Banking: Hardware, software and regulation at Standard Chartered – Ebenezer Essoka
For Ebenezer Essoka, Africa has three main priorities: infrastructure, the twin challenges of education and unemployment, and finally the regulatory environment, with what he calls the “habitual law of unintended consequences”.
But infrastructure remains at the top of the list.
Commenting on the May announcements surrounding the Inga 3 hydroelectric complex in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Essoka says: “If we address the energy issues across the continent, it will go a long way towards assisting Africa in the drive for industrialisation. We have to get that deal through.”
Global demand for agricultural produce is rising and Africa’s arable land potential is well documented, but the continent has not seen the emergence of an agribusiness giant like Brazil’s Empresas BRF.
This is partly due to regulations, says Essoka. “Land ownership is a big issue. If you don’t have title to your land, you can’t make the investments you need.”
He also points to a lack of patient capital and poor infrastructure.
But there are bright spots. Essoka praises the reforms of Nigeria’s agriculture minister Akinwumi Adesina, including plans for new agricultural processing zones.
“He is making a big difference. That’s an example of how policy can actually change things,” he says.
The demand side of agribusiness is driven by changing diets in Asia – with increasing Chinese purchasing power driving a quantum shift across a whole range of goods, not only agricultural ones.
Essoka believes that tracking this is essential for African businesses.
“Standard Chartered is involved on both sides of that conversation,” he says.
“Our China-Africa corridor remains extremely active. But the relationships have evolved from being government to government to a far greater engagement by the private sector.”
Last year, Standard Chartered held a conference for its African chairmen in China.
“The conversations we had there with Chinese investors were very exciting, and not just in the traditional sectors like raw material extraction and infrastructure,” says Essoka.
With wage inflation in China, might we see more investors enter into light manufacturing on the continent?
“When countries like Ethiopia start putting in place the enabling environment […] you will see many more companies come, but they might not be Chinese!” ● Interview by Nicholas Norbrook in Marrakech