Africa has 54 diverse countries, a billion people on the move, an abundance of raw materials, the largest new market for goods and services, a food for generations and an insatiable infrastructure market for a hundred years.
Despite fragmented infrastructure delivery, due to a lack of domestic fiscal strength, weak regional integration and inexperienced internal project delivery capacity, Africa’s foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows have quadrupled since 2000.
Although FDI projects in Africa fell 8.4% in 2014, the continent’s share of global capital investment and job creation hit an all-time high, attracting more FDI than North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Europe.
Despite claims to the contrary, European investors continue to dominate investment in Africa as American interest rebuilds, while the commitment from Asia-Pacific has weakened over the past decade.
Projects are getting more complex, with the average investment of $174.5 million per project in 2014, up from $67.8 million in 2013; a 68% increase that created 188,400 jobs.
Many of the basic public infrastructure contracts in poorer countries are implemented through diverse aid agencies, barter deals, or in rare cases, through public-private partnerships.
The more than 70 Chinese contractors in Africa benefit from barter deals in relation to energy and minerals, or aid-related projects tied to the State. Many smaller Chinese contractors battle with indigenization, and the interpretation of local contract specifications, leaving technical and socioeconomic problems and a legacy of unfulfilled expectations. Group Five were called to rectify a partly constructed commercial building in a neighboring country. It had been poorly constructed by a Chinese contractor, somewhat to the architect’s specification, but as the program became tighter and the cash flow ran out, innovation ran wild. The photographs amused us for years.
Government-funded infrastructure on open tender is the area where acquiring projects can be the most difficult, and then there is the matter of securing payment. These are highly contested bids where innovation in packaging the right mix of local resources, commitment to local communities and skills development make all the difference. In some cases, corruption rears its ugly head and staff come under duress in difficult locations. Zero tolerance is mandatory. Management needs to train employees to deal with corruption and to uphold the international standards by which a business should be judged. Contrary to popular misconception, it is possible to uphold ethical business values in Africa. Robust risk assessment of counter parties is a key factor in preventing corruption.
Foreign-financed-loan or aided-public-infrastructure projects favor their own contractors, providing a partnering or sub-contracting opportunity for the larger African-based contractors.
Projects funded by the World Bank and the African Development Bank are open tenders and often bureaucratic and highly contested, with strong competition from Asia and Eastern Europe. Often funding is inadequate – causing disputes. I remember a 10-year dispute where the specifications were completely at odds with the actual site, meaning additional work was required to build the road. The dispute ended favorably, but with significant cost and delayed payment.
Technically complex projects in power, oil and gas, mining and agriculture are available in the private sector.
The Independent Power Project market is exciting but requires time and resources to support the developers. My previous company built more than 1,200MW of power plant capacity across Africa with at least another 1,000MW now in construction in renewables and gas-fired power. Mining plant construction has provided a massive boon to local construction companies in gold, copper, cobalt, uranium and coal as far afield as Madagascar, Liberia, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique and Sierra Leonne.
Local knowledge, the best people, the right partners, efficient execution and innovation wins these bids.
Sites are manned by a multinational workforce, so there is substantial risk in the assumptions made at the bid stage on local manpower skills, rates of production and quality of work which will determine the cost and duration. The industry exists on incredibly low margins, yet takes on massive risk. One has to see through the complexity of a multi-year project to get your bid cost accurate. It’s a tough call, yet very rewarding when it comes off.
On the flip side, the most successful long-term client relationships have been born out of managing adversity and still delivering the project.
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
King Price CEO On Why He Invested On Insurance
King Price Insurance’s CEO Gideon Galloway, who built an insurance company in South Africa worth over $226 million in six years, talks investments, industry trends and how self-driving cars will change the entire car insurance landscape.
Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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