How is it that West Africa only accounts for 5% of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the African continent? The World Bank wondered this in July this year.
This is a region that includes the continent’s largest economy, Nigeria, with gross domestic product (GDP) of $406 billion in 2016, about 29% of sub-Saharan African output of $1.4 trillion. By comparison, South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy has a size of $294 billion. Furthermore, the largest and most dynamic francophone African country, Ivory Coast, with a $36 billion economy, is also West African. So why the scant foreign investor interest?
Jack Ma, one of Asia’s richest men, led a group of people with similarly deep pockets to East Africa in July. His first stop was Kenya, an economy barely one-fifth of Nigeria’s size. Ma also visited Rwanda, a tiny landlocked neighbor to Kenya.
If corruption, terrorism and the occasional rebellion in Nigeria and Ivory Coast is disturbing, why is Ghana overlooked? With an economy almost as large as Kenya, Ghana has a better democratic record and has proved to be one of the most stable African countries. And just as Nigeria struggles to deal with the Boko Haram terrorist group in its northeast, so does Kenya with Al-Shabaab. Additionally, political violence is more of a problem in Kenya than it is in Nigeria.
So why did Ma and his 38 billionaire friends find relatively smaller African countries more attractive to the larger coastal countries in the West with such cosmopolitan cities like Lagos and Abidjan? The reasons are not farfetched.
The World Bank asserts cumbersome administrative procedures and corruption at the ports hinder the speedy clearance of goods, for example. These apply to most African countries, though. It attributes access to finance as well. This is not significant though, as foreign investors bring their own capital. But if a country’s exchange rate policy is controlled and not transparent, this can be stymied.
East African countries have been more reliable in this regard, allowing their currencies to trade without much interference and not hindering the free flow of capital in and out of their jurisdictions, even during periods of crisis. Historically, this has not been the case in West Africa, especially Nigeria, which until recently not only rationed hard currency but blocked the repatriation of capital, causing great losses to foreign investors. Also, myriad bottlenecks around doing business in most West African countries are worse than they are in East Africa. Little wonder the World Bank ranks Rwanda and Kenya 56th and 92nd out of 190 countries respectively in its latest ease of doing business index. Ghana and Nigeria are ranked 108th and 169th respectively.
Even though corruption underpins the relatively more difficult business conditions in West African countries, it is not likely the reason they are less attractive investment destinations. Kenya is perceived by some to be more corrupt than Nigeria, for instance. In fact, Transparency International ranks Kenya as more corrupt than Nigeria in its corruption perception index.
The reason could be that East African countries are more economically integrated. In contrast, West African countries, under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have been more successful at political integration than economic cohesion.
A more innovative streak is also a factor, especially with information technology; albeit West African countries, like Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria, are increasingly demonstrating technological progress as well. Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, visited Nigeria in August 2016, for instance.
So what can West African governments do to attract more FDI? They must make doing business easier. The World Bank is helping via a European Union funded four-year ‘Improved Business and Investment Climate in West Africa Project’. It is hoped the ECOWAS Investment Climate Scorecard will bring quicker progress with integration.
With patronage-based politics continuing to be crucial to the stability of most West African countries, however, there is not much political will towards economic integration. Move too quickly and they might have bigger problems than just being difficult to do business in. – Written by Rafiq Raji
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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