How can the US engage in Africa, and go around China?

.. Extracts from “Deconstructing the Dragon: China’s Commercial Expansion in Africa,” a recent report by Aubrey Hruby that postulates what the United States can do to reposition its influence in Africa whose governments have received extensive assistance from China, mainly in terms of infrastructure projects.

The looks at the nature of infrastructure deals that have come to be dominated by China state-owned enterprises through a combination of feasibility studies, negotiations financing through Chinese loans, and eventually mobilization to start construction. Quick-decision making is a factor and McKinsey found that over half of investment decisions for Chinese construction and real estate companies were made in under a month.

The US can counter to these mainly be through US government to African business initiatives, while contracts with China’s “government to government programs.

Recommendations include:

  • Niche infrastructure that fall within the US competitive advantage like renewable energy, oil exploration and urban/smarter city solutions. However on the last one, the report points out that China has made significant inroads in media, telecommunications and security services.
  • Push for anti-corruption agenda, as this will level the playing field for US companies. This can be through supporting African government efforts to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.
  • Generate a pipeline of projects, data, and trade links to assist US businesses to invest in Africa. This can be through sponsoring competitions and investor trips.
  • Support the creativity and education sectors. There is an opportunity in the entertainment spaces as recent deals involving Netflix, Mavin Records and the National Basketball Association have shown. Also a quarter of African children (66 million) could be studying in private schools by 2021.
  • US financial institutions can work towards providing working capital, which remains a great challenge for individuals and small businesses in Africa.

It also notes that more US intuitional investors have opened up to putting more funding to African venture. These include the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which has allocated $6 billion to investments in Africa and the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund that have invested in two African private equity funds.

EDIT: A story in the Africa Report shows how a new US Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which combines the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Credit Authority of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) is part of the broader economic and trade battle led by the USA against China.  

The new organization has more latitude than its predecessors in that, it will be able to make equity investment in private firms (previously they were restricted to debt) and a restriction that OPIC could only support projects with “a significant link with the American private sector” has been removed.

Acorn Green Bond for Student Accommodation in Nairobi

This week saw the approval of the first-ever green bond in Kenya, issued by Acorn Holdings to fund student accommodation projects around Nairobi.

Acorn is one of the largest developers in Kenya, having delivered over 50 projects worth $550 million in the last decade. These include the local headquarters for Coca Cola, Equity Bank and Deloitte, and the UAP Tower, which is currently the tallest occupied building in Nairobi. They plan to raise up to Kshs 5 billion ($50 million) investors through a bond that has a bullet maturity in five years and which pays 12.25% interest. The green bond issue is partially guaranteed by GuarantCo up to a maximum of $30 million.

Acorn has ventured into purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA), under two brands, Qwetu and Qejani. They are developing projects close to universities around Nairobi, which target students at campuses of USIU, University of Nairobi, Daystar, KCA and Riara universities.

This is to address the current situation where the increasing number of students at universities live in sub-standard housing, without amenities, in poor condition or which are considered unsafe. These are mostly in older building not designed for students such as former domestic-staff quarters. Yet students require reliability water & electricity, Wi-Fi, security, furnishings etc. and which ensure security and privacy.

Qejani is a high-rise, mass-market, offering which students can rent for between Kshs 7,500 -12,500 ($125) per month for single, double or quadruple room accommodations, while Qwetu is their premium brand.  The funding will go towards completing student accommodation facilities including Qwetu USIU Road 3 & Road 4, Sirona Phase 1 & 2, Bogani East Road Qwetu, Bogani East Road Qejani, and Nairobi West Qwetu.

The green bond offer, which is restricted to sophisticated investors, opened on 16 August and closes on 27 September 2019. Allotments will be done on 30 September 2019, with the minimum level of subscription set at 40% for it to be deemed a success.

Other aspects of the bond issue:

  • It is restricted to sophisticated (institutional) investors.
  • Opened on 16 August and closes on 27 September 2019. Allotments will be done on 30 September 2019.
  • The minimum level of subscription is set at 40% for it to be deemed a success.
  • Stanbic Kenya is the issuing and paying agent for the green bonds, and they will confirm that funds will not be used for more than 65% of the project costs with Acorn contributing the other 35%. 
  • Helios Partners are investors in Acorn.
  • GuarantCo is sponsored by the governments of the UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia and Sweden and by FMO, the Dutch development bank.
  • Moody’s Investors Service has assigned a provisional B1 to the Acorn bond.
  • The issue will be certified as a green bond given that Acorn’s projects are constructed in accordance with the International Finance Corporation – IFC’s EDGE (“excellence in design for greater efficiencies”) requirements for sustainable buildings and certified by the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) “.. they aim to steer construction in rapidly urbanizing economies onto a more low-carbon path. Certification is based on benefits generated from providing solutions in construction and operation: energy, water, and materials.” 
  • The green bonds program is endorsed by the Central Bank of Kenya, the Capital Market Authority and the National Treasury.

Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) 2019 finale set for Accra

The Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) series for 2019, will conclude with an “Africa Business Heroes” televised gala in Accra, Ghana in November where ten finalist entrepreneurs will pitch Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Strive Masiyiwa and other judges.

The overall Netpreneur winner will get a grant prize of $250,000, the second place one receives  $150,000, with $100,000 to the third place one. These are among the largest financial prizes offered to African entrepreneurs and the other finalists will also receive financial grants.

Applications for this year’s ANPI opened on March 27 and over 10,000 entries were received from entrepreneur applicants. These were narrowed down by different evaluators through a vetting process and this week twenty finalists, drawn from across Africa, are doing interviews with,  a panel of expert judges at the Nailab in Nairobi. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Fatoumata Ba, Fred Swaniker, Hasan Haider, Marième Diop, Peter Orth, and René Parker form the semi-finalist judging panel for this year’s ANPI. 

This all comes two years after Jack Ma’s first visit to Africa as a UN special advisor for youth entrepreneurship and small business. Dr Mukhisa Kituyi suggested that he visits Kenya as one of the countries he toured and he became inspired by a team of entrepreneurs he met at the Nailab. He then decided to support African entrepreneurs through his Jack Ma Foundation.

This is the Foundation’s first project outside of China the Prize has a mission to shine a spotlight on African entrepreneurs to be leaders of their societies in the future. It is especially focused on traditional, informal and agricultural industries and sectors, and encourages women to participate. This is a deviation from other sectors like digital, fintech, and mobile  that have attracted a lot of attention and funding on the continent. ANPI hopes to find and support 100 entrepreneurs over the next decade to be leaders across Africa.  

Through the program, they offer training at the Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou, China, free of charge and several entrepreneurs, through the Nailab, have made that trip there. The ANPI competition remains to open to entrepreneurs in all 54 African countries, including Northern African and Western (Francophone regions). Jack Ma is expected to continue his philanthropic efforts, through the foundation, even after he steps down from being Alibaba’s Executive Chairman in October 2019.

Book Review – King Leopold’s Ghost

A quick reading of a fascinating book, by Adam Hochschild, about the history of the Congo between the years 1885 and 1908 when it was controlled by King Leopold II of Belgium.

Starting Out: The Berlin conference did not partition Africa, the spoils were too large at that point it took many more treaties. At the time of the conference, Europeans thought of African wealth in terms of coastlines, not the interior. Leopold got the centre of Africa while other nations focused on the coast as they did not realize how vast the Congo was.

Revenue: Etat indépendant du Congo (the Congo Free State) was a very profitable venture for Leopold thanks to ivory and rubber. The Congo was a private state of the King and got half the profits from concession companies. Records from one of them, the Anglo Belgian Indian Rubber Exploration Company, showed that ABIR spent 1.35 Francs per kilo to harvest rubber in the Congo and ship it to their headquarters in Antwerp where it sold for up to 10 Francs per kilo – and in six years to 1898 rubber prices had gone up thirty times. Transportation costs aside, harvesting wild rubber required no cultivation, no fertilizer and no capital investment, only labour, for which the concession companies brutally used the people of the Congo as slave labour.

Leopold kept the Congo profits as secret as possible so as not to stir up demands that he pay back sums owed to the Belgian government. To achieve this the Congo state did not publish a budget and it presented understated revenue reports.

Bonds: With time, Leopold was able to issue bonds that brought in as much revenue as rubber. He issued bonds worth 100 million Francs (half a billion in today’s currency). Some were for as long as 99 years and he knew paying back the principal would be someone else’s problems. He even wrote to the Pope, urging the Catholic Church to buy Congo bonds as that would promote the spread of religion.

Use of Funds The money raised with bonds was for development in the Congo but little of it was spent there. The funds went to build monuments, new palace wings, museums including at the seaside resort of Ostend, a golf course at Klemskerke, renovations to a luxurious home at Laeken etc. many of which he gave back to the country with great fanfare. There was also an incomplete World School of Colonialism in Belgium.

Negotiations Out: Once the extent of the atrocities done to the people in the Congo were exposed by authors, organizations and leaders in the UK and US, there was pressure for Leopold to sell. He argued that if Belgium did not take it soon, some powerful country might, such as France and Germany who were jealous of the rubber profits from Congo.

Negotiation began in 1906 but got bogged down as the Belgian Government could not get a full accounting of the state of finances in the Congo, and included some entities that had been incorporated in Belgium, Germany and France.

The End: Finally, it was agreed Leopold would give the Congo up to the Government of Belgium in exchange for them assuming 110 million Francs of debt. This comprised bonds that he had dispensed over the year to his friends and also included 32 million of bonds that he himself never paid back. They also agreed to pay 45 million Francs towards completing building projects of the King, with a third going to complete the one at Laeken. Leopold was also to receive 50 million as gratitude for his sacrifices made to the Congo, and the change of ownership took place in November 1908. After Leopold died, his family and the Belgian government continued to try to clean up issues to do with the Congo and a lot of records of the atrocities of the era were lost.

EDIT Extras

  • Versions of book, including kindle ones, are on Amazon.
  • The last comeprehensive book I read on the country was Michael Wrong’s In the Footstep of Mr. Kurtz about Mobutu Sese Seko and his years as President.

National Bank Responds to KCB Takeover Bid

National Bank of Kenya (NBK) has published a circular over the proposed takeover by the KCB Group.

KCB has also now published their own circular for NBK shareholders, that has been approved by the CMA and which details their side of the deal.

NBK Circular Highlights:

  • The board of NBK recommends shareholders approve the Kshs 9 billion deal even though they value their share at Kshs 6.10  as no competing offers have been received so far, and the bank, while strong, needs additional capital to meet regulatory capital and grow its business. They add that the Government has a policy of sector consolidation to create strong banks.
  • NBK is the thirteenth largest bank in Kenya, a Tier-2 bank.
  • KCB has proposed that NBK continue to operate as a separate subsidiary of KCB for two years during which there will be no staff changes. An integration will come after, along with an organizational structure review, which may lead to a reduction of the workforce and “optimization” of the distribution network. i.e. branches, ATM’s and agents. NBK has 1,356 staff, serving about 650,000 customers.
  • Deal a foregone conclusion?: After the re-designation of the preference shares, NBK’s two key shareholders, the Government of Kenya and National Social Security Fund own a combined 93.23% of the bank’s shares.
  • KCB valued NBK at Kshs 5.6 billion. NBK has 48,987 shareholders who will receive 147,383,968 ordinary shares in the share capital of KCB, equivalent to approximately 4.59% of the share capital of KCB.. The NBK Board appointed Standard Investment Bank (SIB) to independent advise them on the market value of NBK and SIB arrived at a fair value for each NBK share of Kshs 6.10 – the result of combining the dividend discount method (5.41), net assets multiple (6.62) and historical share trading price (5.01).
  • Listing history: NBK was wholly owned by the Government until 1994 when it sold by 32% to the public through a listing on the NSE, followed by another share sale in May 1996. One of the conditions of the KCB offer is that the NBK shareholders should approve the de-listing of NBK from the NSE.

The NBK board’s opinion on the bank’s valuation is not expected to change anything unless a competing bid materializes – and the deadline for that is July 17.

KCB’s Circular to NBK Shareholders:

  • KCB has invited NBK shareholders to accept their offer by completing and returning forms during the offer period that runs from 10 July to 30 August. If the deal succeeds, their new swapped shares will list on September 16. 
  • On the pricing, NBK traded 26,638 shares per day in the last 6 months. In the last three months, NBK share prices ranged from Kshs 4.3 to 4.5 while those of KCB ranged from Kshs 38 – 44.
  • KCB reserves the right to vary the terms of its offer up to 5 days before the closing date (which means they have a chance to improve on any competing offer).
  • If 75% of NBK shareholders accept the offer, the others will remain minority shareholders in an unlisted (NBK) company, but if over 90% accept, then KCB will move to compulsorily acquire the remaining shares of other NBK shareholders.
  • KCB notes that NBK’s loan book has a non-performing ratio of 49%. 
  • Any share amounts that convert into fractions of a share in the swap formula will be rounded upwards to a full share.
  • There is a long-stop date of Thursday 31 October, 2019, and if the deal is not concluded by then, the KCB offer will lapse, and all acceptances will be considered void.