Q-MHI Africa Weekly Brief ;

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BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME

When some of the continent’s biggest investors gather this week in Abidjan to discuss the state of their sector, investing in infrastructure will, as ever, be at the top of the agenda. Major investors like private equity funds and pension fund managers see infrastructure such as road networks and electricity grids as the key opportunity in Africa.

It makes sense. African countries are grossly underserved as we’ve written before. This week, a report from UN’s Economic Commission for Africa shows even though governments might be keen to build new infrastructure they still lack the capacity to develop proposals needed to attract institutional investors.

The report says of the total $2 trillion raised globally for infrastructure projects, only $59 billion was received in Africa. That’s just 3%. A World Bank study found sub Saharan Africa needs at least $93 billion a year for infrastructure. That number obviously gets a lot higher if you take North Africa into account.

In a paper published last month, Brookings Institution’s Amadou Sy argues the time is right for African countries to start leveraging the potential of local pension funds to help solve the financing problem. This would be a move away from relying on taxes and uneven commodity revenue.

Sy acknowledges there are several steps that need to take place for this to have some hope of working. Sub Saharan Africa is in what’s been called a “demographic sweet spot” with its young population and fast-growing labor force but there still needs to be pension reform in many countries. And even in countries where there has been pension reform there is a still a dearth of financial instruments which limits the ability to use pension funds to back infrastructure projects in the first place.

Brookings’ Sy recommends that governments will be needed to put their political will behind such reform alongside improved governance, regulation and supervision of pension funds. African countries will also need to develop domestic financial capital market instruments for infrastructure as well as gain support from foreign and multilateral partners.

Pension funds are not the only consideration to meet the infrastructure challenge. World Bank’s Dilip Ratha has made the case for several years now that channeling remittances to create diaspora bonds can help play an important role in plugging the development gap.

Nigeria, whose citizens remitted $21 billion in 2015, signed up Goldman Sachs back in January to help issue a $300 million diaspora bond to be raised from Nigerians abroad. However the pitch, via the media has so far, feels like a cash-strapped country trying to plug a budget hole rather than one trying to solve an infrastructure deficit.

Yinka Adegoke, Q-MHI Africa editor

STORIES FROM THIS WEEK

A construction worker is seen near a machine on a site during a facility tour at the proposed Dangote oil refinery site near Akodo beach in the outskirt of Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye - RTX2I77I-999x-999 (1)

African countries need to overhaul their procurement models for better infrastructure. Unpaved roads, decrepit airports, and unreliable transport networks continue to shadow Africa’s cities. The problem, writes Calestous Juma, is African governments do not take a continuous, innovative approach to infrastructure management, deferring maintenance costs and awarding contracts to the lowest bidder.

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Some of the world’s most optimistic people live in Africa. Africa is the world’s unhappiest continent says a new report. Yet despite enduring poverty, corruption, and lack of access to basic social services, Africans of all ages showed exceptional levels of optimism

Internet "refugee camp" in Bonako, Cameroon

Cameroon’s internet shutdown forced startups to create an “internet refugee camp.” Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions haven’t had internet for more than 75 days now. But as Abdi Latif Dahir reports, the blackout isn’t deterring startups who have established an internet sanctuary in a small village where they can connect to the internet and keep working.

A documentary shows lives and aspirations of Africans in China. The documentary Guangzhou Dream Factory focuses on African migrants who have made the sprawling port city of Guangzhou their home. In an interview with Lily Kuo, filmmaker Christiane Badgley says she wanted to show the dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit of a group often cast as criminals.

Demonstrators protest against South African President Jacob Zuma's firing of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, outside Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings - RTX33IF0

Jacob Zuma, ANC and South Africa are in crisis. After days of speculation, South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma fired finance minister Pravin Gordhan, and shuffled 20 ministers and deputy ministers into new roles. Zuma said that he wanted to transform his government and bring more women and young people into the fold. As Lynsey Chutel notes, the decision threw the ANC into turmoil, and the rand currency fell just like it did every time Zuma clashed with a finance minister in the past.

Lagos is Africa’s most valuable start-up ecosystem, but there’s a catch. Despite having fewer start-ups than Cape Town, Lagos is home to Africa’s most valuable start-up ecosystem worth $2 billion. But a closer look at the data by Yomi Kazeem shows the reality is very different for Lagos’ software engineers.

CHART OF THE WEEK

Feature phones trump smart ones in Africa’s mobile market. For the first time in years, smartphone shipments to the African continent slowed down, halting the expected takeover from feature phones. The slump was due to economic headwinds and exchange rate fluctuations in some large markets.

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OTHER THINGS WE LIKED

The birthplace village of Yahya Jammeh faces the future. For decades, the residents of Kanilai village in The Gambia enjoyed free education, electricity and water, courtesy of president Yahya Jammeh. Yet since his ouster in January, a sense of despondency has ruled over the village, writes Hamza Mohamed for Al Jazeera English.

Fleeing Boko Haram, thousands cling on a road to nowhere. National Route 1 is a road in Niger than ends abruptly, connecting to nothing more but desert. But as Dionne Searcey and Adam Ferguson document in the New York Times, over 130,000 refugees chased by the terrorist group Boko Haram have come to the road in search of food, water and a safe place to stay.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Africa’s private equity investors meet in Abidjan (Apr. 4-5). The 14th Annual AVCA Conference returns to fast-growing Francophone Africa after ten years. The event will feature keynotes from the vice president of Côte d’Ivoire, Africa Development Bank and some of the continent’s biggest investors including South Africa’s PIC, Helios Partners and Abraaj.

South Africa to appear before the ICC over the failure to arrest Bashir (Apr. 7). South Africa will appear before the pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court for failing to arrest Sudan’s president Omar Hassan Al-Bashir.

Moody’s to release South Africa’s credit rating (April 7). Moody’s Investor Service is expected to publish a review of South Africa’s creditworthiness. The country already has a negative outlook grading, and the cabinet reshuffle is expected to leave the rating exposed.

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