Want large-scale investment? Secure energy infrastructure, trained workforce

Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline looks to invest in Africa, but the lack of infrastructure and skilled workers in a number of countries in the region prove to be a barrier. Photo by: Ian Wilson / CC BY

Earlier this year, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies announced plans to invest 130 million pounds (about $211 million) in fighting noncommunicable diseases in Africa.

A senior official with GlaxoSmithKline admitted, though, that spending the money hasn’t been that easy.

“We’re looking for specific countries where we can put it, and there’re not many,” Allan Pamba, GSK vice president responsible for pharmaceuticals in East Africa and government affairs, told Devex on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting last week in New York.

Through its investment, the pharmaceutical giant intends to build factories and an NCD research unit focused on the continent. To accomplish that, however, GSK needs an uninterrupted power supply and a trained workforce, which only a limited number of African countries can offer. Bolstering energy infrastructure and training the local workforce, Pamba said, are therefore essential for developing nations to take on large-scale private sector investments in health care and other sectors.

“That kind of support is what is required to drive investments like ours much quicker and in bigger volumes. And if we get that support, I think the private sector will invest more in areas that need these investments,” the GSK official explained.

Pamba wants to see even more private sector engagement in Africa’s development.

“When I say private sector I mean the entire spectrum, from a multinational company like ours going into Africa with this big five-year strategic investment plan, to the corner shop in my village where the guy … sells bread and milk, but also tries to sell me some antibiotics,” he said.

The key question, Pamba noted, is then: “What can we do for this guy to make sure that he’s successful and safe?”

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.