Investing in Africa

Good question. Is there ever a right time to invest?

Good call. Is now the right time to invest in Africa?

Today we take Katrina Manson who thinks investment in Africa is an idea who's time has come.

And also Sanusi Lamido who suggests that Africans should see China as a competitor.

Harsh deal climate in sub-Saharan Africa

Nairobi, Kenya©Alamy
The Kenyan capital Nairobi is an economic powerhouse in sub-Saharan Africa
Miles Morland, a pioneering Africa investor, has spent more than two decades looking for deals in places where you can’t drink the tap water. If his experience is anything to go by, finding successful private equity opportunities has more to do with sharing a glass of the stronger stuff in African bars.
“In Africa there are hundreds of deals but you have to go and look for them. In the west, investment bankers bring you deals . . .[but], in Africa, investment bankers are way down the food chain. You need to go and hang around the bars . . . to find the deals,” Mr Morland says.

The case for investing in sub-Saharan Africa is clear. It has some of the fastest growing economies in the world, boosted by a nascent consumer class increasingly thirsty for everything from credit to cappuccinos. And it represents just 4 per cent of the emerging markets private equity asset class – emerging Asia takes the lion’s share at 63 per cent – suggesting there is plenty of room to grow.
But even as private equity groups raise ever larger Africa funds, there are persistent murmurs in the market that there simply aren’t the deals out there to match. Mr Morland disagrees. Development Partners International, the private equity group he co-founded, has invested the $500m fund it raised in 2008 in nine deals and is raising a new fund of the same size.
Mr Morland, nevertheless, argues that the high rolling returns of the decade leading up to 2007 are a thing of the past. The “fool’s paradise” era when mobile phone companies grew faster in Africa than anywhere else in the world may have made some investors very rich, he says, but it is long gone.
There is now a glut of new private equity investors plumping for Africa, with money from Brazil, the Middle East and the US entering the fray, jostling with bigger outfits such as Carlyle and KKR. Some of the newcomers are finding private equity investing in sub-Saharan Africa neither as promising nor as simple as sometimes billed.
In the 1990s, returns were hard to find and many good exits fell victim to currency volatility. In the following decade, investors might have earned stellar returns from mobile phone investments but these masked other fund failures.
“In the current 2007-17 cycle, making money will be harder. An internal rate of return of over 20 per cent will look good,” Mr Morland says. “It is a time when careful investors rather than cowboys will do well . . . The phone game is over.”
Despite the tougher environment, fundraisers are at pains to assemble what one investor calls “big ego” funds. Brazil’s BTG Pactual and others are reaching for the $1bn mark and seeking large deals that the continent’s fragmented market can rarely offer.
“When you start going up to writing equity cheques in excess of $75m, there aren’t so many [deals],” says Marlon Chigwende, Carlyle’s Africa co-head. His sub-Saharan Africa fund, which is expected to close above its $500m target in the third quarter, made its first investment last year by taking part in a $210m equity injection in ETG, a Tanzanian agri-commodities trader.
Nor is the competition just for deals. Another emerging headache is what one investor calls the “traffic jam” of fund managers seeking capital from investors. According to Preqin, the data company, 57 Africa-focused private equity funds are looking for $13.1bn, half of which are based in South Africa. While emerging market fundraising increased 72 per cent overall to $40bn in the past two years, fundraising for sub-Saharan Africa fell 3 per cent to $1.45bn last year – well down on its 2008 peak of $2.24bn.
In today’s African private equity you can’t afford to have failures – it’s extremely hard to come back in a portfolio to deliver an overall good profit if you’ve had one or two wipeouts - Michael Turner, of UK-based fund manager Actis
Ethos, South African private equity company, which has been investing in the region for 25 years, closed one of the continent’s largest funds last year after securing $800m from investors, but it says fundraising “has not been easy”. Harith, another South African fund manager, had to rely on domestic money after foreign investors shied away.
Roger Leeds, founder of the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association, says the smarter money is targeting middle market deals worth less than $50m, which he believes have stronger growth prospects.
“The fund managers are happy to take investors’ money but it puts tremendous pressure on them to do bigger deals and they’re going to run out,” he says. “They’re all complaining they’re finding trouble finding deals and they’re competing with each other and driving up valuations.”
In other words, as the African growth story attracts more and more funds, the going is getting tougher.
That is one reason why resourceful and locally based management teams matter so much more today than in the past.
“It’s no longer like venture capital where you take a shotgun approach and hopefully one of the pellets will hit the bullseye,” says veteran fund manager Michael Turner at Actis, the UK-based fund manager, which is raising money for a new global fund that will include Africa. “In today’s African private equity you can’t afford to have failures – it’s extremely hard to come back in a portfolio to deliver an overall good profit if you’ve had one or two wipeouts.”
Sev Vettivetpillai has made dozens of Africa investments and exits as head of Aureos, which was bought by Abraaj Capital of the United Arab Emirates last year. He says the days of flying in and out of Africa and managing investments from a distance are over.
“The growth story is very valid and real across Africa, but it still remains that if you pick the wrong partner and the wrong industry, you’re not likely to be benefiting from that growth story. Without the right management team you will lose your money. You won’t get out of that hole.”
Additional reporting by Andrew England and Anne-Sylvaine Chassany

Africa Must Get Real about Chinese Ties


Nigeria, a country with a large domestic market of more than 160m people, spends huge resources importing consumer goods from China that should be produced locally. We buy textiles, fabric, leather goods, tomato paste, starch, furniture, electronics, building materials and plastic goods. I could go on.

The Chinese, on the other hand, buy Nigeria’s crude oil. In much of Africa, they have set up huge mining operations. They have also built infrastructure. But, with exceptions, they have done so using equipment and labour imported from home, without transferring skills to local communities.

So China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism. The British went to Africa and India to secure raw materials and markets. Africa is now willingly opening itself up to a new form of imperialism.
The days of the Non-Aligned Movement that united us after colonialism are gone. China is no longer a fellow under-developed economy – it is the world’s second-biggest, capable of the same forms of exploitation as the west. It is a significant contributor to Africa’s deindustrialisation and underdevelopment.

My father was Nigeria’s ambassador to Beijing in the early 1970s. He adored Chairman Mao Zedong’s China, which for him was one in which the black African – seen everywhere else at the time as inferior – was worthy of respect.

His experience was not unique. A romantic view of China is quite common among African imaginations – including mine. Before his sojourn in Beijing, he was the typical Europhile, committed to a vision of African “progress” defined by replicating western ways of doing things. Afterwards, when he became permanent secretary in the external affairs ministry, the influence of China’s anti-colonial stance was written all over the foreign policy he crafted, backing liberation movements in Portuguese colonies and challenging South Africa’s apartheid regime.

This African love of China is founded on a vision of the country as a saviour, a partner, a model. But working as governor of Nigeria’s central bank has given me pause for thought. We cannot blame the Chinese, or any other foreign power, for our country’s problems. We must blame ourselves for our fuel subsidy scams, for oil theft in the Niger Delta, for our neglect of agriculture and education, and for our limitless tolerance of incompetence. That said, it is a critical precondition for development in Nigeria and the rest of Africa that we remove the rose-tinted glasses through which we view China.

Three decades ago, China had a significant advantage over Africa in its cheap labour costs. It is losing that advantage as its economy grows and prosperity spreads. Africa must seize the moment. We must encourage a shift from consuming Chinese-made goods to making and consuming our own. We must add value to our own agricultural products. Nigeria and other oil producers need to refine crude; build petrochemical industries and use gas reserves – at present often squandered in flaring at oil wells – for power generation and gas-based industries such as fertiliser production.

For Africa to realise its economic potential, we need to build first-class infrastructure. This should service an afro-centric vision of economic policies. African nations will not develop by selling commodities to Europe, America and China. We may not be able to compete immediately in selling manufactured goods to Europe. But in the short term, with the right infrastructure, we have a huge domestic market. Here, we must see China for what it is: a competitor.

We must not only produce locally goods in which we can build comparative advantage, but also actively fight off Chinese imports promoted by predatory policies. Finally, while African labour may be cheaper than China’s, productivity remains very low. Investment in technical and vocational education is critical.

Africa must recognise that China – like the US, Russia, Britain, Brazil and the rest – is in Africa not for African interests but its own. The romance must be replaced by hard-nosed economic thinking. Engagement must be on terms that allow the Chinese to make money while developing the continent, such as incentives to set up manufacturing on African soil and policies to ensure employment of Africans.

Being my father’s son, I cannot recommend a divorce. However, a review of the exploitative elements in this marital contract is long overdue. Every romance begins with partners blind to each other’s flaws before the scales fall away and we see the partner, warts and all. We may remain together – but at least there are no illusions.
• Sanusi, CBN governor, wrote this opinion piece in the Financial Times


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