At the World Economic Forum in Cape Town last June, a fund was set up to help make Africa more attractive to investors. After months of preliminary work, the $120 million Investment Climate Facility, or ICF, has appointed its first chief executive officer, who says the real work begins now.
Omari Issa has a long history of working in both the public and private sector. He says Africa is a good place to invest.
“It is a good place to invest. In my previous life, before ICF, I was with CelTel. When I joined CelTel in 2000 not many people believed that actually there was a demand for mobile telephones. That was one. They also did not believe that you could actually make a profitable investment in Africa. We proved people wrong on both aspects,” he says.
Issa says Africa has much to offer investors.
“You look at Africa. It’s full of resources, full of potential. The issue really has to do with just releasing that potential, making sure that potential is appreciated and is channeled correctly,” he says.
As part of doing business, the Investment Climate Facility has a Governance Charter that “promotes transparency and establishes clear lines of responsibility and accountability.”
One of the problems in many African countries is a cumbersome bureaucracy that discourages investment. Issa gives an example of opening a supermarket in South Africa.
He says, “You need thirteen separate licenses. One for the supermarket itself, one for the bakery in the supermarket, another one for the butchery in the supermarket, another one for the beverages in the supermarket, and so on. Thirteen separate licenses. Now, you work with that government and say what’s the point in having thirteen separate licenses? It’s costly administratively. It’s a burden and what are you getting?”
The ICF has key funding themes, including: improving Africa’s import and export environment; simplifying regulations, especially in Internet Technology, electricity and property rights; and making it easier for banks to use collateral for loans.
The CEO says it’s now up to him to convince government officials, policymakers and business people to help remove obstacles to investment.
He says, “My priority is to go country by country, region by region, because you have regional economic blocs like ECOWAS, like SADC, like COMESA, like East African Community. And I could go on. And go to these bodies; go to these individual governments; go and talk to the private sector because ICF is actually a mix between private and public. Talk to the chambers of commerce, the business councils, the individual investors and say, look, what’s the bottleneck? How can we really remove these barriers?”
Issa says he would not have taken the job as chief executive officer had he not been confident of the fund’s success. In fact, he says that there’s a good chance the Investment Climate Facility will reach its goals within its seven-year mandate and not need to be renewed.