Is Now the Time to Invest in Africa?

Fund manager says growing middle class, free markets make certain countries attractive

Why would somebody invest in Africa versus some of the “better known” emerging markets – the BRIC countries?

You know one of the things is that people forget you know Africa is a huge continent. With an immense population and as the GDP of that regions increases and flows through the buying power of those people are going to increase dramatically. So, I think you really have to look at the continent from it’s opportunities in terms of size and market share. It’s a huge region and you’re seeing fairly quick growth in the standards of living. I think, in many respects, the risks are less than other markets to go into. So, if you’re going to into an emerging market because you believe growth is a good potential they have it. They have water power there in a big way in many parts of the continent. They have the ability to grow a lot more in agricultural production with just minimal changes in the agricultural process. They have the ability to export those products. And so I just think it’s a good opportunity with the large number of people involved in the continent and the increase of consumption power.

There is still you a lot of crime in these countries, no? As well as certain areas of political instability.

Yeah. I think there’s where you have to step back and distinguish between the continent and the country. There are clearly countries that have a lot of issues and we know those because they get played out on the news every night. I’ve been going to Malawi for example for 16 years. My children have been there, my family. It’s like anywhere else obviously there are some areas that I would be cautious of going to at certain times of the day and alone or something. We are seeing success stories with government changes. Senegal is a prime example, the most recent election, the change in government, the additional transparency. Malawi, the former president passed away. He had become a little more dictatorial. He was an elected official, succession happened, and the vice president who succeeded him wasn’t in his party. But it all went through peacefully and the country is moving forward now.

So, why is it that you hear so much about the BRIC countries but not about the opportunities in Africa?

There is some bias or misconception or lack of understanding of Africa in the part of Americans. And I think it comes from a couple of forces. With one segment of America I think it’s burdened with a certain amount of guilt feelings towards the continent or it dates back probably to you know the slavery issue and everything else. And if you look back you know most everyone in America thinks that everybody in Africa is in impoverished, they cannot feed themselves. Look at the images we see. Many of them are well intended but to raise funds and they don’t get to meet the young people that I meet at the universities there that are going to school and dream of a better tomorrow. They don’t get to meet the people that are running the companies locally and that are from there and they are educated.

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