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Investing in Africa: Four signs of hope you probably missed

Daniel Akinmade Emejulu
By Daniel Akinmade Emejulu

Daniel Akinmade Emejulu is an international affairs professional based in Geneva, Switzerland. He has experience working on sustainability policy in various international organisations including the World Economic Forum and the United Nations Office in Geneva. All credited publications reflect his own personal views.

Posted on Wednesday, 15 January 2020 13:29, updated on Thursday, 23 January 2020 17:42

Nairobi's central business district (CBD) is seen from observation point on the top of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

African citizens have called for meaningful investments to move the continent into a promising new decade.

To conclude 2019, November’s Africa Investment Forum (AIF) in Johannesburg responded to such calls by pairing large-scale investors to investment opportunities over the course of three days. The initiative run by the African Development Bank (AfDB) resulted in investment deals worth $42bn.

Here are four investments calls the AIF addressed in Africa:

Let us have more sports and entertainment

Famous personalities in the US want Africa’s leaders to invest in sports and entertainment. At the very top of the list is Masai Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors: the first African to preside over a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise in the history of the sport. In June 2019, Ujiri also made history by leading the first Canadian team to an NBA final victory. For more than a year, he scouted local African talent while making the business case for sports on the continent.

“Supporting teams here in Africa should be our vision. Sports is the next big thing in Africa,” Ujiri said at the AIF, making the case for sports development to policy leaders. Critically, the revenue potential and talent overflow are missed opportunities, he said, boldly citing his merchandise earnings and numerous African players on the Raptors team.

Relatedly, television entertainer Steve Harvey made an appearance at the AIF ahead of the launch of his new talk show. Starting on Facebook Watch in early 2020, Harvey aims to reach audiences around the world and repeatedly calls for entertainment investment in Africa.

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“Africa can attract large-scale investments in the decade ahead,” says Sanjay Maharaj, chief executive officer at the South African-Norwegian Business Association. An expert on bilateral foreign investment, Maharaj advises long-term investors in Africa to secure their social license by working with local experts on policies to align people, planet and profit.

Let our economies have two engines

By studying market failures that limit women’s participation in the economy, the AfDB found the most pressing issues to be lacking collateral, risk perceptions and poor appreciation of women-operated business models on the part of banks. Africa’s businesswomen predominately work in the informal sector, where data limitations are well known.

The loan requirements of commercial banks often exclude local businesswomen from the “bankable pipeline” of commercial banks, but the AfDB finds many overlooked opportunities.

“We know there are so many thriving businesses on the continent led by women,” says Vanessa Moungar, the AfDB director of gender, women and civil society. She cited the AfDB’s flagship programme that addresses women’s access to finance – the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA). AFAWA aims to unlock $3-5bn over the next five years to benefit women in all 54 countries in Africa.

The initiative drew the attention of the G7 in Biarritz last August, where governments pledged $251m in support. “It is the largest resource mobilisation for women in Africa,” Moungar said. Along similar lines, the Alitheia Identity Fund raised $72m at the AIF for its private-equity fund catering to women-owned business in Africa.

Let our children have light

Africa is not on track to meet the United Nations SDG7 goal – provide universal electricity access – in the coming decade. In response, the European Commission launched a High-Level Platform for Sustainable Energy Investments (SEI) in Africa. Since its kick-off at the 2018 AIF, the EU’s “SEI platform” put together a 50-member coalition of international organisations, businesses and civil society organisations who develop electricity delivery models for Africa.

Investing in electricity delivery will give Africa’s bold plans an essential lifeline. “Building a sustainable energy sector is fundamental for the African continent,” said Kandeh Yumkella, coordinator of the EU’s SEI platform. “This will be especially vital to power sustainable industrialisation and trade, which underpin the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) plan,” said Yumkella.

A report launched by the SEI team makes 11 recommendations for delivering power to the continent by 2030. Put forward by Yumkella at the AIF in 2019, the report suggestions range from investments in the clean cooking sector to reforms in the financial system. Notably, we are told clean cooking is possible in Africa by 2030 if €1.8bn ($2bn) is invested in clean fuels and technology each year.

Let small businesses solving our problems have funding

Delivering electricity for Africa greatly depends on private-sector financing. In October 2019, Total pledged $400m over five years in its global fund to invest in starts-ups whose technologies or innovative solutions could contribute to carbon neutrality.

Dynamic start-ups vying to solve the continent’s energy challenges are making Africa the spiritual home for recycling, smart mobility and smart energy. At the same time, the investment required to scale technology is lacking. This is most noticeable in energy storage and bioplastics. Attending the AIF in 2019, Ademidun Edosomwan, managing director for emerging markets at Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures mentioned that PEG Africa, Zola, Shyft Power Solutions, Powerhive and SparkMeter are companies in Africa which have been supported by the fund.

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