Expert opinion: Where in Africa would you invest $1 million?

By IAfrica
In South Africa
Aug 6th, 2014
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For big picture investors, it’s a tough old world at the moment. Europe is stagnating; China is starting to slow down; and those super-size consumers in America already have everything. Fortunately, there is one huge market that hasn’t been tapped yet.

Africa, of course.

At a seminar on Wednesday, hosted in Sandton (where else?) by consultancy firm Frontier Advisory, dozens of this continent’s most significant investors, consultants and advisors gathered to discuss where to invest in Africa, and how to manage the associated risks and uncertainties. Underpinning the discussion was one assumption that no one could challenge: there really is plenty of money to be made here.

But where’s the best place to make it? Africa’s not a country, after all. So the Daily Maverick asked some of the speakers and panellists to put their own (hypothetical) $1 million where their mouth is, and name the one country they think is a sure thing.

Chris Derksen, Head of frontier and emerging markets, Investec

If I had a million dollars, and full control over that million dollars, and you gave me 5-10 years, I would go to Mozambique and figure out exactly where their long term structural opportunities are as a result of the investment we’ll see in the oil and gas sector in that country.

Jonathan Foster-Pedley, Dean and Director, Henley Business School Africa

South Africa. I would invest in SA. Obviously Botswana in limited ways, but I’d also start taking punts on Rwanda. I’m so uncomfortable about the gay laws in Uganda because I have so may friends affected by that that I’m slightly off target on that one at the moment, although the growth is huge. Ethiopia is very interesting in terms of its growth, Ghana obviously, Nigeria you have to take seriously in spite of what’s going on. And of course Mozambique and Tanzania because of the mineral wealth. [I’d get] a nice company in the correct sector in Mozambique to capitalise on the gas. I’d definitely do that, and I think also education in Rwanda because it’s a nexus, and it has the governance at the moment, and it has reasonable stability strangely enough.

Jakkie Cilliers, Executive Director, Institute for Security Studies

I’m almost tempted to say the Democratic Republic of Congo, because I think high risk, high return. But not with my own money. I guess from a developmental perspective, although it’s difficult, in Southern Africa Angola is the country that’s going to develop the fastest, and after that probably Mozambique because of the oil and the gas sectors. Those would be the best opportunities.

Martyn Davies, CEO, Frontier Advisory

It’s more important to look at sectors and industries rather than countries. If you tie me to a country I’ll tell you one, Rwanda, straight away, because of good governance, vision, efficiency, lack of corruption and a government whose comparative advantage is getting it done. Stepping back, the challenge of Africa, of deploying capital in Africa, is dysfunctional government institutions. So where government cannot deliver, the commercial opportunities are the greatest. This is three sectors: it’s healthcare, it’s education, it’s private security. This is what you pay tax for, that’s what you expect the state to deliver upon. Most often it does not, therefore that’s where the greatest commercial opportunity lies.

Yvonne Mhango, Director, Renaissance Capital

Nigeria. One, because you can’t deny the opportunity. They’ve got a large youthful population. It’s growing at 6%-7% and should do so for at least the medium term. It’s a commodity rich country, they’re big oil exporters, so they’re guaranteed in terms of foreign exchange earnings. They have one of the biggest forex reserves on the continent, and a current account surplus. So there’s a lot going for it, that’s undeniable.

[As for the security situation], the impression I get is that it’s isolated in the north-east…in terms of the economic impact it appears to be minimal, as long as it’s contained there. I’m not overly concerned, and the reason I’m not concerned because the north-east contributes a very small part of GDP. If it was Lagos, or the Niger Delta where the oil is produced, I’d be a lot more worried.

Konrad Reuss, Managing Director for Sub-Saharan Africa, Standard & Poor’s

I would look at Nigeria. This has nothing to do with the rebasing of the GDP, but it’s the most populous state in Africa. There is in many ways huge potential for me, from what I see. Assuming they will solve some of their issues whether it’s around energy and infrastructure, whether it’s around the political side with elections coming next year…I’ll take a positive, optimistic view on some of these issues and for that reason, whether I’m investing in retail or even in some parts of manufacturing, Nigeria is a place I’d go into.

Patrick Wamoto, Kenyan High Commissioner to South Africa

I would invest in Nigeria, for the simple reason that figures don’t lie. If you look at the fundamentals, and leave alone the Boko Haram issue, Nigeria has a lot of potential. The population alone is a pull factor. Even if I am just selling my items for R1, at least I still have 176 million people to sell to.

Security tends to be overplayed. These are issues we can deal with. If it’s a question of terrorism, it’s not a local issue, it’s an issue that goes across borders. Part of the challenge is the way we’re handling it…we need to find a better way of handling these challenges.

Peter Draper, Director, Tutwa Consulting

Ethiopia. Because of its growth rate, its relatively stable transition from [late President] Meles Zenawi, its big labour force. [This is] very productive labour, very cheap, so if you’re into manufacturing Ethiopia would be my choice.

Dennis Dykes, Chief Economist, Nedbank

If I were an entrepreneur, I’d probably be looking at some sort of investment opportunity in a country like Kenya, because I think it has the highest growth opportunity. If I was an equity investor, I think that South Africa still provides the right opportunities. But having said that, a lot of the South African companies are actually invested elsewhere. If you look at the JSE, 4% of their earnings or even more actually comes from elsewhere around the world. I think that the investment universe in SA is liquid, there are many opportunities, but they are not locked into the SA story necessarily.

J Brooks Spector, Associate Editor, Daily Maverick

I’m going to be a real outlier on this. I’m taking my million, buying whatever I need to sell and going to Somalia, because they need one of everything. That’s the classic approach of the itinerant peddler. You go someplace where nobody else has gone, because you want to be there first, because anything you have somebody wants. But you have to be made of very stern stuff to make it work. DM

Photo: A general view of the building housing the Banque Populaire du Rwanda bank in Kigali, Rwanda, 11 May 2012. EPA/DAI KUROKAWA EPA/DAI KUROKAWA

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