According to Africa Investment Report, investors are finding new, innovative and productive ways to engage with Africa.
While the US remains the most prolific investor into Africa, for the first time since 2003, China has surpassed it in terms of the amount of capital it is pouring into the region. This is an important but unsurprising development. China has spent the past decade actively forging closer economic and political ties with Africa.
China’s rise to the top spot in terms of greenfield FDI into Africa comes because its investors have excelled in the areas that took the lion’s share of overall investment into the region in 2016: notably, construction and real estate.
Similarly, the number of new FDI projects launched in Africa has fallen, total capital invested rose by 40%. This may in part reflect some recovery in energy and mining prices globally, after being battered in 2015, but we are also seeing an acceleration of capital flowing into other types of investments, with construction and real estate leading the way.
Actually, foreign investors are gradually diversifying their interests away from traditional energy and extractives sectors. Doubtless they see an opportunity to house and serve Africa’s rapidly growing and fast urbanizing populations.
Some investors might be wary of Africa’s overall GDP growth of 2.2% for 2016 – which falls below the world average. Growth is clearly slowing from the heights of the commodity supercycle that wound down in 2014-2015. However the story told by the regional GDP average is disproportionately impacted by poor performance in two of the region’s largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa.
Both have flirted with if not fallen into recession over the past two years, partly due to the rout in prices of their biggest exports but also to poor policy decisions and political discord. This is not the full story. Others including Ethiopia, Côte D’Ivoire, Tanzania and Senegal have all grown well above 6% through the same period.
The single most important reason to be bullish on Africa’s prospects in the 21st century, is that Africa’s urban population is expanding by 15 million a year, according to the UN. That is how many people live in greater New York, Los Angeles and Chicago combined. No region’s cities are growing faster.
US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross says investors are encouraged by the sight of “cranes dotting the skylines” of Africa’s cities, and he is right. Global private equity and sovereign wealth funds – along with home-grown investors – are pouring billions of dollars into business and industrial parks, retail complexes, logistics facilities and housing across the continent.
An encouraging example is BlackIvy, a US permanent capital company, which is developing much needed residential communities and an industrial park in Ghana as well as a cold chain logistics platform in Tanzania.
It is true that sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP growth is well off the pace from what it averaged during what Mr Collier has called the “benevolent decade”. During the early 2000s, debt relief, buoyant oil prices and surging Chinese demand for raw materials combined to push the region- wide average to not far shy of 6%, the Great Recession of 2008-2009 notwithstanding.
A modest recovery to 2.2% is projected by the IMF for this year – from 1.4% in 2016. These comparatively low headline figures are hardly nourishing the “Africa Rising” narrative.
However, highly aggregated numbers often hide more than they reveal. Africa is not one country. Economies like Nigeria and Angola that have come to rely excessively on oil exports may be hurting.
Others like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda in the east and Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire in the west, are growing at more than respectable rates. Indeed, those same IMF projections have Ghana – fresh off its seventh consecutive peaceful election since independence – projected as the third-fastest growing market in the world in 2018 at 9.2%.
Most encouraging is that Africa now has a partner with the resources, motivation and will to finance the infrastructure needed to connect and power the continent and its cities.
That partner is China, whose government, state-owned and private businesses and entrepreneurs now see Africa not just as a source of raw materials, but, much more importantly, as a vast new market and low-cost manufacturing base for
For this to be Africa’s century, African economies must be connected and diversified.
■ While the number of FDI projects into Africa fell by 16% to 602 in 2016, capital investment increased by 40% to $92.3bn
■ Real estate was the top sector by capital investment in 2016, accounting for $36.5bn (or 40%) of announced FDI in the region
■ Construction was the top business activity by capital investment, accounting for 40% of FDI. Combined, construction and manufacturing accounted for almost two-thirds of total capital investment
■ In total, 470 companies invested in the region, a fall of 7% on 2015
■ FDI into Africa accounted for 12% of global FDI in 2016, with project numbers accounting for 5%
■ China became the largest investor in Africa by capital expenditure for the first time since fDi Markets records began in 2003, while the US remains the most prolific investor by number of projects
Africa Investment Report