"EBOLA was like a war in our countries," Guinea’s President Alpha Condé told the World Bank last year as he outlined the havoc that had been wrought by the rapid spread of the virus in the West African country.
At a meeting last April to seek funds for reconstruction, he was joined by the presidents of the other two worst-affected nations — Liberia and Sierra Leone. The leaders, who had been battling the spread of the virus for more than a year by then, outlined the devastating effect the health crisis had on their countries, WRITES DIANNA GAMES.
Published in Business Day SA, 4 January 2016
In addition to more than 11,000 deaths, health systems collapsed, expatriate managers and contractors fled, agriculture almost collapsed, trade dried up, international travel connections were cut and revenues shrunk. Fear and superstition pervaded communities.
Dire predictions of the spread of the virus across the region were made by experts, with the World Bank suggesting the financial impact on the region by the end of last year might be a huge $32.6bn. But last week, there was some good news — Guinea was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation, the last of the three countries at the epicentre of the disaster to be cleared. The last known case there was on November 16. The announcement was made 42 days later — twice the virus’s maximum incubation period. Sierra Leone was declared virus-free earlier in November.
Although the first case of Ebola emerged in Guinea, fewer people died there, with 2,500 casualties compared to 9,000 in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone. Dozens of health workers also lost their lives elsewhere in Africa and on other continents. Guinea is now undergoing a 90-day period of "heightened surveillance" to ensure vigilance is maintained after the hard-won battle. Liberia, for example, found new cases after the country was twice declared Ebola-free. But, critically, Guinea and the other two nations can now start implementing Ebola-recovery programmes.
The effect on growth has been catastrophic. According to the International Monetary Fund, Liberia’s economic growth in 2014 was 0.7%, significantly less than 2013’s 8.9%. Growth in Guinea has stagnated at about 0.4%, while Sierra Leone is facing severe recession.
Hold on to your hats – next year will be a rocky ride for Africa WRITES DIANNA GAMES
CHINA’S promise last week to deepen partnerships with African countries and provide $60bn over three years to address constraints to development, was good news for a continent facing many headwinds as it rushes headlong into 2016.
Ironically, China’s slowdown is one of those headwinds. But there are many other issues that will make next year a difficult one for sub-Saharan Africa.
The continent’s petro-states have slashed budgets and put infrastructure projects on hold as budgets dry up, but they continue to reel from the effect of low oil prices.
Any hopes that this was just a brief cyclical blip have been dashed by the fact that 18 months since the oil price plunged, there is no sign of an upturn.
Oil industry executives speaking at the Africa Oil Week conference earlier this year confirmed the view that the "world of $50 oil" isn’t going to change anytime soon.
At the same event last year, oil majors flagged ambitious exploration projects and mentioned the billions of dollars lined up for Africa’s oil and gas assets. This year, the broad narrative focused on project pullbacks and how to negotiate this long, rocky road.
THE continent’s stock exchanges are a hard sell to African companies. Of more than 1.5-million businesses registered in Africa, only 1,600 are listed on the stock exchanges of the 23 states that make up the African Securities Exchanges Association (Asea), WRITES DIANNA GAMES.
At last week’s Asea conference in Johannesburg, delegates took a hard look at what Africa’s exchanges need to do differently to boost performance and relevance to attract investors and build assets.
Asea president and head of the Nigerian Stock Exchange Oscar Onyema suggested that new ways of engaging business leaders were needed, not just to talk about the benefits offered by Africa’s bourses, but for economies more broadly.
Poor corporate governance, he said, was responsible for most company failures in Africa.
The challenges of building up an asset base on a continent in which only about 2% of assets are traded are considerable. The weakness of the many stock exchanges across the continent is that most remain illiquid with little trade and few listed companies — and yet more and more countries want one. But many companies in Africa just don’t see the benefits of stock exchanges. There are multiple reasons for this. Read more ...
REFLECTIONS on the history of Africa’s two biggest economies dominated the SA-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce’s (SA-NCC) 10th-anniversary dinner in Johannesburg last week, BY DIANNA GAMES.
George Nene, a former South African ambassador to Nigeria, told guests of how his six-year sojourn in exile during apartheid was transformed into an ambassadorship when he was asked by former president Nelson Mandela to open SA’s first embassy in Nigeria in 1994.
Nene facilitated the long corporate trek to Lagos by companies such as South African Airways, MultiChoice and MTN.
The early relationship was dynamic. In 1999, the SA-Nigeria Binational Commission was formed and deputy president at the time Jacob Zuma was the lead representative in its early meetings.
In 2005, when the chamber was formed, MTN was already the market leader in Nigeria.
Its success in the market had attracted many other big household names, such as Protea Hotels.
That year, Nigerian oil company Oando listed shares on the JSE to great fanfare; Virgin Nigeria, the national airline for a time, started flights to Johannesburg.
Ten years later, investment and trade has escalated significantly. Nigeria is probably SA’s biggest trading partner in Africa and one of its biggest crude oil suppliers.
However, speakers at last week’s chamber dinner rued the fact that, at many levels, the relationship has not realised its full promise.
THE strains of former president Thabo Mbeki’s "I am an African" speech introduced the Brand Africa awards ceremony in Sandton last week, writes DIANNA GAMES.
The event was a celebration of Africa’s own initiatives, culture and excellence, but the results of a cellphone survey of 6,000 African consumers across the continent released that very night showed that consumers still prefer foreign brands by a wide margin.
Of the top 100 brands chosen by respondents as being either their most admired or most valued, just 23 were African. Admittedly, MTN did top the 2015 Top 100 list, toppling Coca-Cola from last year’s top place to third, after Samsung. But most of the top-ranked companies were from the US, the UK, Japan, France and other places.
In the "most admired" stakes, top choices were global brands Guinness, Dolce & Gabbana, Toyota, Nestle, L’Oreal and Samsung. The most valuable brands included Heineken, Zara, Toyota, Nestle, L’Oreal, Apple, Cadbury, Google, Coca-Cola, Nike and Vodafone.
The weighting of local to foreign brands has not grown significantly since Brand Africa introduced the awards in 2011, even though the number of countries covered has grown from eight to 22. Read more ...
- Published in Business Day SA, 26 October 2015. Picture: Thinkstock.
A QUESTION Nigerians often raise in discussions about SA and its West African counterpart is why there are not more Nigerian companies investing here, writes DIANNA GAMES.
Where are the Nigerian banks, the food franchises, the supermarkets and IT companies? they ask. The diplomats are particularly exercised by the trade and investment imbalance. This, they say, reflects badly on the bilateral relationship.
It is true that there are few Nigerian investments here more than 20 years after SA opened its doors to the rest of the continent. Dangote Cement has acquired a cement operation, and oil and gas company Oando has a few, largely inactive, shares listed on the JSE. But there is little else if you don’t count the many small businesses owned by Nigerians resident in this country.
Compare this with the fact that the majority of SA’s top listed companies have a presence in Nigeria. Read more ...
THE words "brave new world" have an optimistic, inspirational ring to them. But of course they are best known as the title of Aldous Huxley’s 1930s novel, which foretold a dystopian future. The phrase was first used by William Shakespeare in The Tempest, where it also carried heavy irony, writes DIANNA GAMES.
So, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s description of the United Nations (UN) sustainable development goals (SDGs) as a path to a "brave new world" had literary-minded listeners sensing that this wasn’t the most auspicious send-off for a praiseworthy initiative.
For Zimbabwe, under Mr Mugabe’s rule, has been a model of how not to run a progressive country and of how to frustrate attempts to lift people out of poverty, ignorance and poor health — in short, the opposite of the SDGs’ aims.
Yet, strip out the irony and a brave new world is precisely what the world needs right now. Read more ...
- Published in Business Day SA, 28 September 2015. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY.
SEA LEVELS are rising along the entire West African coast. UN-Habitat suggests that more than 25% of people living within 100km of this heavily populated coastline are at risk from rising seas, writes DIANNA GAMES, CEO of Africa@Work.
Bar Beach in Lagos was once a meeting place for the people of this sprawling megacity.
Informal bars stretched along the narrow belt of sand, church groups came to pray, children played in the water and touts, prostitutes and others plied their trade.
But as the relentless encroachment of the Atlantic Ocean took its toll, and all manner of methods to stop the flooding of the beach and the built-up area beyond it were put in place, they started moving off.
The beach adjoins Victoria Island, the city’s prime commercial district, where most major Nigerian and international corporations in the country have their headquarters.
Much of the island used to be a swamp that was reclaimed to enable the advance of the middle class to new areas untainted by the urban sprawl that characterises much of the older parts of the city.
The buildings along the seafront at Bar Beach are now deserted and the road in front of them bears the scars of regular flooding. Read more ...
- Published in Business Day SA, 14 September 2015.
COMMERCIAL property development seems to be surging ahead in many African markets, defying the commodity price slump and currency crises, writes DIANNA GAMES.
Speakers at last week’s Africa Property Investment Summit in Johannesburg suggested that concerns about lower commodity prices, China’s slowdown and the currency turbulence in many of the continent’s key economies have not seriously dented long-term plans for large development projects in countries such as Mauritius, Mozambique, Zambia, Nigeria and others.
The property market provides a barometer for the economic fortunes of a country. The growth of shopping malls and mixed-use developments, as well as associated infrastructure such as warehousing in Africa over the past few years, shows the confidence funders, developers and tenants have in the future of many economies. Read more ...
AUGUST in Italy is the height of the tourist season. Visiting the country last week, I was struck by the sheer volume of people thronging the historical attractions, spending money on food, drink, services, hotels, clothes and trinkets, writes DIANNA GAMES.
Airports and stations were at bursting point as visitors bustled from one popular tourist destination to another. These are volumes SA has probably come close to just once — during the 2010 Fifa World Cup — and yet Italy gets them every year, as do many other cities and attractions across the world that maximise their advantages.
Tourism is an obvious growth driver and is "prioritised" by Africa’s policy makers, yet many countries on the continent barely have any tourists, despite having extraordinary natural and historic attractions. SA is probably the leading tourist destination in Africa, followed by the Indian Ocean islands, Namibia, Kenya and a few others.
A few countries with limited infrastructure but great beaches, for example, register visitor statistics thanks to "accidental" tourists such as aid workers, nongovernmental agency staff, conference delegates and foreign workers on company contracts. But planeloads and trainloads of international holiday-makers on the scale that you see in Venice and Florence are rare.