Investing In African Infrastructure: 3 Countries That Could Surprise In 2018
The sub-Saharan African infrastructure challenge is well documented, with many investors actively seeking a way to be a part of the solution.
Yet the process to modern infrastructure, despite many active players, remains slow. The statistics underlying the situation show how much more needs to be done.
More than 600 million people do not have access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly 35 percent are without road access, with many in that group unable to afford travel by air.
Furthermore, with some general (non-infrastructure) fund numbers and returns hampered by sub-par performance in the last few years, infrastructure’s relatively lower but consistent return numbers are looking more favorable in the near term.
We look at our three surprise picks for 2018 in the infrastructure space.
Ghana is expected to lead the rebound for sub-Saharan Africa with expected GDP growth north of 8 percent in 2018. It is expected that President Nana Akufo-Addo may use this momentum and the improved government balance sheet to push forward on infrastructure projects, specifically around energy.
Gas-to-power projects will receive a boost from the inflow of gas, with Equatorial Guinea chipping in as part of the 15-year gas deal with Ghana.
The Ghana Infrastructure Investment Fund (GIIF) is also a big piece of the pathway to changing the long term trajectory of the country. The fund is actively engaging governments and international corporate players across the globe.
Adding capital to high level ambition through GIIF is a start, especially with the Chinese promising to invest north of $10 billion in the country, albeit spread across multiple sectors including infrastructure, and with some loans to the government.
That said, the gap for capital remains significant, with an opportunity for sophisticated infrastructure investors to layer on direction, expertise and then capital in Ghana infrastructure projects.
Cote d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara remains, in spirit, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) guy. Infrastructure and budget management permeate throughout his plans for the country.
His government has invested heavily in infrastructure, with a further $7 billion-plus promised last month to the space over the next five years.
The focus areas for these funds, according to the minister for economic infrastructure, Amede Koffi Kouakou, includes the bridge that will link the district of Yopougon to the business center of Plateau, and the completion of half of roughly 650km of highway that the country must build under a scheme linking Abidjan to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.
These type of transport projects are vital for the country where the Ivorian transport networks are among the most used in the region. For example, roads are a critical component of Cote d’Ivoire’s transport infrastructure – handling more than 99 percent of total internal freight movements.
The port of Abidjan is also another focus point for the country, as Ivorian leadership looks to regain market share against Ghana’s Port of Tema with a long term focus on strengthening the country’s overall position as the entry point to landlocked West African countries.
The Angolan presidency of João Lourenço continues to intrigue and partially confuse those deeply involved in the country’s economics and investments. The exit of José Eduardo dos Santos saddened some investors and excited others.
With the new regime, supreme control has been stripped from the Dos Santos inner circle, in particular with Isabel dos Santos losing control of the national oil company Sonangol and José Filomeno dos Santos being charged with fraud from his time with Fundo Soberano de Angola (FSDEA).
All that said, the in-fighting within the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola / People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola party (MLPA) is hurting policy at some level, but ironically not blocking the infrastructure investments and momentum that has been on the agenda for the last couple of years.
The Lobito-Luau railway is a big focus for the country. Local leaders imagine the line will go to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo connecting with the Angola-Zambia and Tanzania-Zambia railways.
The symbolism—the reconnection of the country’s eastern part with Angola’s second largest city, Huambo (abandoned in 1975 at the beginning of Angola’s civil war)—is also helping to drive the infrastructure push partnered with financial and technical support from the China Railways Construction Corporation Limited.
Other major projects include the Laúca dam at the Kwanza River and the new international airport.
Despite some Chinese funding, the country is still spending a significant amount of its own capital to fund these projects and would benefit from outside investors and partners. That said, the challenge remains to determine how to demonstrate a willingness to engage and incorporate such partners.
Kurt Davis Jr. is an investment banker with private equity experience focused on Africa and the Middle East. He earned a M.B.A. in finance, entrepreneurship and operations from the University of Chicago and J.D. in tax and commercial law at the University of Virginia’s School of Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.