African Legal Network (ALN) has been hosting a yearly Africa Investment Conference. It brings together hundreds of businessmen, bankers, prestigious African politicians, lawyers, policy makers, entrepreneurs and young innovators from all over the world.
I have rarely seen so many influential people in one room.
This year's conference took place at the amazing and impeccable Four Seasons Resort, in Jumeirah Beach, Dubai.
I was honoured to chair the closing plenary panel, ''Africa as a Land of Opportunity: Another Scramble?''. I had been chosen, I said in jest, because having an African grandmother, I was the genetic result of the scramble for Africa.
Excitement had been progressively building from day one of the conference. Ideas, opinions, history, finance and economics, innovation, rule of law and infrastructure challenges were all in the air.
I had left Nairobi that afternoon, my 270 minutes' flight between Nairobi and Dubai marked by a sharp and deep contrast – I had gone from a graduation in Ongata Rongai to an impressive investment conference in Dubai. What a contrast!
The graduation at Ongata Rongai's Orione Community Centre had been a beautiful show of humanity. Sixteen young (or younger) men and women with mental disabilities, most of them with Down syndrome, got a helping hand to survive in a cruel and utilitarian world. But this story requires its own piece; I promise to write it next week.
As the graduation ended, I rushed to the airport to catch my flight to Dubai and moderate a panel at the Africa Investment Conference.
It was the last plenary panel, made of G. Jayakrishnan, Global Markets Director of Enterprise Singapore; Anna Skubikowski-Aguilera, Assistant General Counsel of the United States Trade and Development Agency; Tariq Bin Hendi, Executive Vice President of Emirates NBD, one of the most important banks in the U.A.E. and Nnamdi Ezera, a Nigerian-born, Senior Counsel with the United States Department of Commerce.
The panel was set, and the presenters were impressive men and women of engaging ideas and conversation. We focused on five key questions.
First, it is a fact that most foreign investment inflow to Africa has been around portfolio investments (stocks, bonds etc.) rather than direct investments into businesses. The African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, prioritises the development of capital markets such as stock markets and bonds markets on Africa to ''strengthen domestic resource mobilisation and increase its contribution to the financing of development.'' Similar models are found in policy documents of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Zambia and several other countries.
Second, foreign players in Africa adopt a non-partisan or neutral political status. In some cases, this has been perceived as a direct or indirect support to some clearly illegitimate and oppressive governments.
Third, even though African markets are growing fast, they are still rather small, compared to Asia, Europe and America. Genuine investors set their eyes on those large established markets, leaving most of Africa to predator or mercenary investors who are only interested in profit maximisation and quick gains.
Fourth, most of Africa’s rule of law landscape is quite complex and with high corruption indexes. Measures should be put in place to support the building of stronger institutions, taking into consideration that this will make the business environment a level playing field.
And finally, a bonus discussion point dealt with what could be said to be unique about African markets, and how this may be exploited.
The answers to these questions flowed seamlessly between the presenters and a well-informed audience.
The World Bank Global Economic Prospects forecasts Africa’s rising. Fifty percent of the population growth between now and 2050 is expected to come from Africa, which means that the biggest and most reliable source of young and vibrant labour will necessarily come from Africa.
Cities in Africa are growing much faster than their infrastructure and this creates scary challenges and opportunities.
According to experts, Africa has the fastest growing middle class population in the world and it will host at least 12 megacities by 2025. The continent already has almost 900 million phones in operation.
Africa is rising. Our challenges are not small, but the greatest and most attractive opportunity is presented to investors by Africa’s rare combination of challenge, diversity, imagination and youth.
Nobody in Africa wants to be part of a new scramble. Africa must be in charge. Technical knowhow, the rule of law, coherent policies on investment, property and education are essential to make Africa's economic growth real, tangible, lasting and beneficial to all.
As the panel closed, it was clear that panellists and investors agreed that Africa stands as the most attractive long-term investment destination. Our demographic growth assures any investor that there will be a sustainable market.
Only bad governance, greed and corruption can shutter Africa’s dream. Then, it will not have been a scramble, but simply intergenerational theft.
I rushed out of the conference hall to catch my plane back to Nairobi. I had to attend the launch of a wonderful book ''Our Lives in His Hands'' by Olga Marlin. It is a book about a beautiful ordinary family that helped change the world, but this is a story that must be told on another occasion.
I could not stop smiling at how bright the future looks for Africa if only we put our act together – an honest, consistent and clever approach to governance, business, innovation, the family and compassion will change the way our continent looks…and the world.
Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi