What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing as a leader in Africa?
I think it’s the information gap, the information asymmetry between what the opportunities are and what the countries in Africa are doing and then the investment universe outside of the continent.
And there are many misconceptions about what Africa represents. I refer to this as the news effect. The news effect is that any stories about Africa were always stories about distress and chaos and suffering, but now we’re seeing different stories, a lot more holistic and positive images. So information symmetry is one thing.
Secondly, is the issue of capital – the continent itself lacks capital and the capacity to sometimes partner with significant large-sized investors that come in. For example, say there’s an opportunity in Ghana to do with the integrated aluminum industry, which could easily be a US$5bn transaction so even if you want a 5% participation, you struggle to find that capital locally.
Those are typically two of the biggest problems that you would see: the ability for foreign direct investments to engage with the local financial sector, and information symmetry in the continent where people don’t understand or know enough about the continent.
Looking at the opportunities, what are some of the areas for opportunity on the continent?
I think the opportunity in Africa is incredibly immense.
First of all, this is a continent that has 30% of the world’s resources. So those resources are very important for the raw materials of the industrialisation of the world, not just Africa.
Additionally, there’s the fact of demographics, in a few years Africa will be a quarter of the world’s population. Sixty per cent of the continent is below the age of 35 so that’s a market waiting to happen. You can’t ignore and need to understand the consumer market and human capital opportunity.
Finally, most countries in Africa are reforming and improving their economies. It’s estimated that six out of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world this year will be from Africa, so I think the Africa opportunity is one that cannot be ignored. It’s one just waiting for partnership.
I also think the continent is rewriting the way that it engages from the days of exploitation of its resources, and instead looking for partnerships and linkages for mutual benefit. And I think that the signing of the continental free trade agreement creates a great opportunity for manufacturers who have the capital, the talent, the technology, and the grid managements who come onto the continent to manufacture for the continent.
And would you say Ghana in many ways is leading the way?
And Ghana is a trailblazer in that regard. Our president made his famous statement that Ghana’s economy is going to move from aid to trade, and he captures it as ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’. What that simply means is that we need to capture all of our resources and harness indigenous capital to mutual benefit of investors.
What is your message to the investor community about the opportunities on continent?
I think the US, many years ago, played a significant role in getting Ghana to power itself through the Akosombo dam close to 60 years ago, and that was very significant for the country. Once again, there’s an open opportunity for US enterprise and private business to take advantage of what’s happening in the country for mutual benefit. It might be happening in a very casual way.
Recently, we signed an agreement with Exxon Mobil in the oil and gas space and JP Morgan made a very important announcement during the World Economic Forum in Davos this year that the two countries in Africa they want to be in are Kenya and Ghana. And that repositions Ghana to investors.
On a final note, I think that the doors are open and Ghana is ready for business, and Ghana has done all the things to right its economy and set a path for irreversible growth, and there are great opportunities that investors need to look at.
We are engaging in reforms and making sure that the investors that we attract to Ghana are not just investors, but that we also form a relationship. It’s a relationship for sustainability, for mutual benefit, and therefore we will engage. We’ve had great meetings with the USAID, the Secretary of Commerce, the MCC, and they were all very positive. We invite the US private sector to engage, especially the SMEs because that is where the greatest opportunities lie.