Tag Archives: Infrastructure

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.

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL PROFILE

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.

RECENT ACTION

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.

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGES

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.

POTENTIAL RISKS

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

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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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Movenpick

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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.

WHO ARE THE AFRICAN LIONS AND WHY?

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.

WHY HAVE THE LIONS NOT PERFORMED BETTER?

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.

HOW WILL THE LIONS TAKE AFRICA TO THE NEXT LEVEL ECONOMICALLY?

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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Africa’s Global Competitiveness–4 Themes to Consider

1. Is the commodity supercycle turning back upward?

  • Oil seems to have bottomed. After falling to the high 20s West Texas oil is close to $50 a barrel. Latest forecasts expect a plateau around $60
  • Metals are soft but not falling fast with gold just under $1300/ounce and copper about $2.17/pound.
  • Coffee rising—ICO composite index up 15% this year
  • Cocoa down 13% this year though up 20% over the last 4 years

2. Global growth forecast is a lackluster 3.1%-Africa slows to 1.6%

  • Has Africa hit bottom at 1.6% growth? Slowdown due largely to slowdown in commodities and reduced imports by China. With oil and other commodities recovering African economies should return to above average growth.

3. Are African leaders prepared to take the policy steps necessary to liberate their economies from commodity dependence?

  • UNIDO’s 2016 Industrial Development Report report discusses the nature of African industrialization and why it has not progressed further. African industrial activities ends to be resource based and has a low and decreasing percentage of global manufacturing value added.
  • The Brookings Institution’s Learning to Compete project notes the virtuous circle in which productivity enables exports and exports raise productivity.
  • The clear implication is that governments must implement policies that increase productivity, promote exports, and reduce dependence on natural resources.

4. The dialogue has started—time for public and private sector action!

  • Africa’s role in global value chains was discussed at this year’s IMF meetings.
  • EFMA Oct 13 conference on Supply Chain Risks in Emerging Markets will address challenges developing countries face in joining global supply chains.
  • We need policies that support sustainable growth and private sector investments that support these policies and offer favorable risk adjusted returns.
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5 KEYS TO INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTING IN AFRICA

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.

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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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