In the 1800s, Europeans referred to Africa as the “dark continent”, although the Victorian term has fallen from usage, until recently it accurately described the approach of foreign investors to Africa. Risk was thought to be too high, returns too low. A decade ago, the region’s share of FDI was less than one-tenth of the amount flowing into Asia or Latin America. Until a few years ago, a single company, Exxon Mobil, was worth more than all of Africa’s listed companies put together, excluding those of South Africa.
But what a difference a few years can make. Since the financial crisis hit in 2008, there has been a dramatic shift in how investors view Africa. One of the markets that has best epitomized this change is Ghana.
The West African county was near the top of worldwide tables in 2011 in terms of GDP growth with a rate of more than 14%. 2012 figures were equally robust, coming in at above 8.5% buoyed by strong growth in the non-oil sector of 8%. While the country is largely dependent on commodities for export revenues, increased activity in housing, construction and banking has spurred an expansion of the services sector, which makes up more than half of GDP.
Last year saw a gradual depreciation in the cedi, which fell by around 14% against the dollar, driven by increased demand for imports. While the country’s robust growth also stoked inflationary pressures, at least over the short-term, the CPI fell to 8.8% in December—its thirty-first consecutive month of single-digit inflation.
The country benefited from a statistical rebasing a few years earlier, which dramatically improved data collection and accuracy. As a result, the country was catapulted into middle-income status.
The biggest recent watershed moment for the country is as a result of its newfound oil and gas reserves. The offshore Jubilee field, discovered in 2007, began production in record time, with the first barrel being lifted at the end of 2010. The speed with which Ghana went about capitalizing on its new oil wealth, 42 months from discovery to production, led to a few hiccups. For four months, light, sweet crude flowed without a regulatory framework to determine how the revenue would be channeled and how future production would be handled. Eventually, the Petroleum Revenue Management Bill was put in place. It allocates a proportion of revenue to future generation funds and price stabilization funds and some $444 million worth of oil revenue flowed into government coffers by the end of 2011. The production, in relation to the country’s overall economy, is modest and by some estimates will work out to around $50 per capita annually but the rush of investment into the sector—and ancillary industries, such as construction and services—helped ensure the country was one of the largest FDI destinations in Africa last year.
Associated gas deposits in the field brim with equally promising potential, particularly in terms of domestic industrial and electricity production, although timing has been problematic. Currently, with a ban on flaring and no offtake infrastructure, gas has been re-injected into the deposits but at a certain point this will negatively affect oil production. As a result, the country has been racing over the past year to finalize infrastructure for its gas master plan, which will see the construction of more than $750 million worth of new processing and pipeline infrastructure by China’s SINOPEC. Gas is due to begin flowing to the newly-built Aboadze power plant over the next month or two—and none too soon, given the blackouts last year when the country’s alternative gas supply, the West African Gas Pipeline, experienced supply shortages.
While hydrocarbons dominate the headlines, Ghana’s traditional commodities have provided the bulk of revenues in recent years. Cocoa, which indirectly supports more than one-sixth of the population, had a successful year with an estimated production figure of 860,000 tons, down slightly from the previous year but enough to make it the world’s second largest producer. The distribution of more than 20,000 new hybrid seedlings and efforts to improve the ability of small farmers to tend and replace their crops, looks set to strengthen output over the medium-term.
Similarly, gold, which accounts for roughly 40% of exports, grew by double-digit figures over 2012. Although production fell slightly, higher prices on international markets helped keep prices afloat and fund new exploration in marginal deposits. Ghana has revamped its regulatory scheme, introducing a new bidding system and increasing the fiscal burden for operators, including a windfall tax and higher royalties.
Of course, with all this laudable growth comes a note of caution. This rapid change must be managed carefully, for the downside risks facing the country are sizable. Ghana was the third-largest recipient of FDI in Africa last year, but it remains worryingly dependent on commodities. Gold, cocoa and oil dominate exports and while Ghana is not as sensitive to price fluctuations as it was in the 1980s, when the economy seesawed according to international prices, volatility still impacts overall performance. Furthermore, labor-intensive activities such as manufacturing remain marginalized, exacerbating unemployment and weakening the balance of payments. The benefits of the economic boom have been disproportionately concentrated in the south and development in the north lags significantly.
However, Ghana has the ideal foundation for future growth. It has natural resources, policy stability and reasonable infrastructure and it has benefited accordingly. But exporting raw materials, by sending gold and cocoa elsewhere for processing, is a short-term solution. The country has begun aggressively encouraging increased value-added production in the secondary and tertiary sectors, to improve the sustainability and inclusiveness of growth and to ensure that the country’s current performance is not a temporary blip.