By Leon Louw
There is a new drive to attract private sector capital to Africa. Africa’s largest development finance institutions have emphasised that a sustained and collaborative approach among development partners to scale up project development activities, will boost the number of bankable projects attracting investor interest and contribute to closing the infrastructure finance gap in Africa.
Last week, several organisations spoke during a panel event to discuss their role in the post-Covid-19 environment, as part of a day-long public forum on investing in Africa’s future, organised by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and the Atlantic Council. The event had over 2000 participants.
Launched at the end of 2019, the DFC has an investment cap of USD60-billion and has selected Africa as a priority region for future investments. African Development Bank acting senior vice president Bajabulile Swazi Tshabalala, was joined by Samaila Zubairu, president and CEO of the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC); Admassu Tadesse, president and CEO of the Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank (TDB), and Alain Ebobissé, CEO of Africa50, for the hour long session, which was moderated by Edward Burrier, executive vice president of strategy at the DFC.
The panelists highlighted the importance of project development and a supply of bankable projects as being key for private sector investors. This requires an active approach in investing capital into the early stages of project preparation and accepting the risk, which has been one of the most important deterrents to attracting foreign investment into Africa. Most of the participating institutions offer a wide variety of financial instruments and products to help de-risk such investments.
In Rwanda, Samaila Zubairu spoke of the AFC’s Kigali Innovation City (KIC) technology hub project, which is already changing the narrative about Africans only consuming technology rather than being developers. “It’s risky business, but extremely impactful,” Zubairu said. His comments were echoed by Admassu Tadesse, who said the “blended” returns of dividends and the development impact of some of these projects made any risks worthwhile.
For Alain Ebobissé, Africa 50’s unique niche which is focused on solving Africa’s infrastructure gap through a strong emphasis on both the project development and project financing of infrastructure projects, ensures a healthy supply of bankable projects through the mainstreaming of project preparation activities. “We develop very close relationships with our government shareholders and as a result project implementation is speeded up – especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The acting senior vice president, Swazi Tshabalala spoke about how the African Development Bank’s high five priorities represent a significant investment opportunity for US investors in a variety of projects spanning several sectors such as energy, agriculture and food security, regional integration and private sector. More significantly, in the context of the current pandemic, enhancing Africa’s health infrastructure, water and sanitation is key.
Tshabalala noted that following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in 2019 with DFC, the two institutions are currently collaborating on energy projects in Senegal and Madagascar. “We see that as the beginning of our stronger engagement and partnership,” she said.
The Bank’s Africa Investment Forum is playing an important role in helping to channel critical capital flows to the continent by targeting the multi-trillion-dollar global institutional investor base. Tshabalala also highlighted the growing partnership on the Africa Investment Forum with the other institutions represented on the panel and their collective efforts to bring bankable projects to private sector investors.
Asked about how the Bank balances its sovereign lending against private sector needs, Tshabalala said sovereign lending was crucial, “especially in the development of basic infrastructure that is a pre-requisite for development.” This also includes the provision of concessional financing to transition countries through the African Development Fund.
The Bank also engages in enhanced policy dialogue and provides knowledge products which enable governments to create the right environment for private sector investment. “We have over the years been increasing our direct investment in the private sector which has grown to become a significant component of our overall lending portfolio,” Tshabalala said.