Tag Archives: South Africa

Mandela – Hero of Africa’s booming economy

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

At Nelson Mandela’s memorial yesterday, President Obama hailed the former South African President as “the last great liberator of the 20th century”.

He is also being remembered for the formidable role he played in building up Africa’s largest economy. Mandela famously believed in the link between economic and political progress, and as a result, South Africa’s gross domestic product grew from less than 1.5 % from 1980 to 1994 to almost 3 % from 1995 to 2003. South Africa is now proudly the “S” in BRICS, and its economy is still going strong 20 years after Mandela first came to power.

Aside from all this, Mandela ensured that South Africa became an important source of economic opportunity for its neighbouring countries too. It can be argued that their successes, in turn, influenced the rest of the continent. Mandela was certainly therefore the great liberator of Africa. According to the latest statistics by the IMF, the continent’s economy is projected to have grown by 4.8% in 2013 and accelerate further to 5.3% in 2014.  He didn’t merely bring South Africa into the global economy, but was key in making sure the rest of Africa would also thrive one day.

Last but certainly not least, it is important to note the effect that Mandela had on successive generations of investors, who  in order to support him in his struggle against apartheid, came to recognize the power of investment to change things for the better, as well as the impact sustainable and responsible investments could have on anything from fighting injustice to empowering women and combating climate change.

Nelson Mandela has therefore left us with resounding legacies and the world is undoubtedly a much better place thanks to him.

What has the G20 in St. Petersburg (Sept 5-6, 2013) meant for Africa?

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

Africa may have only one seat at the G20 table (South Africa), but the continent accounts for 14% of the global population.

And not only does it represent the largest untapped source of oil, gas and minerals, but also the world’s most rapidly growing consumer market. These are all rather significant statistics. It therefore came as quite a shock when Oxfam announced that Africa had lost more in tax revenue over the last 30 years than it gained in development aid.

Such an issue can only be dealt with on a global scale and such a perspective is precisely what the G20 provides. Although initially much attention was on Syria, a global tax reform seems to have been discussed at length on day 2. Various media outlets have reported that G20 leaders endorsed the idea that countries should exchange information in order to catch tax evaders.

If transparent beneficial ownership is enforced, then the use of tax havens, shell companies, and multi-layered company structures will become illegal. Properly designed and effectively implemented these global reforms will benefit Africa in particular by making available a fairer share of revenues which could have enormous consequences (such as an end to development aid). In addition, companies doing business in Africa will benefit from predictable business environments, with much clearer regulation.

Let’s hope that the implementation process will be done swiftly.

 

Google sets its sights on Africa

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

Google’s announcement to expand mobile broadband in Africa could revolutionize life on the continent. In the developed world, Mobile Web connectivity is such a part of everyday life that we take it for granted. This is not the case in Africa at all, but might be about to change. Google stated recently that it aims to dramatically improve Internet access on the continent by 2015.

The Internet in Africa still has a very low penetration rate, and measurable parameters such as overall number of hosts and available bandwidth indicate that it is very much behind the “digital divide“. Within Africa itself there is an additional divide, with most infrastructure concentrated in South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Mauritius and the Seychelles. The Internet’s full potential therefore remains largely untapped in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Today, broadband penetration is still very low compared to regions of similar income, and although 15% of the world’s population lives in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 6% of the world’s Internet users do (Google). The telecommunications market in Africa is one of the fastest-growing in the world. Since 2000, mobile telephony in Africa has been booming and has become substantially more widespread than fixed line telephony.

Telecommunication companies in Africa are already looking specifically at Broadband Wireless Access technologies as the key to make Internet available to the population at large. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Internet is after all a tremendous, undisputed force for economic growth and social change.

On top of bringing people together, it also provides an outlet for new forms of innovation, entrepreneurship and social good. It is a dynamic tool for stimulating economic growth and has the ability to bring news and markets to even the remotest of populations. Fernando de Sousa, General Manager for Africa Initiatives at Microsoft, stated that by 2018 Africa will have a workforce of 500 million people. A big part of them will probably be entrepreneurs and will come up with new ideas, which can be turn into real projects and businesses.

It is therefore crucial that they have access to the necessary tools!

 

Obama’s African visit

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

President Obama’s long-awaited trip to Africa is coming to an end, and he didn’t manage to hide the real reason he was there.

Many Presidents are visiting the continent these days, but the fact that Obama is half white American and half black African means that, in Africa itself, his visit has generated a lot more interest than when (for instance) China’s new president embarked on a trip less than two weeks after taking office earlier this year. What also differentiates Obama from the others is that he makes great speeches, and I especially liked his ideas for a “Power Africa” initiative and “sustainable” African energy strategy.

All through his trip, the President has looked happy, relaxed, and “at home”, despite all the security that he has surrounded himself and his family with. What seems to have been most significant to those he went to visit is that, in all three countries (Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa), Obama emphasised that he welcomes world economies turning their sights to Africa. However, as his trip matures, his real views are increasingly being felt.

African leaders should “pick their international partners carefully”, and “push back against countries that bring in their own workers”, a clear criticism of China. Another clear criticism of China was Obama’s “wildlife and importance of tourism speech”, condemning illegal trafficking. The White House has already issued a statement this morning regarding the launch of a new anti-poaching initiative in Tanzania as of next month.

From the cheers heard yesterday in Dar es Salaam however, it is clear that the word “partnership” is the magic word in Africa these days. When Obama said the West’s goal is to “partner” with Africa, the crowds went wild.

It is important to note that both the USA and Europe are home to large communities with strong African heritages and that Africa and America/Europe often share a common language, making training and technology transfer much more straightforward. Africans know this, and they clearly want it. We also have a common history, for better or for worse. It is Europe’s common history (mostly violent) that unites them now within a European Union that, even though it is still in its infancy, seems to be doing alright despite some teething problems.

The younger generation in Africa, Europe and America have a lot in common through a shared history, that we are coming out of together, and the significance of this cannot be trivialised. This does not mean that partnerships with China are a bad idea.  In fact, Africa has already partnered successfully with many countries in Asia, forming the bulk of the South-South trade. Obama’s words should however be a warning to China, one that I’m sure they’ll heed given the investments they’ve made on the continent in the last decade.

The bottom line is that the whole African continent is full of promise. I would therefore like to reiterate what I wrote in my previous blog: A united Africa will be stronger, but I agree that it must choose its partners well. Yesterday afternoon, Obama revealed a venture, dubbed ‘‘Trade Africa,’’ that aims to increase the flow of goods between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. The initial phase will focus on East Africa — Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania — and in a couple of years, the phase will be extended to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Let’s hope that this will be a partnership made in heaven, and just one of many.

 

The United States of Africa?

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

Gaddafi’s dream might live on through an “undercurrent” that seems to be uniting Sub-Saharan African countries

I have just returned from Ghana, the 30th country (or so) that I have now visited in Africa. Even though I was only in Accra, Ghana’s capital, I completely understand why the Ghanaian diaspora is so keen to return home.

Ghana, like many other places in Africa, is buzzing. As I was walking around the city centre, a thought suddenly occurred to me. Now that Africa is increasingly hailed as the “rising continent”, those in the West who are keen to stand out as “experts”, insist on shouting from every rooftop that “Africa is a continent, not a country”.  I don’t know who their audience is, pre-teens who opted out of Geography perhaps, but even though I would never claim to be an expert in anything except daydreaming about the beaches of Mozambique, I can’t help but notice increasing similarities between Africa and America.

As a child, when I lived in Tanzania and my parents and I would drive to Kenya (for shopping) or to Zambia (to visit my sister), each country seemed quite different. I don’t feel that way anymore. In my gap year, back in 1996, I drove across the whole of North America (petrol was cheap then), and even though I found the United States to be very diverse, from Alaska to Louisiana, I always knew that I was in the USA.  Yet, as soon as I entered Canada I felt that I was in a very different country. Some “undercurrent” seemed to unite all the States I visited, yet it wasn’t present in Canada. I am starting to feel the same way about North Africa/Sub-Saharan Africa. North Africa is significantly different to its neighbours in the South, but driving around Accra last week, I could easily have been in Kampala or Nairobi. The billboards, buildings, street sellers, all have the same “feel” that you simply don’t find in North Africa or anywhere else in the world.

Africa has many languages and cultures, yes, but  I am writing this blog from Belgium, a tiny county where 60% of the population speaks Dutch, 38% speaks French and 2% German.  The Dutch is divided into hundreds of Flemish dialects that could easily be mistaken for different languages as they don’t even sound the same (don’t get me started on the cultural differences here).  Yet every city is similar enough for me to know that I haven’t crossed any of the country’s borders. Europe is very much a continent, united mostly by an agreement between 27 countries not go go to war anymore. 10 minutes into France and you are definitely no longer in Belgium.  Even the petrol stations are different by the way they look, the items they sell in the store, and the lavatories.  Countries in Asia and Latin America differ as much as those in Europe.

 

In Sub-Saharan Africa however, petrol stations are quite similar, just like in the US they are quite similar in all 50 states (including Hawaii).  This brings me to President Obama’s upcoming trip to Sub-Saharan Africa (which merits a blog of its own – watch this space) on June 26th. He will be visiting Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa, 3 of my favourite countries on the continent. He intends to focus on economic cooperation and I believe that he might expand the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the Clinton-era legislation that provides Sub-Saharan countries with duty-free access to America’s markets for almost all products (except sugar, dairy and peanuts). To Americans, their President will be doing business with “Africa”, plain and simple. While Obama has devoted significant time to emerging economies in Asia and Latin America, he has spent just one day in sub-Saharan Africa since taking office (a 24-hour visit to Ghana in 2009).

I hope that his upcoming visit will give American citizens an updated view of Sub-Saharan Africa, as once the continent becomes more “united”, a process that seems already underway, not only by my humble observations, but also through trade barriers being dropped and increasing political and economic cooperation, it will certainly be a force to be reckoned with. A more united Africa will certainly be able to meet the challenges of globalisation.  And America best take note.

They know better than anyone the strength that lies in unity.

Africa invests in Africa

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

A growing number of African countries are rapidly joining the ranks of prominent investors across the continent.

According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the rate of FDI projects from emerging markets has grown at a healthy compound rate of over 21% since 2008 (triple the amount from developed markets). The top investors were still India, the United Arab Emirates and China at the start of 2013, but intra-African investment has become very impressive since then. Nobody knows Africa better than Africans, and continued political stability across the continent is making them trust their own. The beauty is that increased economic stability and growth is allowing them to help accelerate the African success story through rapidly increasing cross-border investments.

SA has been at the forefront of the growth in intra-African trade but Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria are also investing heavily this year. From 2014, it is expected that countries like Angola and Mozambique will join their ranks.

The star performers, so far, in 2013, are Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Mauritius, Ethiopia, Namibia, Botswana, Angola and South Africa.

THE World Bank’s investment arm will increase lending to sub-Saharan Africa by up to a quarter in 2014 as private sector companies continue to flock to the region. The IFC is expected to make new investments of USD 5bn and Japan will provide USD 2bn worth of financial support over the next five years to back Japanese-owned development projects on the continent. Europe and the United States are also expected to increase their investments dramatically according to the World Bank, which sees Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP accelerating to almost 6% over three years, driven by investment and commodity prices.

Roughly half the IFC’s annual lending in the region goes to financial markets and institutions to help improve the flow of credit to smaller businesses, which employ most of Africa’s workers. Another third goes to infrastructure projects and natural resources investments. The expanding sets of SMEs is bringing real economic diversification and are giving rise to internationally competitive companies, thereby providing access to global markets, and consequently higher wages and salaries. This, in turn,  leads to the rapid growth of the middle-class and further political stability.

Even the most cautious investors have to admit that all the excitement surrounding Africa is grounded on solid analytical soil. The evidence might be that within a decade Africa will be its own biggest investor. I honestly cannot wait.

Homestrings wins at Africa Diaspora Awards 2013

 

Sarah Caddy

Pride of heritage was the flavour of the evening at the Africa Diaspora awards, held in London’s West End on 2 May 2013.

The continent had much to celebrate, with awards presented to the brightest and best from the worlds of Business, Academia, Entrepreneurship, Media and Community. Her Excellency Ms Thandi Modise, Premier of North – West Province, Republic of South Africa, set the tone for the evening with a moving speech on the role played by the African Diaspora in securing the continent’s successful future. “The spirit of internationalism has sustained humanity” she proclaimed, vocally grateful for the benefits that a global perspective can have not only for the individual Diasporans, but also for the separate countries within the continent. Her vision was for a continent that works with its neighbours and international allegiances to build an ever more promising future.

A prime example of her vision in practice is Eric Vincent Guichard, who secured the Entrepreneur of the Year award for his online initiative, Homestrings – an investment platform that facilitates Diaspora investments into their own communities.  It was an award we thoroughly toasted, as well deserved of our client!

 

More good news for Africa: Consumer spending and private investment is up

 

Sarah Caddy

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than 60 % of Africa’s GDP, remained strong last year according to a World Bank report.

The trend was driven by declining inflation across the continent and improved access to credit in Angola, Ghana, Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria and Zambia.  In addition, interest rates were much lower in 2012 than in 2011 and we witnessed a spectacular rebound in agricultural income thanks to stable weather conditions. Especially Guinea, Mauritania and Niger experienced good rains compared to 2011, but less crops failed in general across the continent compared to the previous years.

We also have to add the steady remittance inflows to the good news coming from Africa, currently estimated at $31 billion.

Not to be sneezed at are the increased investments that are supporting the region’s growth performance. In 2012, for example, net private capital flows into the region increased by 3.3 % to a record $54.5 billion; and foreign direct investment inflows to the region increased by 5.5 % in 2012 to $37.7 billion.

The World Bank report also mentioned that exports are increasingly helping the continent’s growth and that the traditional destination of these goods over the last decade is also changing. Since 2000, the overall growth of sub-Saharan exports to emerging markets and other African countries has surpassed that to developed markets. Africans are increasingly selling to and buying from other Africans, which is the best news of all.

Causing a stir: The fifth BRICS Summit

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

The BRICS account for 21% of world GDP (IMF), 17% of world trade, and over 40% of the world’s population. This year, BRICS is expected to grow at almost 5%, well above the world average (at 3.6%).

This year’s summit therefore received quite a lot of media attention, and not just due to the attendance of the brand-new Chinese President Xi Jinping, nor because of the above statistics.

For South Africa, which makes up just 2.5% of total GDP in BRICS, the summit was an opportunity to showcase its role as an investment gateway to Africa and President Zuma therefore invited 15 African heads of state to attend. Tensions between South Africa and Nigeria (surrounding Nigeria’s belief that they should also be part of BRICS) means that President Goodluck Jonathan did not attend, but other heads of state including Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Uganda, Ethiopia and Egypt, did. Each country actively showcased its nation, grabbing the momentum of the African continent’s current economic boom.

What caused the greatest stir however, were the talks about the establishment of a development bank, which would rival the World Bank and the IMF, and is meant to fund infrastructure and development projects in member states and developing nations, through a joint foreign reserves fund.

The discussions of where the bank will be, or how much money each nation will contribute, did not reach a conclusion. Several experts and officials have said the bank will start with 50 billion dollars, divided equally. BRICS members are clearly seeking greater sway in global finance to match their rising economic power. Undoubtedly the “New Development Bank” will be top of next year’s agenda. The 2014 Summit will be held in Brazil.

The market that had bankers at Davos excited this year was Africa

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

This is what Peter Sands, CEO of Standard Chartered, told Reuters at the World Economic Forum last Friday.

Many African politicians attended the Forum, above all to present their nations in a positive light and thus attract more investors.

The heads of state and government from Guinea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Mauritius all debated the future of their continent over dinner. The event was called an “Interactive Dinner Session”, and journalists were not allowed in. Only entrepreneurs and investors were. South Africa and Nigeria, the biggest economic powers in Africa south of the Sahara, didn’t feel the need to attend the dinner, but instead focused on promoting agriculture in their respective countries. Feeding Africa seems high on their agenda, following the expected population explosion. Nigeria intends to modernize its agriculture via large-scale investment programmes, knowing that its Human Resources are more important to the country’s future than its oil. The aim is to become self-sufficient and eventually an exporter.

One point where everyone agreed was that if Africa were to invest heavily into infrastructure, it could uplift all people still living in poverty.

Some studies suggest that some $100 billion (74.2 billion euros) would have to be invested each year to achieve real improvement, and African representatives at the Davos forum hoped to raise awareness for the issue. They argued that whoever fails to invest in Africa today, will be sorry tomorrow. And almost all attendees seemed to agree with them.

Finally, the European Central Bank president Mario Draghi ended the Forum by stating that “positive contagion” on financial markets was not yet feeding into the economy at large, but that the eurozone should see recovery in the second half of the year.

Good news all round…