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COMMENT: Africa’s bright investment future

Akinwum_adesina president of the @AfDB_Group #AfricaInvestmentForum

The recent Africa Investment Forum provided a safe, stable marketplace to accelerate deals

COMMENT | AKINWUMI A. ADESINA | For any investor interested in Africa, there was only one place to be last week: Johannesburg. When the three-day Africa Investment Forum opened on November 7, a total of 61 deals with an estimated value of more than $40 billion were featured in “Boardroom Sessions,” while another $28 billion was showcased to investors at the “Gallery Walk” marketplace.

The deals were curated from a total of 230 projects worth over $208 billion, spanning sectors such as energy, infrastructure, transport and utilities, industry, agriculture, information and communications technology, telecoms, water and sanitation, financial services, health, education, hospitality and tourism, housing, and aviation.

Risk, or at least the perception of it, has long been a major impediment to attracting foreign direct investment in Africa. But the African Development Bank (AfDB) is tackling this problem head-on by removing barriers that have stemmed the flow of investment finance into the continent. The transaction-based Africa Investment Forum is the most important step in this process.

By bringing together multilateral financial institutions, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, and private investors, the AfDB aims to create a mechanism to reduce market, political, and financial risks, and in the process improve the ease of doing business. As part of this effort, the investment forum prioritised public-private partnerships and private-sector deals. The message aim to be delivered is simple: Africa is open for business.

African economies offer tremendous opportunities, especially in energy; infrastructure such as roads, railways, and ports; and agriculture, minerals, oil, and gas. But Africa must turn this potential into streams of wealth for greater prosperity on the continent.

Achieving that requires supportive government policies. In every country, the AfDB is engaging with policymakers to improve the legal and regulatory environment and create a more predictable business climate.

These efforts are already paying off. For example, interest in $50 billion worth of investment-ready projects that the AfDB made available for pre-Forum screening has been higher than anticipated.

We are delighted that several multilateral financial institutions – including the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Inter-American Development Bank – are cooperating with the AfDB on this effort. Many major financial institutions within Africa – including the Afrexim Bank, the Africa Finance Corporation, the Trade and Development Bank, Africa50, and the Development Bank of Southern Africa – are also involved. For the first time, these major global and regional financial institutions are cooperating to help de-risk investment projects at scale.

Of course, pledges of partnership are not the only reason for optimism; economic trends are also strong. For starters, real GDP growth is forecast to be 3.5% this year and 4% in 2019. Today, Africa includes five of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies.

Africa has also become the world’s second-most attractive investment destination. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, inward foreign direct investment (FDI) is expected to increase by about 20% this year, to $50 billion, from $42 billion in 2017.

Finally, Africa’s pension funds, insurance funds, and sovereign wealth funds are collectively valued at more than $1 trillion dollars. If Africa could leverage this wealth to attract just 1% of all global assets under management, estimated to total more than $131 trillion, the continent’s need for $130-170 billion in annual infrastructure investment could be met. As matters currently stand, Africa faces an annual financing gap of $68-108 billion.

Africa has a huge population to drive consumer demand, a rising middle class, a dynamic youth population, and rapidly reforming governments that are keen to attract these investments. The Africa Investment Forum provided what has been missing so far: a safe, stable marketplace to accelerate deals.

As anyone who travelled to Johannesburg this week saw, Africa is doing its part to transform the investment landscape. The Africa Investment Forum’s goal is simple: provide a smooth runway for investments in Africa. What we need now are investors who are ready to seize the tremendous opportunities in Africa – and at the continent’s premier investment marketplace.


Akinwumi A. Adesina is President of the African Development Bank.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.

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