The Anglos Are Coming To Francophone Africa With An Appetite For Investment

By Kurt Davis Jr. AFKI Original Published: March 30, 2017, 10:13 am
Anglos investing in Francophone AfricaOutdoor money changer with CFA francs in Somaliland. Photo: Guuleed/Flickr

Sometimes political jokes can reveal a world view.

A couple weeks back in the Istanbul airport, a Nigerian inquired about my final destination. Mauritania and Senegal, I responded.

In a deep voice, the Nigerian asked, “Have you been to Nigeria? Why would you go anywhere else in West Africa other than Nigeria?”

The Nigerian economy contracted nearly 2 percent in 2016 and may grow less than 1 percent in 2017. But the Nigerian attitude remained strong in this man: “Nigeria is the biggest economy. OK Ghana is a player, but the rest are small players.”

The very concept of “Africa is Nigeria, then Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and maybe one or two other countries” could possibly explain why the new joke in French Africa is: the Anglos are coming.

It is not some sly wordplay on the history of colonialism. It is instead poking fun at the very concept of Africa that has governed investment memorandums in the same way the MLA Handbook provides clear in-depth guidelines on citing legal and legislative materials for government documents.

As one investor described it at the SuperReturn Africa Private Equity Conference in December, “laissez-faire” was the only French word allowed in investment memorandums in recent history. French words such as Cote d’Ivoire, Sénégal and Guinée raised eyebrows and required extra vetting.

Now the “Africa” tag is becoming more expansive as investors bolster their perspectives and scope of investment as it relates to the continent. The Anglos are coming — that is, to French Africa, with an apparently insatiable appetite for region.

Here are seven countries for those investors to focus on:

Senegal

Senegal started this decade trailing other African economies with less than 5 percent GDP growth. But with about 6.5 percent growth in 2016 — the largest percentage in more than 10 years — and an estimated 7 percent growth expected in 2017 and 2018, the country is poised to be one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. Kosmos Energy’s offshore gas discovery is the big byline in this growth story with officials promoting gas-to-power as the future. Investors accordingly chase power generation opportunities as well as mining and drilling services companies in the country.

Logistics and warehousing is also an opportunity, particularly since Senegal sits at the intersection of regional shipping and trucking routes. The country’s leadership is committed to modernizing Senegal’s infrastructure, with a commitment to build a high-speed train linking the new Blaise Diagne International Airport and Central Dakar. Similar projects to improve roads and other methods of transport will underpin the growth potential for manufacturing and heavy industrial companies, both for local production and export.

Cameroon

Cameroon is quietly plowing ahead with its economic strategy, with GDP growth projected at around 5 percent in 2017 and 2018. President Paul Biya concerns investors with his age and no apparent successor in line for the party. That aside, his growth plan for energy and infrastructure appeals to foreign investors. Load shedding has burdened local industry and manufacturing. Changing this situation is a top concern. That said, if a company has access to power, it can provide high returns. Food processing presents unlimited opportunity. Labor is cheap, raw materials are inexpensive and buyers such as Nigeria, Congo, Central African Republic and Gabon are open to importing finished products. Light manufacturing may follow as a sector to consider in the near term. Plastic bottling and packaging are also major investment opportunities in a country with a significant rubber supply.

Cote d’Ivoire

Cote d’Ivoire is the star child of emerging markets. The World Bank estimates that it may remain Africa’s fastest growing economy in 2017. Its National Development Plan, pushed by two politicians with strong credentials – President Alassane Ouattara, a former economist at the International Monetary Fund, and Ivorian Budget Minister Abdourahmane Cissé, a former Goldman Sachs trader – is drawing hungry investors into the country. The promise of extensive grants and credits to support renewable energy projects, such as the 375MW Songon gas-to-power plant, has infrastructure-focused funds and developers scouring the country for opportunity. Ouattara pledges to develop Cote d’Ivoire into a regional energy hub. It already exports to Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Togo. Cement and construction companies will benefit from these projects.

The focus on energy and infrastructure also suggests good times for consumer goods companies. Ivoirians increasingly have more money to spend and with better energy and infrastructure, local companies can gradually meet their demands. Numerous foreign companies have entered the market for various goods – Unilever with its mayonnaise factory in Abidjan, Heineken with its beer factory, and Bel with its cheese factory. A growing consumer goods industry could also create great export opportunity for a country that already has interested buyers on its borders.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has a lot of unrecognized (and unappreciated) upside. The DRC economy slowed in 2015 to around 6.9 percent from 9.5 percent in 2014 according to the World Bank. But growth is forecast to approach 8 percent in 2017 and 2018. The country has a large consumer base. Its estimated 80 million-plus population is less than 50 percent urbanized. There are opportunities in infrastructure and energy, especially in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. With any improvement in energy and logistics (including warehousing), consumer goods and agri-processing can continue to grow. These are not big-ticket investment sectors but rather present opportunistic high returns on investments in small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Financial services is also a major opportunity, as government officials are pledging to strengthen the banking sector and potentially advance privatization and growth in the insurance industry. Mining is another major industry in the country. A young mining code and accompanying regulations raise concerns for investors unfamiliar with the country’s mineral industry. Yet the upside is massive if you can navigate the uncertainty or inertia in local politics and negotiations.

Mali

This may seem like a unusual economic bet in the region, but Mali has come a long way since the coup in 2012, the rebellion in the north in 2013 and the hotel attack in 2015.

Foreign efforts in the country, particularly by the French to strengthen security, have had some success. Foreign investors are cautiously making visits to the capital Bamako and considering long-term investment. The economy grew 5.4 percent in 2016 and is expected fall slightly to 5.3 percent growth in 2017. Mining and agricultural growth are drivers behind these numbers, with gold, cotton and grain as the big cash commodities. Mining services and agro-processing accordingly are strategic investment opportunities over the next few years. And, as local banks struggle to meet the demand for debt and equity financing, private investors will see high return opportunities in a noncompetitive investment market — deal prices remain relatively low at the moment.

Burkina Faso, a wild card

Huh…what…where? Burkina Faso is not a sexy pick for many investors. But its expected 6-percent growth in 2017 and 2018 is notable. It is Africa’s leading cotton producer. Can farmers get better returns? It is a big gold producer in Africa, but that is not the focus with the investors who land in the capital Ouagadougou. What’s appealing to investors is President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré’s interest in pushing the infrastructure sector (especially power) as well as strengthening the agriculture sector. There may not be much focus outside those two sectors in 2017 and 2018 except possibly mining. That may not be a bad thing — we are talking about betting on a country that saw a foiled coup in 2016.

Gabon, a wild card

Well done Carlyle Group. Gabon will no longer fly under the radar after Washington, D.C.-based Carlyle — the world’s largest private equity fund — purchased Royal Dutch Shell’s onshore assets in Gabon for $587 million. Petroleum services, infrastructure and timber are rising on the radar for crafty investors.

Financial services and ICT are also of interest. Gabon is a stable provider of services and networks to neighbors such as the Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea.

Kurt Davis Jr. is an investment banker focusing on the natural resources and energy sectors, with private equity experience in emerging economies. He earned a law degree in tax and commercial law at the University of Virginia’s School of Law and a master’s of business administration in finance, entrepreneurship and operations from the University of Chicago. He can be reached at kurt.davis.jr@gmail.com.

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