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New York Conference Tackles Investment in Africa

  • Mariama Diallo

Although financial experts say that Africa is among the world's most risky places to invest, some like former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin sees limitless possibilities. Recently, business leaders from Africa met with potential investors on Wall Street to make the case for investment opportunities that exist on their continent. The conference, Africa Investment Index Series Summit, was co-hosted by the New York Stock Exchange.

The event brought together African CEOs, international investors, pension funds and capital market professionals to explore investment in Africa.

Robert Rubin, a former US Treasury Secretary, was the keynote speaker. He's on the Africa Progress Panel, an international body that promotes social and economic development in Africa.

He said although people tend to think of Africa's natural resources, opportunities exist in media, telecommunications and infrastructure.

"It seems to me that we in the United States should be more focused on Africa not only as the source of natural resources but also for the full range of opportunities that exist," said Robert Rubin. "There is no reason why our presence shouldn't be as great as if not greater than China's."

Eddy Njoroge is Managing Director of KenGen, a Kenyan utility with about six million customers. He says his company could be an opportunity for investors.

"We hope to be 3,000 megawatts within the next 3 years or so," said Eddy Njoroge. "By 2030, we hope to be over 10,000 megawatts. So we'll be looking for a lot of partnerships."

For the skeptics, he adds this.

"We have a fairly robust regulatory framework," he said. "We know what our return on investments will be right up front."

Moving to West Africa, conference participant Ekow Afedzie is deputy managing director of the Ghana Stock Exchange.

"Ghana Stock Exchange is quite a small market," said Ekow Afedzie. "We do have 35 companies listed. Most of them are multinationals. When most markets were down all around the world, our market was up like 58 percent."

But he's looking to introduce new products like mutual funds, bonds and perhaps derivatives.

"One key thing we need to do is, as a market in Ghana and generally for African markets, is to go beyond what we just have," he said.

Portfolio manager Johan De Bruijn says he believes there are attractive opportunities in Africa's consumer sector.

"There are 900 million consumers," said Johan De Bruijn. "They are scattered across the continent but focused on some very large conglomerations such as Cairo and Lagos and consumer products play into that. You've seen it with telecom and beer companies and Coca Cola."

But some countries are being overlooked, he says.

"I think the French speaking countries have been missed by investors," he said. "I think one thing that's important is that they have a common currency and central bank. With the rise of soft commodities prices such as coffee, cocoa, in which lots of these countries are world leaders in Ivory Coast, Senegal and Mali, I think there will more interest that would follow."

All four corners of Africa were represented at the conference. But only about 15 African companies are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Political instability, lack of infrastructure and poverty remain the biggest challenges.

But experts say countries like Nigeria - a major crude oil producer, Ghana which has had stable governments over the last two decades, and Kenya are just a few examples of how Africa can be an attractive place to invest.