Did Rock Star Bob Geldof Spearhead US Private-Equity Push Into Ethiopia?

Did Rock Star Bob Geldof Spearhead US Private-Equity Push Into Ethiopia?

U.S. investors are discovering Ethiopia, following in the footsteps of Irish punk rock singer-turned-activist Bob Geldof, whose Live Aid concerts raised $145 million for victims of famine, Simon Clark reports in WallStreetJournal.

Geldof is chairman of London-based private-equity firm 8 Miles LLP, which invests in Ethiopia. Named after the narrowest point between Europe and Africa, 8 Miles raised $200 million in 2012 including a few hundred thousand dollars that Geldof put in.

More recently, a number of high-profile investors have shown up in Ethiopia. Hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones is backing a $2-billion geothermal power project. Blackstone Group plans to build a $1.35-billion pipeline to transport gasoline to the capital ofAddis Ababa. KKR & Co., the New York-based private-equity firm, bought control of a rose farm, Afriflora, last summer for $200 million — its first investment in Africa, WSJ reports.

8 Miles made its first investments in Ethiopia in 2013, backing Ethiopian entrepreneur Eleni Gabre-Madhin to build commodity exchanges across Africa. It also invested in state-owned Awash Winery and plans to double production at the company, increasing exports and adding nonalcoholic drinks such as grape juice, according to partner Doug Agble.

Private-equity groups, sovereign-wealth funds and consumer-goods companies are showing increasing interest in Ethiopia, said Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s top Africa banker, Colin Coleman. Coleman visited Ethiopia for the first time in January.

The government of Hailemariam Desalegn has been criticized for focusing on expanding the economy at the expense of political freedom and human rights. Ethiopia has just one opposition member of parliament. Elections are coming in May and he doesn’t plan to run for president, WSJ reports. Investors say the potential risks are offset by rapid economic growth.