Category Archives: Foreign direct investment

3 Takeaways from ATIGS2018


The African Trade and Investment Summit which concluded this week in Washington, DC was ambitious in scale and scope. The event was a comprehensive look at the current business climate in various parts of the continent. It was also an opportunity for business people to connect and to initiate or strengthen business relationships. Here are three takeaways:

  1. The entire African continent was well represented. Similar conferences in the US seem to feature the biggest economies plus a few high profile nations in the east and west. At ATIGS there were attendees and panelists from every region and language group. In addition, there were several country briefings allowing attendees to explore a specific market in more detail.
  2. Africa has the world’s attention. Naturally there was much discussion about strengthening trade ties between Africa and the US. Meanwhile, other parts of the world are deeply engaged in many African countries and industry sectors. China and India of course have a strong presence. There were also briefings and business forums on the Middle East, the European Union, Canada, and Latin America.
  3. ATIGS provided a useful networking opportunity. The sheer size of the event and the wide variety of industries and countries represented made it a great place to meet people and make connections. The attendees included entrepreneurs, bankers, business developers, advisors, government officials and NGO executives, and a small number of investors. Attendees took advantage of breaks in the schedule for impromptu meetings and introductions. The organizers also provided an online mechanism to schedule meetings prior to the conference. That these meetings happened set the tone for the conference as a place for business to be done.


ATIGS 2018 was an impressive event well worth attending despite a few logistical snags. The Labacore team has developed a strong network and displayed considerable prowess in marketing the conference. We look forward to their next project.

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Private Equity Investors Boost Value and Liquidity in Africa, Making Investments More Attractive

An important consideration in evaluating any class of investments is the ability to easily cash out of a position and lock in a healthy return. Among the elements required are liquid capital markets and a vibrant private secondary market for African equity and debt. The growing role of private equity in African finance has influenced the process of creating value and realizing attractive returns on African investments.

Now that private equity has been active in Africa for several years we are seeing more and better data on the performance of their portfolios. From this data we can draw conclusions about the experience of firms exiting their portfolio investments.

Some of the most respected work on African private equity exits has been done by Ernst and Young in partnership with the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association. The 6th and most recent report—PE Exits in Africa 2017 covers the industry in 2016.

In summary, the report tells us that 2016 was a record year for the number of exits. The largest number were in South Africa but there were also several in Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, and Ghana. We saw significant increases in the number of exits in West Africa and North Africa.

African stock market regulators are working hard to set the stage for greater liquidity in the markets, however, at present, most exits consist of sales to strategic buyers and an increasing number of financial buyers. The financial buyers are largely private equity firms buying out the previous financing round.

Stock Markets as an Exit Option

The good news is that African stock markets have been quite strong, largely due to stronger commodity markets which have spawned economic recovery in many countries. (See table below) The consensus is that the recovery will continue in the near term. Liquidity is still a challenge. All else being equal the expectation of strong stock markets could make listing more of an exit option than it has been.













Implications for US Financial Investors

  • The activity in African private equity and venture capital have in many ways contributed to an improved investment climate for American capital.
  • A PE firm’s value creation process often calls for partners or suppliers to join with their portfolio companies. This is an opportunity for US companies to enter African markets by engaging with those portfolio companies.
  • The US investor could buy out a PE firms equity position. This requires strong local knowledge that is often easier for a local firm.
  • The PE firm or another financial investor could be an exit for a current investor. The growing number of PE firms allocating funds to Africa makes the financial buyer an increasingly likely exit option.

With these possibilities in mind it behooves US investors to build relationships with key players on the ground in Africa including the financial community and government officials tasked with promoting and regulating portfolio and direct investment. US investors may find opportunities across all sectors, of the various economies and markets in Africa.

Darnley Howard is a partner at PAN Diaspora Capital Management. PAN Diaspora Capital Management  is an organizational partner with the Initiative for Global Development for the Africa Investment Rising campaign. A highlight of the campaign is the US Roadshow from April 18 through 28. IGD will visit four cities—Washington, New York, Des Moines and Houston in order to showcase opportunities in Africa and create a forum for American and African businesses to connect. For more inform, visit


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Spotlight on Cameroon

Things are looking up in the land of Bikutsi and Makossa.

The Africa Rising story often features a few high profile countries that have dominated investors’ attention: Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and a few others are where most of the deals seem to happen.

Meanwhile, flying under the radar is Cameroon. Lately we are seeing an increase in business and entrepreneurial activity in the public and private sectors that leads one to think that this market deserves a closer look.


The Republic of Cameroon is officially a democracy with executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Paul Biya has been president since 1982.

Like most of Africa, the economy is based on natural resources, chief among them, timber, aluminum, agriculture (particularly, cocoa, palm oil), and oil & gas.

In addition there are hints of entrepreneurial activity that could lead to a larger private sector contribution to the nation’s economy.


Just this year we’ve encountered several examples of entrepreneurial ventures and development initiatives that could be attractive to investors:

  • Ovamba is a financial services company that uses an innovative lending model to provide short term capital to small and medium sized businesses.
  • An American entrepreneur has made a big bet on palm oil in Cameroon. His business produces substantial volumes and has strong support from the local community.
  • We have been made aware of a major initiative by government to improve the Cameroonian infrastructure. Contractors an financial investors can select from dozens of projects in several sectors including transport, agribusiness, and electric power.


Anglophone meets Francophone. Though mostly French speaking, Cameroon has a significant English speaking population, making partners, and staff available for both language groups.

Bridge to West and Central Africa. Cameroon often identifies and is identified by others as a Central and West African nation. For this reason, and due to its location Cameroon can serve as a base of operations for Central or West Africa.

On the verge of becoming an LNG exporter. Oil and gas are fields have been developed on and off shore on the West African coast. Cameroon is a part of the west coast African oil story. LNG reserves are large enough that Cameroon may soon become a gas exporter.


President for life? President Biya his held office for 35 years. The country seems stable so far, but one wonders about the succession plan and whether an orderly transition will occur.

Anglo & Franco living together. The combination of Anglophone and Francophone that is a source of strength for Cameroon can also be a source of division and instability. So far that has not occurred and we consider this to be a minor issue.

We would love to hear from other business people about their experiences and impressions of the business climate in Cameroon. Your comments are welcome.

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Strengthening Private Investment in Africa


Norton Rose Fulbright law firm was the scene last Tuesday for the Africa Alternative Investment Intensive. The forum was part of a series of conferences on the African investment landscape organized by Africonomie.

Investors such as Abraaj, Capri Africa, and Sarona Asset Management were represented. In addition, several important players in the African financial ecosystem were in attendance. These include PWC’s Mauritius office, IGD Leaders and PAN Diaspora Capital Management.

The AAII was a gathering of practitioners bringing their real world experience. It was an opportunity to share ideas and insights aimed at fostering a healthier African investment climate. Here are some of the topics:


Attracting American Capital to Africa

Obi McKenzie of Black Rock had constructive recommendations for fund managers. A fund’s track record is a big selling point. New funds without much of a record are encouraged to pursue funds of funds. A useful sources of leads is the National Association of Investment Companies.

Encouraging US pension fund managers to consider African investments

Donna Sims Wilson, president of the National Association of Securities Professionals gave a presentation on the NASP Africa Initiative. It is a USAID funded initiative known as Mobilizing Institutional Investors to Develop Africa’s Infrastructure, or MiDA. The goal is to expose US public pension plan sponsors to co-invest with African fund managers in Africa’s infrastructure.

Risk mitigation

Several times during the conference presenters pointed out various risks that must be managed either with insurance products or deal structuring. Currency risk was a topic of particular concern. Risk management in African investments will be address in more detail shortly in a subsequent post.

Startups & smaller deals

This is a segment of the market that the financial community has not really addressed. There were audience questions during the day about funding the “missing middle” deals of roughly $500k to $1 million. A panel on Smart Capital and the future Innovative Technologies in Africa identified several themes such as mobile technology.

Impact investing and ESG issues

Panels on ESG related risks and delivering sustainable energy addressed social an developmental impacts of investing. The very definition of ESG and how it is measured were among the topics discussed.

Last week’s Africa Alternative Investment Intensive continues the conversation and sets the stage for the next AAII gathering next month in London.


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3 Things I Learned Today in Ghana

1. It’s great to have friends in country

Not only for the hospitality, or the insights and view from inside, the ability to trust people to do what they say they’ll do is invaluable.

2. Projects are not always what they seem to be

A simple capital raise can reveal a need for a variety of consulting services.

3. There’s nothing like on the ground presence.

I spent most of today with the management team of a Nigerian construction firm setting up in Ghana. Today they were looking for office space. Tomorrow they meet key decision makers whose influence can determine who wins contracts. American companies need to show this level of commitment or else be beaten to the punch by bold competitors from Africa, Asia, and Europe.

I was also reminded why I made this trip. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see first hand the changes that say much more than the macroeconomic statistics. Now I’m  better prepared to explain this exciting and growing market.


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Ghana Today–a Story of Growth and Struggle

I arrived in Accra yesterday morning for my first visit in several years. While I’m here to meet with partners, colleagues,  and prospective clients, I’m also anxious to see see up closely of the changes I’ve been reading about.

A different Accra greeted me immediately. The airport arrival area was cleaner and much more orderly than before. On the way to my hotel I saw several new office buildings including the brand new Octagon. There’s also the fabulous new Movenpick. This enormous building is clearly designed for big event and caters to an international clientele.I’m  right around the corner at the Accra City Hotel, which has replaced the old Novotel on Barnes Rd. The arrived of these new premium properties are recognition of Accra as one of the premier meetings destinations in West Africa.

Later that day, during my ritual stroll around the neighborhood, I could see that much of the old Ghana remains. There’s the chaotic bustle of Makola market. The tro-tros still offer dirt cheap transportation along with new City buses tant world ont besoin ont of place in DC or Mexico City.

During the next two I will explore the current state of Ghana’s development,  focusing on energy, infrastructure, and the country’s efforts to lessen its dependence on raw commodities and become a more industrialized, higher value economy. Along the way I will highlight potential investment opportunities and suggest ways Ghana’s companies and governments can become more investor friendly. Stay tuned!



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Raising Productivity& Prosperity in Six African Economies

There is a set of African countries whose economies have grown faster than the rest of the continent in recent years and show potential for above average growth into the future. Six of these countries have been dubbed African Lions by Haroon Bhorat and Finn Tarp in there recent book “Africa’s Lions: Growth Traps and Opportunities for Six African Economies.” The book was the subject of a panel discussion held recently at the Brookings Institution.


The six African Lion economies are Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and South Africa. The list includes Africa’s two largest economies—Nigeria and South Africa. These two along with Kenya and Ghana are also four of the five KINGS countries, so named by Ghanaian tech entrepreneur Eric Osiakwan for their leadership in Africa’s technology sector. Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation has dipped a toe into light manufacturing. Mozambique is a potential agricultural powerhouse.


Poverty is down but not enough and poverty reduction has been uneven across the continent. Much of the poverty reduction has been due to strong commodity prices and natural resource imports by China. This type of economic growth does not reduce poverty by as much as in other emerging economies where more of the growth is driven by industrial activity and higher value exports.

In other words, as we all know African economies, including the African Lions suffer from excessive dependence on natural resources. They have been slow to industrialize, and slow to move up the value chain into higher productivity sectors which create more and higher paying jobs. While there may be inequities in the global trading system that work against them, the biggest obstacles blocking African productivity are more internal than external—they include business governance, quality of institutions, and strength of human capital.


The issues of productivity and natural resource dependence are well known and have been hanging out there for decades. It was evident by the mood in the audience at Brookings that Africans are increasingly dissatisfied and are looking for new solutions!

Today’s challenges cry out for innovative new approaches and Africans must lead the way. The West—and the East can help. The challenge is big enough that the combined efforts of business, non-profits & foundations, academia & think tanks are needed. The West, and for the US in particular should beef up their efforts in 3 ways:

1. Engagement

American industry and American goods and services are generally well liked in Africa. But American business has been very much on the sidelines of African growth and development. Americans need to be present on the ground, even when there is not a deal immediately on the table. There have been a few good examples:

  • Mark Zuckerberg’s recent visit to Nigeria and Kenya. There to explore the technology and innovation sector in Africa, he wound up investing in a Nigerian software developer.
  • General Electric is making significant investments in the power sector in several countries, making use of the US government’s Power Africa initiative.
  • The Case Foundation, lead by Steve and Jean Case was a major supporter of this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi

There are resources that can help such as Corporate Council on Africa , certain accounting, legal and consulting firms, and a cadre of US trained professionals with deep experience and relationships in African business. Time to put them to work!

2. Training & Capacity Building

  • Management Training. In addition to making traditional business education available to more students, business and academia should make available advanced disciplines such as project management, quality management, and supply chain logistics as applied in an African context.
  • Innovation. Many western companies are using training programs that instill a culture of innovation. African business can use similar training to build on recent successes like M-Pesa and gain a competitive edge in the global marketplace.
  • Compliance. In order to become a productive member in a global supply chain, African companies like others around the world must be compliant with global standards designed to prevent corruption, maintain labor and environmental standards, and regulations specific to certain industries like financial services.

3. Financial Investment

With significant engagement and capacity building, comfort levels rise on all sides and perceptions of risk can change. Investments specifically linked to these efforts become attractive to private capital.

Deals designed to benefit from growth in consumption and from inclusion in global supply chains will provide significant, reliable returns to investors. So far there has been a lot of interest and a lot of dancing around. It’s time to pull the trigger!

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In my last post I gave an overview of the issues raised at a conference on supply chain risks and opportunities. Let’s now drill down a bit to consider how US and other western companies should address these issues as they being emerging and frontier market firms into their supply chains.


Prior to any investment or contracting arrangement, companies will conduct the usual financial & operational due diligence to get an understanding of the nature of their investment. In doing so they should be mindful of several concerns:

  • Have suppliers and other 3rd parties had online compliance training?
  • Banks must comply with US financial regulations and so do their suppliers. Banks and other US companies must prepare suppliers to be audited by US bank examiners.
  • US & Western companies must maintain their “social license” to operate. This requires a deliberate demonstration of corporate social responsibility and should do all they can to purge human trafficking, child labor and other human rights issues from the supply chain.


  • The current approach of international insurers to risk management is to understand the interconnectivity of risk. Experts recommend managing risks holistically rather than in silos. This holistic approach recognizes how operational risks impact legal risks and financial risks.


Western executives often complain of corruption and having to pay bribes in order to do business in emerging markets. (Of course for many westerners the answers is to pay bribes—it takes two to tango!) For US companies the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act means a jail sentence if caught making inappropriate payments. Cultivate long term relationship The strategies recommended by the experts at the EFMA conference and elsewhere boil down to the following:

  • Cultivate a long term relationship with suppliers to form a basis for trust. Building trust requires playing the long game so companies should budget for the time and resources required to form a long term relationship with suppliers and other stakeholders. It takes spending time in country. The desired outcome is a local partner for the long haul.
  • Get the incentives right. This includes not only sharing financial benefits, but also providing knowledge transfer via training and collaboration.


  • Implement controls that encourage performance and foster a long term relationship with suppliers.
  • Choose the right jurisdiction in which to set up the business entity and to contest disputes.
  • If necessary, seek advice on how to exit a market while retaining as much value as possible, and minimizing the loss of goodwill.


  • The natural and quite understandable inclination of most multinationals large and small is to locate profit centers in low tax jurisdictions. Some of these low tax states are disparagingly labeled tax havens. It is also not surprising that governments around the world have pushed back against the practice now known as “Base Erosion and Profit Shifting” or BEPS. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has been a leader in understanding the use of tax havens. Companies would be advised to consult the OECD’s guidelines on BEPS and transfer pricing and to heed the advice of tax consultants and attorneys when setting up supply chain relationships in emerging economies.
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Making Supply Chains Work in Emerging Markets

I recently attended the Emerging and Frontier Markets Association’s conference on Supply Chain Risks and Rewards in Emerging Markets. I have long stressed the need for developing countries to move away from the model of natural resource dependence and reorient their economies toward value added industry and join the global supply chains that are the backbone of many key industries. This was the right forum at the right time.

The stage was set with a discussion of key risk areas companies face when emerging market companies become part of their supply chain. They are:

  1. Various forms of corruption—particularly the risk of violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and
  2. Working with companies that may be involved in human trafficking and other human rights violations.

Other important topics included due diligence, taxes and cyber security. These topics and others will help us understand what companies and governments in emerging markets can do to attract investment capital and join a global supply chain. The discussions also gave us some ideas on how Western companies can succeed in these markets where the opportunities are tantalizing and the risks are readily apparent. I’m looking forward to exploring the path to supply chain readiness in the blogosphere and in the real world marketplace.

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US investors can find good deals in Africa and not leave all the action to the Chinese. How? By taking the long view, and aligning their investment strategy with countries’ development priorities.


For example, Ghana has launched an initiative that links the obvious need for better infrastructure with the goal of industrializing the economy, with a sovereign wealth funds to back it up. Implementation requires billions in investment and technical assistance, largely from the private sector. Here’s how US companies can win business:

  1. Adopt a long term perspective. These are long term projects intended to transform Ghana’s economy and enable high value industry to thrive. The benefits to investors and operators are also long term in the form of offtakes that will continue well into the future. These benefits easily overwhelm concerns about currency fluctuation, or bureaucratic challenges.
  2. Make your presence known on the ground. Brazilian and Chinese investors send teams to explore the market even before any bid announcement or call for investors. Email and social media have their limits. You have to go there!
  3. Identify a local partner. Successful teams almost always include a local private sector player as a joint venture partner. There are consultants based in the US and abroad who can provide leads for good JV partners.
  4. Bring a complete solution. A complete solution brings financial and operational capabilities—someone to finance, build and operate. It also includes service, maintenance and training. Infrastructure giants like GE often have such capabilities in-house. Asian and European operating companies often have government backing. US investors should think in terms of assembling a consortium that includes these elements. A private equity shop or investor group, needs an operating partner. A builder or contractor, needs a financial investor able to provide capital. Agencies like OPIC and EXIMBANK can help manage risk.
  5. Identify skilled, knowledgeable advisors. There needs to be someone who understands the local environment, but also understands the priorities of a US-based investor.

In cases like Ghana, the projects are structured with offtake and other cash flow sources clearly identified. The Ghanaian government is prepared to help with advice and seed money via the sovereign wealth fund. Lots of guidance and support are also available in the US from government and private sources. This should be a win for US investors, and for the emerging world once we get in the game in a serious way.

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