Tag Archives: Africa Rising

Russia – Africa: We Came and We Saw, What Next?

A guest post from the first Russia-Africa forum held from October 2019, in Sochi.

The forum was held in the Olympics stadium in Sochi, Russia. If you are coming from Moscow, it takes a three-hour flight to reach Sochi, a beautiful coastal city located on the Black Sea. It has warm weather during the day and is slightly cool in the evening. This is the city where the Russian Presidents receive other presidents. Mercedes Benz is a well-loved brand in Sochi.

Sochi Stadium was estimated to have cost $50 billion; this was the world’s most expensive Olympics. The stadium was home, for two days for the Russians and the Africans who were attending the first-ever Russia – Africa forum and leaders from more than forty African countries were in attendance. 

Besides the beautiful scenery of Sochi, the stadium had a few interesting sights, organized for the forum, including a display of army helicopters and AK47 rifles.

A session at the Russia-Africa forum

New businesses opportunities and new political dialogues happened.

In 2018, trade between Russia and Africa was valued at $20.4 billion in 2018. Also, there were 15,500 Africans registered in Russian universities, with the Russian government subsidizing half of their education costs through scholarships, according to the Botho Group.

During the forum, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his administration signed $12.5 billion worth of memorandums with more than 40 African governments for mining, oil and exploitation, nuclear energy, and military cooperation. Among these deals for data storage & software with the Democratic Republic of Congo and to build two 12,000 MW nuclear reactors in Ethiopia.

Nuclear energy received high attention and the State Atomic Energy Corporation, disclosed that it had signed memorandums and agreements with 18 African countries including Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Zambia.

  • “Rosatom today is an indisputable leader in nuclear technology. We are building 36 power-generating units in 12 countries around the world. During the past 14 years we have commissioned 15 new generating units, and this year we are putting the first floating power plant into operation,” Evgeny Pakermanov, President, Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation. “Africa is a priority region for us, and we have projects in over 20 countries. We see an incredible demand and incredible interest in nuclear energy from the African countries.”

Focusing on military cooperation, Nigeria purchased 12 helicopters at the summit while several other African countries including the Central African Republic, Namibia, Madagascar and Uganda. Egypt, Gabon, and Rwanda declared their interest in military equipment such as tanks, planes, helicopters, rifles, and military advisers, marketing and inviting Russia’s investment in their countries.

  • “I encourage our Russian partners to set their sights on Gabon. Gabon is a very stable country,” Jean-Fidele Otandault, Minister of Investment Promotion, Public and Private Partnerships, added that “We have an entire ministry dedicated to private-public partnerships for projects that are valued over 200 billion and I would like to invite Russian investors to join.”
  • Francis Gatare, Chief Executive Officer, Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board said “Right now, we are looking for international investors,”

Besides the wonderful talks and agreements, it is important to remember that Africa does have challenges that hinder trade between the two regions. Lack of information has been a key impediment to trade as both regions are not informed about the opportunities and how to capitalize on these gaps for financial benefits. It is crucial to address the lack of information to enable new and deeper forms of cooperation.

What are the stumbling blocks to trade?

Investing in Africa has always been considered risky due to factors such as political instability, unfavourable business climate, rigid tax policies and the infamous corruption. On the other hand, some investors want success in Africa without gaining market insights or visiting these African countries.

  • “Some of the main challenges that our companies are facing is lack of information, lack of experience, lack of confidence to enter new markets, including African and Middle Eastern markets,” Andrey Slepnev, Chief Executive Officer, Russian Export Center.
  • “Lack of information is one of the major problems in Africa. It is not there, and it is really hard to extract consistently,” said Mikhail Orlov, Partner, Head of Tax and Legal, KPMG Russia; Chairman of the Expert Council of the Committee for Budget and Taxes of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.

Lack of information has often led to several wrong assumptions by investors such as that the whole of Nigeria is in conflict due to the famous Boko Haram conflict – yet the regions of trade (Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, etc.) are very far from the conflict zone. There is also the use of non-African business plans across Africa which often fail as all African countries have very different characteristics.

  • “Africa is still considered to be a very risky place. This needs to change. Africa must be defined as a place of possibility and business. We must discuss and diminish the risks and guarantee comfort for our investors,” Monica Juma, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Republic of Kenya. “To provide the right environment for our investors we also need Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) which are very attractive for a country’s economic development and from the fiscal point of view. This is our focus for enhancing social, economic and political trade between Kenya and Russia.”

For the continent to progress, infrastructure needs to be implemented to drive economic growth. The continent needs to resolve the lack of and poor infrastructure to attain the required goals such as education and health.

  • “Africa needs $50 billion in sectors such as energy, transport, and natural resources so that our sponsors can strive in business, implementing infrastructure projects,” Samaila Zubairu, President, Chief Executive Officer, Africa Finance Corporation (AFC).

Foreign businesses underestimate country specifics in Africa.

  • “I would like to point out a few common mistakes our businessmen make when they come to work in Africa. Lack of understanding local mentalities leads to the gravest of errors,” Galina Sidorova, Professor, Moscow State Linguistic University. “Another important aspect is that our businessmen are preoccupied exclusively with their profit. It would be nice to see them also thinking about the interests of African people.”

What solutions are African nations implementing?

  • Gabon stated its progress in creating favourable investment conditions by diversifying the economy since 2009 to attract foreign investments.
  • “One of the key sources that allowed us to build an oil refinery was project financing that attracted $4.4 billion for us. Today, we produce petrol that complies with European regulations. How did we get this kind of money? Through a regime that attracts international financial institutions and welcomes them into the country,” Ahmed Heikal, Founder, Chairman of the Executive Board, Qalaa Holdings, Egypt.
  • “In Ghana, it is far easier for the business sector to attract foreign investment than for the state. Why is that? Because the business sector is far more efficient, primarily in human resources and human capital,” Frank Adu Jr, Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director, CalBank.
  • “Stability is extremely important, it is a key aspect of developing investment and attracting the capital,” Bob van Dijk, Group Chief Executive Officer, Naspers, South Africa.

Expanding Russian-African cooperation holistically

  • “We need to work on consolidating and coordinating the efforts on promoting Russian-African cooperation with all of the stakeholders. Expanding cooperation with our African partners not only via bilateral cooperation but using the multilateral institutional opportunities as well, including Russian business programmes,” Alexander Shokhin, President, Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP). “Stimulating the development of multilayer cooperation mechanisms to foster business cooperation by increasing the resource potential of Russian companies encourage involving small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as Russian and African regions via project financing and project groups.”
  • “It is a huge mistake to try to get as much profit as soon as possible and ignore the long-term investments. It is a huge loss. Thirdly, we do not support small and medium-sized businesses in Africa. They cannot exist there without state support. So, let us create a few support centres for business, for instance, North, South, West, and East. It would be extremely efficient in promoting our investments,” Irina Abramova, Director, Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Corresponding Member, Russian Academy of Sciences.

Africa is attractive for investment and trade

Both Russia and Africa are well endowed with minerals, agriculture, human resources, and other sectors that will benefit if deals are well-structured and trade is enhanced.

  • “What do we see? Incredible opportunities – there are 55 countries and each one needs to be approached individually. Uralkali, as a business, is ready for that,” Dmitry Osipov, CEO Uralkali; Chairman, Russian-Nigerian Business Council.
  • “A promising area of cooperation involves attracting big Russian investors in industries strategic for many African countries, such as agriculture, mining or processing raw material,” Andrey Kostin, President and Chairman of the Management Board, VTB Bank.
  • “Africa is a large consumer of agricultural produce. Last year, the volume of our exports exceeded $4.6 billion,” Sergey Yushin, Head of the Executive Committee, National Meat Association.
  • “Rating agencies assess countries based on further investment in them, but our actual resources are much higher than the risks we are usually associated with. Our continent can only be perceived as a whole. $1 trillion is expected to be invested in infrastructure parts so that we could cooperate under our free trade agreement,” Paulo Gomes, Co-Founder, New African Capital Partners; Chairman, Paulo Gomes and Partners.

Russian companies are successful in Africa

  • “We have been working in Africa for over 10 years .. we have invested close to USD 2 billion in the African countries,” Evgeny Tulubenskiy, Chief Legal Officer, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, Member of the Board of Directors, Nordgold.
  • The Institute of Africa of the Russian Academy of Sciences has stated that during the past 10 years Russian investment into Africa grew by 185% and reached USD 17 billion. This shows there is much more work for us.
  • “Having the large group of Africans was impressive because it demonstrated a deep interest in our desire to keep engaging with the greater global community to identify areas of continued cooperation. It was also interesting that the forum had a strong mix of private and public sector experts thus creating real opportunities for trade and other commerce activity,” Isaac Forkuo, CEO, Botho Consulting Group, Kenya. “This event had more action than talk.

There appeared to be a desire to create linkages among businesses, especially SMEs. African governments realize that leveraging the relationship with Russia through country-specific trade. From the Russian side, this forum provided an opportunity to re-engage with Africa also from a trade angle as African countries provide a market for Russian goods and services while also providing a market for diversification of Russian State and private investments.”

Let us wait and see how many of the signed memorandums will be implemented between Russia and Africa.

Deal making to finance the future at the African Investment Forum 2021

Next week at Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire sees the return of the African Investment Forum (AIF) that is supported by the African Development Bank Group (AfDB).

This years’ summit, from December 1 to 3, will be a hybrid mix of physical and virtual sessions and is expected to feature the Presidents of Rwanda, Benin, Mozambique and Togo alongside other continental and international business leaders.

The 2020 annual meetings of the AfDB set out a focus for mobilizing financing towards infrastructure, regional trade and health care and those have carried on into the 2021 AIF whose theme is “Accelerating Transformative Investments in Africa.” It targets five priority investment sectors of agriculture & agro-processing, energy & climate change, health, ICT & Telecoms and industrialization & trade.

At the inaugural AIF in 2018 in South Africa, deals in demand were energy investments for Southern Africa, while East, Central, North and West Africa all had infrastructure top their deal discussions. Eventually, the forum secured $38 billion of investments for 49 projects across the continent.

At the next AIF in 2019, 2,200 participants from 101 countries discussed 57 deals worth $67 billion and eventually, investments were secured for 52 deals worth $40 billion. The 2019 forum also saw 16 SME’s and startups get to pitch in different boardrooms, now a staple of the AIF, alongside industry giants raising millions of dollars for larger projects.

There was no AIF last year, because of Covid-19, and the spotlight that should have been on deals to accelerate African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), has now taken on an added element of helping country economies rebound from Covid-19. The African Development Bank has provided support to different countries through a COVID-19 Rapid Response Facility. Also at the 2021 bank annual meetings, AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina announced that the G7 heads of state had heeded a call that $100 billion of the special drawing rights (SDRs) being issued by the IMF, be provided to support African countries as they tackle debt challenges while responding to Covid-19.

This year priority deals are being discussed that revolve around recovering from Covid-19 and include hospital projects in Angola, Cameroon and Nigeria. Another is to secure $45 million for a vaccine production facility in Eastern Africa that will manufacture three vaccines for the WHO, including one for Covid-19. There are also cotton industry projects for Burkina Faso and Mozambique as Covid-19 showed the need for self-sufficiency and a need to promote local manufacturing capabilities.

Highlights of the 2018 AIF: Afreximbank bank launched a project preparation facility, Mara launched an Android phone, there was an African creative industry showcase and social boardroom sessions for deals in Ghana and Zambia.

Highlights of the 2019 AIF: There were 6 concurrent boardroom sessions, a $600 million investment for the Ghana Cocoa Board, a financing deal for a road-rail bridge over the Congo River to link Kinshasa and Brazzaville, a forum on unclogging digital investments, and the launch of the (4th) Visa Openness Index report. It also featured sessions on opening the bank vault for women entrepreneurs, agro-processing industrial zones, climate change, an infrastructure financing trends report was launched, and a Lusophone compact for Portuguese-speaking African countries that reviewed six investment deals worth $702 million.

2021 AIF Format: Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the AIF will have 250 physical participants in Abidjan while over 2,000 others will connect virtually to participate in the boardrooms, virtual marketplaces, and virtual B2B meetings with investors and sponsors. In addition to the plenary sessions, there will be other parallel invite-only sessions that will feature heads of state, policymakers and industry leaders, some of which will be aligned for American and Asian timezones.

Anyone interested can register here for this year’s event, while companies and individuals are encouraged to join the AIF platform. There they will access financial and investment opportunities as they network with communities of other professionals. 

EDIT: November 29. The Africa Investment Forum event was postponed at the last minute after a new Covid-19 variant made it difficult for delegations to travel to Abidjan and the organizers made a decision to put prioritize the health of participants. AIF teams will continue to have discussions with partners towards investment decisions until they can reconvene at a later date.

 EDIT: March 2022:

The three day-virtual boardrooms of the Africa Investment Forum resulted in $32.8 billion of commitments to invest in bankable projects. These include:

  • $15.6 billion for the Lagos – Abidjan (via Accra, Lomé and Cotonou) corridor project led by ECOWAS, with the AfDB proving $40 million for feasibility studies towards the 1,081 kilometer highway.
  • $50 million – Makbel Dairy Farm in Angola that will turn the country into a net exporter of milk products.
  • $67 million – Mobihealth Telemedicine initiative.
  • $232 million – for a liquefied natural gas project in Guinea.
  • $3.3 billion East Africa railway corridor Tanzania-Burundi-DRC, with a separate line between Rwanda to Tanzania.
  • An Accra medical project
  • $545 million mine in DRC
  • $140 million film academy in Nigeria.

Getting Paid for e-commerce in Africa

When it comes to support, from PayPal’s perspective, your value is worthless. PayPal is a terrible company to deal with; they will withhold money for quasi-fraudulent reasons, that have long been suspected to be pools that are linked to high interest-earning fixed deposit accounts or something along that line. When they withhold your money, they are actually playing monopoly with your money, and the reasons are always obscure. Your account will be shut down for even more obscure reasons.

PayPal deleted this tweet

PayPal never points to a specific issue, and since they are a near-monopoly, they are above the law, and you, in a third-world country, can only wait and pray. PayPal can act with impunity and there are no mechanisms for third-world individuals to hold PayPal accountable, and they know this, so it’s not implausible for them to take advantage. They do.

Stripe on the other hand is the king of double standards. When it comes to engagements with Westerners, Stripe is your friend through and through, but the minute you, a third-world resident, control a USA entity, the double standards come out. You can’t do certain things that other Western companies are free to do, and if you have a chargeback as a foreign-held entity, Stripe will hold and eventually shut down your account because it is deemed as high risk, even though you or your company might be a target of fraud.

Again, Stripe takes advantage of the lack of accountability. If you acquire Stripe through a 3rd party like Shopify or Woocommerce, then you will NEVER get your account approved, regardless of however clean and legitimate your paperwork is. They will always say their risk department is assessing your paperwork, and if that goes past 3 months, you will almost certainly give up. They want that. However, the double standard is worse, since Stripe is financing Westerners to come build fintech in Africa (e.g. Wave).

As for Flutterwave, it is a better experience. You are treated like an actual human being. You talk to people who speak your language, understand your problems, help you solve them and treat you like an actual human being. You have an actual telephone number you can use and talk to someone who will actually be concerned and help you overcome your hurdles. Flutterwave makes you feel like you belong, and it might be business at the end of the day, but it’s how it’s supposed to be done. With empathy!

Comment by a company founder who moved to Flutterwave.

Dalberg on Kenya’s Digital Economy

Dalberg has released a report titled Kenya’s Digital Economy: A People’s perspective. It finds that, in terms of digital transformation, Kenya is a lower-middle/income country that shows some characteristics of a higher middle-income economy.

The survey is based on in-depth responses from 2,456 people in Kenya’s 47 counties. It was done in 2020 to assess their perceptions on the state of the supporting ecosystems, digital infrastructure, enabling resources, applications and services.

The report differentiates between the uptake of “basic” digital services (sending money, buying airtime/data) and “advanced” digital services (e-commerce, paying for goods and services – health, education, agriculture, supporting livelihoods). It notes that some challenges to the next step of Kenya digital economy including exclusion and digital safety (fraud/harassment, cybercrime when using devices).

A stunning finding is that there is a low demand for advanced digital services, beyond mobile money, digital communication and social media. This is because non-users and 30% of current basic digital users do not find digital products or applications that are relevant.

Some of the sectors it touches on:

  • Agriculture: Kenya is one of the most advanced agri-tech markets with approximately 30% of agri-tech startups in Sub-Saharan Africa operating here and with 18% having their headquarters in the country But the awareness of landowners of digital services is low. 45% of those surveyed are not aware, while just 13% use digital services for their livelihoods – mainly to communicate with customers, suppliers and vendors while 10% use it for inputs and 15% for knowledge sharing. Half of those who do, use it as a result of assistance from field agents who are strong support factors for rural digital economies. Also half of adult female farmers face challenges in affording devices and accessing the internet which makes them hard to reach with interventions.
  • Health: There is low use of digital health services with only 15% of respondents aware, and of those, 35% use it mainly to consult health workers and pay for medicine with mobile money. The challenges cited are high costs and mistrust of doctors they can’t see while a quarter are concerned about sharing health information online.
  • Ecommerce is urban: 23% use e-commerce in urban areas compared to 9% in rural ones, and in Nairobi and the central region, uptake (24%) is twice as popular as in other counties in the rest of the country where it ranges between 1-12%.

On Financial Access:

  • Mobile Money has (+) and (-) aspects. The usage of mobile money is near-universal with 95% of lower-income and 93% of rural people using it as Kenyans have good user experiences with it, unlike some other countries. And while there have been concerns about fraud, 80% have trust in mobile money, but also 53% cite high costs as a reason not to use mobile money, more so with lower-income Kenyans.
  • Easy Credit: The report cautions that government should watch for debt traps from increase ease of digital credit in the country. Half of the respondents have had to sell assets, borrow more or reduce food & education expenditure to repay a loan – and this increases the chance of financial exclusion. Also, basic digital users lost an average of Kshs 1,470 to fraud while advanced users lost twice as much (Kshs 2,996) over the past three years. This is a risk that can grow as more unexposed people turn to advanced services and may face devastating losses that they cannot absorb.
  • Social safety nets: People with government stipends or pensions are more likely to use e-government services (such as eCitizen, iTax NHIF) than other Kenyans in general.
  • Entrepreneurs use it little: Among self-employed and business owners half use digital services and mainly for basic reasons like communicating with customers and vendors. Only 15-18% use it for advanced reasons like keeping business records, tracking stock, paying taxes, selling services and buying supplies through e-commerce platforms.

The report by Dalberg, done with support from the Omidyar Network, along with its data sets, can be downloaded here.

Investing: Use Social Networks, don’t be used

All data indicates a new age of interest in retail investing. Across the world more people than ever are starting to trade for the first time, with reports of retail participation in the US stock market, for example, increasing from 10% in 2019 to 25% in 2020. Even during a public relations disaster, Robinhood- the U.S retail-focused trading app- onboarded 600k new clients in a single day. Our brokerage, Equiti Group/ FXPesa, saw volumes and client numbers increase by multiples across all our key markets and this will continue through this year.

The pandemic created an environment where people were looking for an income in the safety of their own home and, logically, that trading/ investing answered that need. Anything that brings a heightened awareness of financial literacy is a great thing, but it’s also something that we need to nurture. With millions entering the financial markets for the first time, unfortunately, scams, misinformation and false promises follow, and we must increase consciousness of this.

Social Networks: Most of the world has been following the journey of a supposed war between those on a Reddit forum called r/WallStreetBets and hedge funds betting on the demise of American electronic games supplier GameStop (going ‘short’). This battle was trending on all major social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and Instagram. These networks are powerful, Reddit has 160 million unique visits to its site each month.

People that had never invested before frantically set up trading accounts and placed trades with as much capital as they could put their hands on. Some naïve first-timers often had very little notion of risk or what they were doing, but instead paid full attention to the latest funny meme or influencer that told them that this stock was ‘going to the moon’. It did, and then it came back again leaving a lot of people losing a lot of money.

Ignoring Fundamentals: Social networks and online personalities have an increasing amount of influence over investors. Recently, Elon Musk the CEO of Tesla added 12% to the value of Bitcoin simply by changing his bio to the bitcoin Twitter hashtag. With the wave of memes, online ‘experts’ and celebrities pushing their agendas, the fundamentals of great companies are becoming secondary. We need to acknowledge this and attempt to educate differently.

A perfect example of this was the recent movement in the Silver price. Silver is widely regarded as an undervalued metal, mainly because of its increasing utility in ‘green technologies’, such as solar panels. Various reports declare solar panels and wind turbines will require three times more silver than what is used today. Silver is also used in electric car production and other tech of the future. When the silver price jumped 12% (its biggest intraday rise since 2008), it was not because of these fundamentals. The price jumped primarily because social media declared the same war with hedge funds and decided to try to do the GameStop ‘trick’ again, making the Twitter hashtags #shortsqueeze and #silvershortsqueeze trend across the world. The silver market is huge and not as easily manipulated as a relatively small stock such as GameStop, and so this attempt was doomed, with silver retracing back very quickly and lots of retail traders losing more money. 

All this focus away from fundamentals, meant that the market was quite late to understand the stellar Q4 earnings shown by some great companies, especially Big US Tech firms. Amazon posted $126 billion Q4 revenue and shows no sign of slowing. Google saw a 23% revenue growth in Q4. Unfortunately, the circa 4-6% share price increases these saw due to these results aren’t considered attractive enough to those only seeking the 16x returns GameStop gave some in just 2 weeks. There is so much real opportunity in the markets, especially now.

Scams: If you were to investigate your junk mail (don’t!), you would have probably been sent a scam email within the last 24hrs. It is most likely centred around cryptocurrencies, where it is promising huge returns from trading obscure crypto that you have never heard of. Some of the recent scams are from hackers sending out tweets from reputable, businessmen like Jeff Bezos and even former presidents such as Barack Obama’s certified accounts. They ask for the trusting public to send bitcoin to a wallet and then wait for 2x back.

Unfortunately, as unlikely as these scams may seem, the public is losing millions of dollars to them daily. In today’s ‘at once’ society, many aren’t thinking of growing knowledge and wealth over a long period. Instead, they want instant gratification and huge profits, as is the expectation in most walks of life now. Now, if you want something, you want it immediately- but my experience of wealth generation is the very opposite of this. It takes time to do it right.

Long-term side-effects: Social media has been an excellent source of information for new traders, keen to improve their financial futures. However, there is cause for concern if these young and new entrants blindly follow investment ideas that they do not understand, just because the herd are doing the same thing. We have a huge wave of first- time traders ignoring great companies that have incredible distribution channels and solid, multiple revenue streams, instead opting to follow a funny meme of Elon Musk and a Shiba Inu dog (DogeCoin).

A glaring issue is I don’t see how it can work out for these traders. If they make money in these pump-and-dump Reddit schemes, for example, they will invariably put more into the next one and continue until they lose everything. In this search for increasing returns, they are also susceptible to false promises and scams. On the flip side, if they lose their money in the first attempt, they are likely to shut their accounts and never think about their financial futures again. That is a tragedy.

It is far better to work with a brokerage to diversify your investments across global asset classes, regions and short and long-term plays, concentrating on sound fundamental and technical analysis…improving your knowledge day by day, year by year. Understanding this gives you a great chance at achieving real wealth. This has always been exciting enough for me, no meme needed. 

A guest post by Brian Myers (@bjmyersUK), the CEO at Equiti Capital UK.