Tag Archives: sub-Saharan Africa

Is infrastructure development the biggest catalyst for economic growth in Africa?

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

It is generally accepted that global economic growth will increasingly come from emerging markets. Following more than 20 years of hard-won political and economic reform, sub-Saharan Africa is set to play a very important part.

Before the economic crisis, sub-Saharan Africa had been growing quickly, with an average annual growth rate of 6 % YoY. Only in Africa has annual growth not stalled, reinforcing the belief that they may be overtaking other emerging markets more quickly than previously thought. The continent’s sustained growth is not only due to improved political and macroeconomic stability (and a strong commitment to private-sector growth), but also large investments in infrastructure.

In fact, infrastructure spending now amounts to $45 billion a year according to the World Bank. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. Many big infrastructure projects revolve around accessibility to the continent’s natural resources as sub-Saharan Africa is not only a major supplier of natural resources to the rest of the world, but also the region with the greatest potential for new discoveries.

As global growth resumes, the region should benefit from higher prices as well as higher volumes and the right infrastructure needs to be in place sooner rather than later. Africa’s road density is still sparse and the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa (with a combined population of 800 million) generate roughly the same amount of power as Spain (with a population of 45 million).

Africa’s water resources are abundant, but because of an absence of water storage and irrigation infrastructure, they are underutilised. With enough investment in this area, Africa can become self-sufficient in food within a couple of decades, which is key to the entire continent’s success. Investments in solar and wind power will ensure that Africa has enough power to become a world player.

Other areas are no less important. For instance, a recent $600 million private investment in high-capacity fibre-optic cable now connects southern and eastern Africa to the global Internet backbone, which is crucial to all companies across the continent, big and small.  With regard to ICT, Africa has already caught up with the rest of the world, and together with Africa’s railway systems being expanded by more than 1,000%, it is clear that the continent is on the right track.

 

Are you considering investing in Africa?

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

According to the World’s leading forecasters, the African economy is expected to grow by approximately 6% during 2013/14, while its total GDP is expected to reach USD 2.6 trillion by 2020. The Nigerian stock market alone returned 47.2 % in 2013.

This is great news, but where should one invest?

Let me quickly state the obvious; Rapid urbanisation on the continent means that priority needs to be given to infrastructure (mostly power and transportation). Africa has a growing population of young, globally minded people who increasingly use mobile phones and the internet. The banking industry is expanding with growing income levels, as is consumer demand, and a population explosion requires more schools and hospitals. The African continent is also said to be on its way to become the world’s low-cost manufacturing hub.

A CNBC news reporter recently stated that sub-Saharan Africa, which was once seen as a pure commodity play (or as a part of the world to avoid entirely) is now the place to get big returns on relatively small investments.

The key issue is of course the risk/reward balance. Investment-grade countries like South Africa, Botswana and Namibia might offer lower returns than countries with higher risk like Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya. The bottom-line is that Africa offers numerous opportunities and that they are as varied as the 54 countries of the African Union.

The overall buzz resounding around the globe however, is that the time is now!

Happy New Year

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

The good news is that Africa’s economic outlook for 2014 remains promising with an overall projected growth of 5.3%. Should the global economy recover faster than predicted, then sub-Saharan Africa’s economy might expand by as much as 6.0% according to the IMF. This is consistent with the average long-term trend growth rate of approximately 5.5% between 2000 and 2010.

According to the World Bank, an economic rebound would also scale up investments in much-needed infrastructure (physical and economic) which will lead to policy reforms that will improve the overall business environment. In addition, African market performances in 2013 have proven that investments into Africa can continue to offer a sound return. Investment levels are expected to remain buoyant (again according to the World Bank), with private investments expected to double in areas such as consumption and infrastructure.

Happy New Year indeed!

 

The Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum 2013

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

Optimising Africa’s transportation infrastructure in order to increase international trade was top of the agenda at the 12th United States-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum (AGOA 2013) held last week at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was signed into law by President Clinton in May 2000 with the objective of expanding U.S. trade and investment with sub-Saharan Africa and to facilitate the region’s integration into the global economy.

Since the inception of AGOA, there has been a 300 % increase in total two-way trade between the United States and the African continent, and 2012 was proclaimed to have been the most successful year thus far.

With the current Act expiring in September 2015, this year’s Forum concluded that for the initiative to remain successful, Africa’s top priority is now to expand its trade infrastructure. Especially landlocked countries are currently unable to take full advantage of the opportunities that AGOA offers. Most of the roads connected to ports are congested, creating transportation bottlenecks not seen anywhere else in the world. For instance, it takes 24 days for a container to travel from Mombasa to Kigali and 20 days for a container to be cleared at the port of Dar es Salaam.

An integrated transportation network is therefore so crucial that according to some delegates Africa’s continued success depends almost entirely on it. A call to extend the Act for another 15 years has already been proposed by the African Union, and President Obama’s office has vowed to better communicate the enormous potential that this could mean for investors worldwide.

 

Reinforcing North-South Trade

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

At a time when South-South trade is becoming a force to be reckoned with, the North is jumping into action. Is it too late? In this global and growing world, there might just be room for everyone, and I expect that both the US and the EU will regain some footing in Africa in the years to come.

Power Africa, President Obama’s initiative to increase access to low cost energy, and Trade Africa, the initiative to boost trade with and within Africa, have both been written about extensively since Obama’s visit to the continent recently.

President Clinton’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) however seems to have been ignored somewhat. And yet, the 2012 Presidential Directive on Sub Saharan Africa, talks about a new and enhanced AGOA, with the potential of making the U.S./Africa trade relationship as significant as the one between the U.S. and the European Union. (The Africa-EU Partnership has also announced that they are entering into “a new phase” with an increase in Trade agreements).

Next month, Washington D.C. will host the 2013 U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum in Addis Ababa.  Trade and investment-related issues are top of the agenda and it is expected that the “new and improved” AGOA will finally be revealed in all its glory.

I guess we should therefore expect extensive (although belated) coverage soon.

Power for Africa

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

Until recently, Africa had a small, very wealthy top, a broad base of poverty, and no middle market to speak of. Today the continent is developing into one of the largest mass markets in the world.

However, many Africans are still trailing behind. The new $7 billion “Power Africa” initiative, that President Barack Obama announced on June 30th, could contribute significantly to push the lower class towards the middle. Increasing electricity production and distribution throughout sub-Saharan Africa is undoubtedly crucial to the entire continent’s success. The fact that Obama put emphasis on “Green Energy” (Solar, Hydrogen and Wind in particular) was very much in line with the rest of his statements that day, which brimmed with clear insight into Africa’s lingering issues.

I have transcribed my three favourite parts of his (now famous) speech and would like to share them with anyone who might have missed this.

“I am proud to announce Power Africa – a new initiative that will double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa… And in partnership with African nations, we’re going to develop new sources of energy. We’ll reach more households not just in cities, but in villages and on farms. We’ll expand access for those who live currently off the power grid. And we’ll support clean energy to protect our planet and combat climate change”.

“Look at Zimbabwe, where the promise of liberation gave way to the corruption of power and then the collapse of the economy. Now, after the leaders of this region brokered an end to what has been a long-running crisis, Zimbabweans have a new constitution, the economy is beginning to recover. So there is an opportunity to move forward — but only if there is an election that is free, and fair, and peaceful, so that Zimbabweans can determine their future without fear of intimidation and retribution. And after elections, there must be respect for the universal rights upon which democracy depends.”

“In much of Africa you see women doing work and not getting respect. I tell you, you can measure how well a country does by how it treats its women.” President Obama also emphasized that Mandela’s values are Africa’s future and that African youth had to seize a “moment of great promise”. Only the current Zimbabwean government  lashed out at Obama following the Cape Town address.  I guess that in itself is quite meaningful.

 

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.

Developments in the insurance/reinsurance market – An African perspective.

 

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

Demand for insurance and reinsurance continues to grow globally, but nowhere as quickly as in Africa.

Rating agencies are awarding stronger ratings to African Reinsurance providers despite the continuing economic crisis in the West.

The Economist states that seven African countries, including Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mozambique, are forecast to be among the 10 fastest–growing economies over next 5 years. Nigeria has by far the largest population in Sub-Saharan Africa, which, combined with being the second largest economy (after South Africa), gives it the highest potential for life insurance.

The middle class in each of these countries is fueling a growing demand for goods & services. Demand for insurance products, new or otherwise, should therefore follow. According to Continental Reinsurance “this urban consumer class, that is expanding faster that the middle class base anywhere else in the world, is the insurance industry’s biggest opportunity. However, with the exception of South Africa, little headway has been made in unlocking it”.

Africa has not escaped the general increase in the worldwide incidence of natural catastrophes that, according to an AON report, saw 900 occurrences globally in 2012, compared to 820 in 2011. The African continent experienced widespread flooding in Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Nigeria, and severe drought in parts of the horn of Africa. The lack of insurance in these areas shows that the market is still very much in its infancy, and, with the exception of South Africa, should translate into immense potential.

“Unlocking” is certainly the key word.