COVID-19 Africa Watch talks to Senior Director of the Africa Investment Forum, Chinelo Anohu, about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the AIF’s approach and the overall investment landscape across the continent.
Below are some of the main takeaways from COVID-19 Africa Watch’s conversation with Chinelo Anohu, Senior Director of the Africa Investment Forum (AIF), an investment marketplace, established by the African Development Bank and its partners, that aims to close the continent’s investment gaps, through advancing projects to bankable stages, raising capital, and accelerating the financial closure of deals.
- To increase investment resilience and particularly since the pandemic hit, AIF has increased its focus on harnessing domestic investments in addition to foreign investments, for more collaborative and long-lasting investment partnerships in Africa.
- There is a general reluctance from international investors to deploy capital in Africa, and conversations around “de-risking” only address part of the problem. Much of the reluctance stems not from actual risk, but from the lack of adequate data for making informed decisions on investment.
- Sustainability standards will be key to both ensuring the long-term value of investments and attracting ESG-conscious investors to the continent.
- One of the key lessons for Africa of the current pandemic has been the extent of the continent’s dependency on imports from other regions. This has triggered a paradigm shift, and the conversation has changed from making imports more affordable and reducing import duties, to manufacturing more goods domestically. And this includes the manufacturing of vaccines.
The interview was conducted by Euphemia Gbadee Swen-Monmia, who is Deputy Director of the Financial Markets Department at the Central Bank of Liberia, and is an IFC-Milken Institute Capital Market Scholar. A transcript is available below.
Hello and welcome to COVID-19 Africa Watch. My name is Euphemia Gbadee Swen-Monmia. I’m the Deputy Director of the Financial Markets Department at the Central Bank of Liberia and an alumnus of the IFC Milken Institute Capital Markets Program. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Ms. Chinelo Anohu, who is Senior Director of the Africa Investment Forum (AIF). The Senior Director is focused on coalescing international and domestic capital to finance innovative projects in Africa, with passion for ESG investing. Ms. Anohu, thanks so much for being here with us today.
Thank you very much, Euphemia. It’s my pleasure to join you in this series.
Over a year ago already, African countries recorded their first COVID-19 cases. To start our conversation, can you tell us more about how this has affected the AIF? And to what extent can your organization play a role in the recovery of African economies?
Thanks very much for that question. As you know, COVID-19 hit everyone everywhere. There is no one on the face of the earth who wasn’t affected by the pandemic, and the African Investment Forum wasn’t left out in that. And, perhaps, I should just tell you a little bit more about what the Africa Investment Forum is. This was an initiative started by the African Development Bank in conjunction with seven other founding partners. And basically, the aim of this bold initiative was to assist in raising capital for projects, preparing projects for bankability, and accelerating the pace of financial closures for deals. This was starting in 2018 and we’ve had two ‘Market Days’ since then, in 2018 and 2019. And, yes, COVID-19 prevented us from doing holding the 2020 Market Days because normally, for the past two events, this was held in South Africa. So we struck that down.
But the work continues. Because the Africa Investment Forum is about curating bankable deals, and making sure that deals that can affect the continent in a transformational manner happen.
So good work is being done by the AIF. And when we’re reading through media reports of African countries on their response to the pandemic, some of the key takeaways tend to revolve around two main concepts: resilience and sustainability. To what extent has this affected investor appetite or helped specific opportunities emerge?
Well, I love these two words: resilience and sustainability. Because on the African continent, whether we like it or not, these are the two key words that we must latch on to, post-COVID-19. And even pre-COVID-19, because the African spirit is that of a resilient one: we rise and emerge despite the huge headwinds that may befall us in everything we do.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been quite an eye-opener for many of the investing public on the continent. What we see very clearly is that we must be a little less dependent on external factors for investment and improvement. It’s more now of an inward gaze into what you can do by yourself. We focus now, at AIF, not just on attracting foreign investors, but also sourcing domestic investors, so that when we are dealing with foreign investors, it’s more like a partnership. We’re asking them to come to a field that we’ve already set up, a play that is already ongoing, and it becomes a more collaborative effort.
As for sustainability, there’s a lot that hasn’t been done in Africa, a lot of infrastructure that hasn’t happened. And it doesn’t hurt to start thinking more of the sustainability principles in getting all of this done and deciding not just to ignore it, because today’s environmental challenges are not of our making, but we need to embed sustainability into what is going on now. And I’m happy to say that at AIF, this is a very key pillar in what we’re trying to do.
Thank you. And it was good hearing you talking about not just harnessing international investment, but looking also at domestic investment to help develop Africa, or looking at the infrastructure needs of the continent. What are your perspectives on the investment landscape in Africa?
Well, you’re talking to someone who’s highly optimistic about the investment. You sense a lot of negativity when you talk about investing in Africa, and there’s a lot of emphasis on making it easy for people to invest in Africa. The de-risking concept is very important, but I’m also of the opinion that it shouldn’t be at the forefront of what you’re looking for. Things are highly risky when we don’t understand those risks. There’s not enough accurate data on the continent to inform guesses or inform decisions based on return on investment. And no matter how much a CEO and investor wants to invest in a project, he or she is going to run those numbers. And if they don’t add up, there will be some level of reluctance.
This is where the AIF comes in. This initiative arose from African Development Bank, which has an excellent reach, and an excellent research department that is able to bring data to the table. AIF can rely on this huge, vast information on countries, on their policies, on their investment, their weaknesses and their strengths to distill this into manageable, bite-sized pieces for investors. So we will take the hard work off of investors and make it easy for them to get the data they’re looking for, to make an informed decision. And we are also focusing on feasibility studies, which are sort of intertwined with this data, because what you find is that many of the projects that come to us simply don’t put enough effort into getting the feasibility studies done to the standard that is required for both domestic investors and international investors.
You talked about feasibility studies where we’re trying to see whether projects are feasible for AIF to fund. Now, going back to the COVID-19, in your opinion, what lessons have we learned from the coronavirus pandemic and how can those be factored into feasibility studies that are coming up now?
We’re still learning, and we will continue to learn because COVID-19 is so devastating and so impactful that we don’t think the learning period is over.
“The pandemic drove home to the continent the level of dependency on everything.”
But one thing that is brought to the fore is the need to look inwards. That is, for the continent, for AIF, for every investor or project supervisor – the need to see what can be done, where you are right at this point and what you could do to improve the larger way of living. For instance, the pandemic drove home to the continent the level of dependency on everything. That everything, down to even the food that we would produce on the continent, would have to come back in from outside of the continent to be able to be utilized in the manner we are used to.
And that drove home a complete paradigm shift in our focus. Before we would be talking about how do we improve the import duty, or increase the export duty? Right now, the conversation has somewhat shifted to: how do we manufacture these things on the continent? How do we increase our value chain to include agri-business, from growth to usage? What do we do? How do we bring it on the continent?
And the entire office is working from home. If you didn’t have online infrastructure, working from home would have been impossible. So manufacturing, agri-business, and telecommunications infrastructure are some of the sectors that have come up and that we are focusing on.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the African Investment Forum curated about 15 deals, nearly US$4 billion worth of deals. And these were focused on infrastructure, healthcare, manufacturing, across the spectrum. And for healthcare – of course, apart from the physical healthcare structures, of which we do not have enough, because of the size of the continent – we are also curating some telemedicine projects that will let you access the best doctors continent-wide, globally, without leaving your home.
And on that note, you talk about manufacturing and doing things in Africa. So permit me to bring you back to this idea of sustainability. Do you believe this has provided us with an opportunity to reconsider the way the continent develops, by integrating ESG indicators as key criteria of investors’ decisions, for example?
Absolutely. Thanks, Euphemia, for bringing that up, because there’s a lot of debate in this. We ensure that every project in our platform has all of these elements of a green bond, a green investment, greening the entire platform. So that it takes as a given that we have climate-proofed our investments, we have ensured that we’re focusing on what is sustainable for the planet, because we are already suffering a lot from the effects of climate change. Even though we don’t contribute proportionately to the course of it, why do we want to add to that? Why can’t we do things differently? We’re focusing on renewable energy, we’re doing better. So I don’t think that this is something that we will need to de-emphasize. There is absolute need to bring the ESG factors down to the continent.
And currently, at AIF we’re working on an index, an African Investment Principles Sustainability Index, which will of course take into cognizance that which already exists globally and take the best practice, but domicile it in the continent so that it is fit for purpose, so that it serves the continent rather than merely adopting principles hook, line, and sinker from other countries that might not serve the continent.
And of course, with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement already in operation, the next six months will be focused on these investment principles. And the AIF is positioned to assist in that and to bring in sovereigns and investors to have a meaningful dialogue about investment principles that would contain all of this, that will contain the ESG factors, that will make Africa use the best practices.
We’ve also just finalized a vaccine project in Kenya. Yesterday was Ebola, today is COVID-19, tomorrow we don’t know what might come. So we need to put a vaccine plant, several plants in Africa, so that we can quickly pivot to whatever it is we need to address at the time. Yes, we are very, very passionate about the ESG principles and the entire sustainability and resilience conversation playing out in the transactions that AIF handles.
On this note, we have come to the end of this conversation. The Milken Institute and I thank you again for these wonderful insights. Please keep up the great work. Goodbye and stay safe.
Thank you very much, Euphemia. And thank you again, to the Milken Institute.