African leaders to US: Shorten your checklists to invest

U.S. investors should shorten their checklists when it comes to investing in Africa. Photo by: Daniel Kulinski / CC BY-NC-SA

African leaders on Monday urged U.S. investors to be flexible, have courage and shorten their checklists — especially when it comes to expanding power by investing in energy.

“The main focus for us is the energy sector,” John Dramani Mahama, president of Ghana, said at the Chamber of Commerce’s Presidential Plenary in Washington, D.C.

Mahama wishes to establish Ghana as the energy hub for West Africa, and would like to double power production using the natural gas potential of the country. Mozambique, too, would like to see increased investment in energy production, energy transmission and energy distribution, according to President Armando Guebuza.

Energy — or lack thereof — is increasingly becoming a constraint to growth in Africa, and one of the major focuses of investment in Ghana is “sorting out the energy sector,” Mahama explained.

“We want to make more power available locally … to be able to drive the kind of investment growth we want to see,” he said.

But to do it — and to build on opportunities that a more connected Africa will bring — will take increased investment and deeper partnerships with the U.S. private sector. However, while investment in Africa has grown significantly over the past decade, businesses still consider investing in Africa as a high-risk venture.

African leaders present on Monday’s panel discussion expressed many priorities for their countries — Guebaza pointed to a heavier focus on targeted education for youth, while Abdeliliah Benkirane, prime minister of Morocco, said his country could benefit from simplifying administration and bureaucracy, as well as freeing itself from corruption.

“There are great possibilities to invest in all fields, all you need to have is some courage. And you have to be flexible,” Benkirane said.

There is a level of understanding to reach, as well. For one, Mahama hopes to increase the knowledge that Africa is composed of 54 different countries — all unique. Just because Somalia is on fire, for example, does not mean Morocco is on fire, just as a conflict in Ukraine does not mean all of Europe is in conflict, he explained, although he did add that there generally is a certain risk inherent to investing in the continent.

“If [Americans] will come with shorter checklists and not expect to check every single box,” this could help speed along business opportunities, Mahama noted, adding that Indians and Europeans are coming with shorter checklists already and getting a strong return on their investments.

But Hendrik du Toit, CEO of Investec Asset Management, a South African company that now provides investment products and services to institutions and individuals around the world, told Devex he thinks all investors have long checklists — and should.

“Investors don't put money down for nothing ... they want a return, they do their homework, and it’s up to countries and economies to compete for those dollars,” he said. “There are other countries and economies who will compete if you don't want to.”

It’s frank discussions and communication like this that could help bolster relations between the continents.

“For me if we come away from the U.S. understanding each other, I guess it will create a partnership that is more durable,” Mahama said of the larger goals of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that will continue through Wednesday.

And by understanding each other, Mahama, Guebuza and Benkirane agreed that it would mean adapting views to accommodate a rapidly growing Africa.

For the most comprehensive coverage of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, check out daily updates via Storify, and be sure to follow Devex on Twitter and Facebook. You may tweet questions and comments to our reporters Michael Igoe @twigoe and Kelli Rogers @kellierin.

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About the author

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.