobs for 400 million Africans, who are already born, between now and 2030. These massive numbers need massive responses,” says Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) during a panel conversation at AIF.
A total of 49 deals were made at the AIF, which were valued at $38.7 billion, according to the final numbers released. These deals represent a renaissance for the African continent. But the concern for some is whether the returns from these deals will remain on the continent.
“The ownership of industrial assets must be African companies. A lot of developers make the mistake of allowing foreign ownership, which alters the trajectory of your destiny,” says Basil El-Baz, chairman and CEO of Egypt’s Carbon Holdings.
The all-important issue of women’s empowerment in corporate Africa is also discussed. A panel in ‘Investing in women for accelerated growth’ reveals women entrepreneurs experience a significant funding gap of $42 billion annually, but are more likely to repay loans compared to male borrowers. David Makhura, the premier of the Gauteng province where the conference is held, attests: “African women need to be supported. They are the ones that sell to provide for their children and families.”
The panel comprises prominent and successful women, including Ibukun Awosika, president of First Bank of Nigeria Limited, Hayat Sindi, senior advisor to the president of the Islamic Development Bank, and Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, chairperson of Kalagadi Manganese.
We need to make women a critical component of our financial system
Underpinning the market place is ‘The AIF Platform’, that connects 200,000 American businesses and users from 100 countries, many of whom are potential investors and trade partners for Africa.
The AIF Platform is announced in partnership with the Inter Development Bank (IDB) who launched a similar platform, Connect America, in 2014.
“We have over 400 million smartphones in Africa. Within a few years, this number will exceed a billion. But none of these are made in Africa. We are the consumers but we’re not the value creators,” says Ashish Thakkar, founder of Mara Group, before the closing plenary.
The AIF Platform was created to address exactly this. By connecting African-based companies like Mara to global trade partners, there can be economies of scale.
If there is one thing to take away from the conference, it is this: there is a fight to back Africa as an investable destination so that capital can land in the continent and unlock its potential. As Adesina puts it: “This is Africa’s time to change the rhetoric. We need to make Africa independent; we can no longer build Africa relying on aid. The only way to achieve this is a complete rise in intra-Africa trade.”
READ MORE | Offering The American Dream To African Investors
Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market
While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.
The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.
This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.
“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”
The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership
The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.
The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.
In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”
Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.
“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.
So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”
-Samantha Todd; Forbes
Roadmap For African Startups
Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, explains how African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise.
Does impact investment favor expats over African entrepreneurs? If so, how can it be fixed?
There is a growing recognition all over the world that investment is not a fully objective process, and is biased by the homogeneity of investors, networks and distant locations.
A Village Capital Report cited that 90% of investment in digital financial services and financial inclusion in East Africa in 2015-2016 went to a small group of expatriate-founded businesses, with 80% of disclosed funds emanating from foreign investors.
READ MORE | It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine
In a similar trend recognized in the US over the last decade, reports that only 3% of startup capital went to minority and women entrepreneurs has triggered the rise of new funds focused on gender and minority-lensed investing.
There has been an explosion of African startups all over the continent, and investors are missing out by looking for the same business models that work in Silicon Valley being run by people who can speak and act like them.
In South Africa, empowerment funds and alternative debt fund structures are dedicated to investing in African businesses, but local capital in other African countries may not also be labelled or considered impact investing, but they do still invest in job creation and provision of vital services.
There is still, however, a several billion-dollar financing gap of risk capital in particular, which local capital needs to play a significant part in filling. And of course, African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise and engage investors convincingly of the growing and unique opportunities on the continent.
What are the most exciting areas for impact investing and social entrepreneurship today?
After several decades of emergence, the most exciting areas are the explosion of new products, vehicles and structures along with the mainstreaming of impact investment into traditional entities like banks, asset managers and pension funds who are using the impact lens and, more importantly, starting to measure the impact.
At the same time, we’re seeing an emergence of partnership models, policies and an ecosystem of support for the work of social entrepreneurs, who’ve been operating with insufficient capital and blockages in regulation for decades.
The 2019 OECD report on Social Impact Investment mapped the presence of 590 social impact investment policies in 45 countries over the last decade, but also raises the concern of the risk of ‘impact washing’ without clear definitions, data and impact measurement practices.
In Africa, we are also seeing National Advisory Boards for Impact Investing emerge in South Africa and social economy policies white papers being developed; all good news for social entrepreneurs.
What role does technology play in enabling impact investing and social entrepreneurship?
The role of technologies from the mobile phone to cloud services, blockchain, and artificial intelligence is vast in their application to enhancing social impact, improving the efficiency, transparency and trust as we leapfrog old infrastructures and create digital systems that people in underserved communities can now access and control.
From Sproxil (addressing pirated medicines and goods), to Zipline (drones delivering life-saving donor blood to remote areas of Rwanda) to Silulo Ulutho Technologies (digitally empowering women and youth), exciting new ways of addressing inclusion, education and health are possible, and applications are being used in many other areas such as land rights, financial literacy etc.
While we have seen a great mobile penetration, much of Africa still suffers from high data costs, and insufficient investment in education and capacity to lead in areas of the fourth industrial revolution, with the risk that these technologies could negatively impact communities and further drive inequality.
Towards One Africa
In the alphabet soup of regional African trade blocs, will the AfCFTA ease the cost of doing business on the continent?
Ghana has been named the host of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) following four years of talks to form a 55-nation trade bloc. It will be the base for the AfCTA secretariat.
The opportunities for Africa with this new trade bloc are immense. The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that the AfCFTA will create the world’s largest continental free-trade area, provided all 55 African Union (AU) members join, and has the potential to create an African single market of 1.2 billion consumers whilst eliminating about 90% of tariffs on goods over the next five years.
So far, 44 African countries have signed up for the historic agreement, the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization.
READ MORE | Amid Trade Wars, What Africa Must Do
The AfCFTA is expected to boost the economies of African countries through employment creation and the promotion of made-in-Africa goods. But Kayode Akindele, a partner at TIA Capital, a pan-African investment partnership focussed on credit-based investing across sub-Saharan Africa, is not opening up the bubbly just yet.
“We already have ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] which doesn’t seem to be working and so why don’t we sort that out first before we enter a continental trade agreement for Africa?”
And he is not alone in his concerns.
“There are other factors we need to also consider. Firstly, with the implementation of the AfCFTA, goods made in other continents could be disguised as made-in-Africa to qualify for duty free treatment. There could also be a reduction in government revenue and also this trade bloc also threatens the profitability and survival of infant industries,” says Vincent Acheampong, an economist based in the United Kingdom.
Of the regional blocs in Africa, including EAC (East African Community) and SADC (Southern African Development Community), the ECOWAS has some way to go in terms of performance, according to Muda Yusuf, the Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in an interview with CNBC Africa. But he believes there is still reason to be optimistic.
“A continental trading bloc is going to build on the success of the regional blocs like ECOWAS and other blocs across Africa. So, this integration is going to build on those blocs. In terms of performance, of course ECOWAS is the least performing because East Africa is doing very well and South Africa is doing far better also. But there is no perfect time for things like this, what is important is for us to get a conviction that economic integration will work for us and also if we can get our institutions to make it work,” says Yusuf.
Amongst the many challenges of the ECOWAS is its failure to implement its vision of a single currency, the ECO, which is part of its plans to make Africa a more integrated continent. That vision has been postponed several times by the 15-member group with the newest target date set for 2020 although most experts believe the date to be unrealistic.
The success of the AfCFTA requires not only a trade policy but also a manufacturing agenda, competition, industrial policies and property rights to work well according to Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, in a statement at the launch event that took place in Niamey, Niger.
READ MORE | Trade Wars: We’re Next, European Investors Fear
The ninth edition of the flagship Assessing Regional Integration in Africa report (ARIA IX) stipulates that AfCFTA’s success will be due to its ability to actually change lives, reduce poverty and contribute to economic development in Africa.
In support of the new trade bloc, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo pledged to donate $10 million to the AU to support the operationalization of the secretariat of the AfCFTA.
Although the AfCFTA will be economically transformative for Africa in the long-term, the immediate benefits will be restricted due to the macro-economic uncertainties of regional trade.
“Most African countries are currently not producing the goods and services that their neighbors import, as a result we do not trade a lot with each other. It is easier for an African country to trade with a country in Europe than a country that lies right next to it and these low levels of intra-African trade need to be addressed before we can reap the full benefits of the AfCFTA,” says Acheampong.
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