Euvin Naidoo: Africa as an investment

Welcome to Africa! Or rather, I should say, welcome home. Because this is where it all really began, isn’t it? Looking at fossils dating back several millions of years — it all points to evidence that life for the human species as we know it began right here. We are on an amazing journey the next four days. You’re going to hear stories of “Africa: The Next Chapter.” Fantastic tales, anecdotes from speakers. But I want to turn that upside down for a moment, and get something out on the table and clear the air so to say. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard about Africa? And this is not a rhetorical question. I actually want answers from you. Go for it! The worst. Famine. Corruption. More. Genocide. AIDS. Slavery. That’s enough. We’ve all heard these things. But this is about Africa, the story we have not heard. The stories that we want to know, and the stories that do exist about positive tales. A part of my talk is going to be about investment opportunities that exist on this continent, to separate the rhetoric from the reality, the fact from the fiction. To go to the actual data and statistics that exist about the actual things that are happening on the ground that make Africa a realistic investment opportunity and option for you. So let’s get going because Africa, to some degree, is on a turnaround. A turnaround in terms of how it manages its image, and how it takes control of its own destiny. And turnarounds are part and parcel of what I have focused on for most of my professional career. And it all started almost a decade ago, as a young consultant at McKinsey & Company at their first African office in Johannesburg. And there we worked with leading CEOs on African issues, and African companies on turnarounds, making the companies not just the best in Africa but the best globally. But I really formalized this focus on turnarounds when I was completing my MBA in the United States. It all began with a fantastic phone call. It was from Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School guru and a professor of mine. And she said, “I want to write a case, Euvin — a case on a public-sector leader that has lessons for the corporate world.” And the leader that came to mind was Nelson Mandela. Because Nelson Mandela, as he took over power as the first democratically-elected president of South Africa, faced a situation of a country that could have slid into the abyss of chaos. But he started the country on a path of a positive cycle. Now the case, “Nelson Mandela: Change Leader,” became part of the research base for a chapter in Rosabeth’s new book called “Confidence.” And “Confidence” became a New York Times bestseller and topped Business Week’s hardcover bestseller list. And why I tell you this story is because later, when I was interviewed on SABC Africa, on a pan-African broadcast, they asked, “What is your key lesson, or the key thing you enjoy the most?” — because it was a huge privilege to be part of such a project. The lesson from that was that it was Africa — an African story — that was used to share news with the rest of the world of what the benchmark can be for corporate turnarounds. Africa was being used as a success story! So I want to share with you a personal story about a turnaround or a transformation. And that has to do with me because in 1994, I packed a few things into a backpack and headed off for a year of travel in the middle of my university career. You should have seen my parents’ reaction! (Laughter) But very soon, I found myself from the southern part of Africa, in South Africa — at the very north, in Egypt. And I sought out the most remote places. I went to the Siwa Oasis. That was one of my stops. And the Siwa Oasis is famous for several things, but the key thing is that it was the place that Alexander the Great went to when he wanted to find out what his destiny had in store for him. And legend has it that Alexander trekked through this desert. Half his battalion was wiped out in the sandstorm. And myth says that he had an audience with the oracle, and it foretold his destiny of greatness. This was 300 BC. So Africa had long been seen as a place to go to for answers. Now, the thing I remember about Siwa was the magical view of the sky at night. With no natural light source, Siva is one of these amazing places that when you look up you see a perfect tapestry. Fast forward to 2002. I’m sitting in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the Healthcare Development Conference. And I see the same picture, but from the opposite side. A satellite picture looking down at the earth. And it was that picture that made such a profound impact on me because I’ll never forget it. I remember the very moment. And I wanted to share that image with you of what I saw at that point. The first thing that I saw was North America at night — glowing, in all its glory. A warm feeling. Light. And then I saw it — Africa. Quite literally the “Dark Continent.” And while Africa may be dark, the thing that brought the message home to me was that this is the challenge we are facing, but it’s also the opportunity. Because whilst Africa may be dark — other than the few specks that exist north and in the south and other areas — it’s aglow with the light in the hearts of the millions of people that are there. Entrepreneurs, dynamic people, people with hope. It was George Kimble, the geographer, who said that, “The only thing dark about Africa is our ignorance of it.” So let’s start shedding light on this amazing eclectic continent that has so much to offer. Let’s start unpacking it. Africa is the second-largest continent, a landmass second from Asia. It also is the second most populated continent, with 900 million people. In fact — coming back to the land mass — Africa is so big that you could fit in the continental United States, China, and the entire Europe into Africa, and still have space. Africa is home to over 1,000 languages — 2,000 is another estimate that’s out there — with over 2,000 languages and dialects. But you could say, “Invest in Africa in over 1,000 languages, and it wouldn’t make a difference.” What does the data say? As an investment banker, I’m in the cross-flow of information and the changes that are taking place in capital markets. So I want to share with you some of these bellwether signals, or signs, and winds of change that are sweeping this continent. So let’s start on that. And let’s start at the high level, on the macro-factors. Inflation, in general, is coming down across Africa — that’s the first sign — in many countries reaching double-digit figures. So let’s start looking at some of those. I call it my Z.E.N. cluster. Zambia: from 2004 to 2006, moves from the 18 percent in inflation to the nine percent. Egypt: from the 16 percent to about 8.4 percent. Nigeria: a similar situation, from the 16 percent to the eight percent. Single digits. More fascinating, you have other countries — South Africa, Mauritius, Namibia — all in single digits. But that’s just part of the story. You have a similar trend with currencies — currencies going through an extreme time of stability. But that’s looking at the big picture. And the first myth to dispel is that Africa is not a country. It’s made up — (Applause) It’s made up of 53 different countries. So the very definition — to say “invest in Africa” is a no-go. It’s meaningless. Each country has a unique value proposition. You can make money, you can lose money in Africa. But opportunities, boy oh boy, they exist. And this is what today is about — it’s about discussing those very opportunities. So let’s start getting into the countries and into the specific material and data. I was recently elected, as Emeka mentioned, as the President of the South African Chamber of Commerce in America. And I’m very proud and happy to be in that role because it is a fascinating position to be in. To hear this dialogue that’s just increasing in tenor and velocity, of decisions about trade and companies wanting to come. So the first port of call: let’s talk a little bit about South Africa. But not the South Africa we always talk about — the gold, the minerals, the First World infrastructure — a bit about the other side of it. For example, South Africa was recently voted as the top destination for the top 1,000 UK companies for offshore call-centers. Same language, timeline, et cetera. Makes sense. Other headlines that have recently reached South Africa were Bain Capital and KKR, the big boys of private equity. Headline in South Africa: “They have landed.” Quite ominous. But what were they there for? To acquire assets. Bing Capital’s acquisition of Edcon, a large retailer, is testimony to the confidence they are starting to place in the economy. Because it is actually a long-term play. Being a retailer, it is a play on the belief that this middle-class that’s growing will continue to grow, that the boom and the confidence in consumer spending will continue. But the story of Africa, and my focus, is beyond South Africa because there’s so much happening. Undoubtedly, Nigeria is clearly a hot spot. Challenges — and we will hear a lot about Nigeria in these four days. But looking at Goldman Sachs’ work — we had the famous BRIC Report. The new report, “The Next Eleven,” highlights that by 2020 Nigeria is going to be amongst the top 10 economies in the world. It’s an investment opportunity. Think about that. Is anyone — our banks, our investors — seriously thinking about going to Nigeria? If you haven’t, why not? What’s going on in Nigeria? A couple of things. I want to talk about it from the perspective of capital markets. Bellwether signs again. Guarantee Trust Bank recently issued the first Euro Bond out of Africa, and this excludes South Africa. But the first Eurobond, the raising of international capital offshore, off its own balance sheet, without any sovereign backing — that is an indication of the confidence that is taking place in that economy. Without any sovereign backing, a Nigerian company raising capital offshore. It’s just a sign of things to come. Looking at the oil industry, Africa provides 18 percent of the U.S.’s oil supply, with the Middle East just 16 percent. It’s an important strategic partner. Let’s put Nigeria in perspective. 2.2 to 2.4 million barrels of oil a day — the same league as Kuwait, the same league as Venezuela. But with Africa, let’s start being careful about this. And Emeka and I have had these discussions. We have to move away from what’s called “the curse of the commodities.” Because it’s not about oil, it’s not about commodities. For Africa to truly be sustainable, we have to move beyond to other industries. So let’s unpack those very quickly, and I’m going to move through these very, very, very fast because I can see that clock counting down. What else is going on there? Egypt. Egypt is launching a first large industrial zone — 2.8 billion investment. The announcement just came out the last few weeks. Close to the Mediterranean, near Alexandria — textiles, petrochemicals. It’s being managed by a Singaporean-based management company. So they want to emerge as an industrial powerhouse across the industries — away from oil. Let’s look at agriculture. Let’s look at forestry. What’s going on there? In Tanzania last week, we had the launch of the East African Organic Produce Standard. Again, gathering together farmers, gathering together stakeholders in East Africa to get standards for organic produce. Better prices. It ties in with small-scale farmers in terms of no pesticides, no fertilizers. Again, opportunity to tackle markets to get that higher price. Uganda: the New Forest Company, replanting and redeveloping their forests. Why is that important? As the energy needs are met and electricity is needed [we will need] poles for rolling out electricity. But here is the sweetener in the deal. They’re going to be tapping into carbon credits. Let’s go back to Nigeria. The banking sector has undergone tremendous transformation, from over 80 banks to 25 banks. Strengthening of the system. But what’s going on there? Only 10 percent of the country is banked. The largest population in Africa is in Nigeria. 135 million-plus people. Think about that. There are only 700 ATMs in the country. Opportunity. The same for telecoms across the country. Now let’s look at the continent as a whole. People look at the roads, for example, and they’d say, “Angola: 90 percent of roads are untarred. Ah, problem!” It’s more expensive to transport goods. Prices of goods go up, inflation is affected. Nigeria: 70 percent of roads are untarred. Zambia: 80 percent. In general, more than 50 percent of roads are untarred. This is an opportunity! Energy needs — it’s an opportunity. So what are the signs that things are fundamentally changing? Let’s look at the stock markets in Africa. If I had to ask you, “In 2005 what was the best performing stock market or stock exchange in the world?” Would Egypt come to mind? In 2005, the Egyptian stock exchange returned over 145 percent. What’s going on in some of the other countries? Let’s look at some 2006 numbers. Kenya: over 60 percent. Nigeria: over 40 percent. South Africa: in the 20 percents. High ones. These are the trends that are taking place. But in any investment decision, the key question is, “What is my alternative investment?” Because in Africa today, we are competing globally for capital. And global capital is agnostic — it has no loyalties. There’s an overhang of capital in the U.S., and the key is yield pickup. What Africa is providing is a diversification play, and also opportunities for yield pickup for the investor that’s aware of what he or she is doing. Now, when looking at Africa vis-a-vis other things, and countries in Africa vis-a-vis other things, comparisons become important. 10 years ago there, were very few countries that received sovereign ratings from the Standard & Poors, Moody’s and Fitch’s. Today, 16 African countries and growing have sovereign country ratings. What does this mean? Take Nigeria again: double B-minus — in the league of Ukraine and Turkey. Immediately we have a comparison. The backbone of making investment decisions for global holders of capital. Some other figures. South Africa: triple B-plus. Botswana: A-plus. Bakino Faso: B-minus. And so on. In fact, one of the big agencies is setting up an office in Africa. Why are they doing that? Because they expect investment to follow. So one of the big bellwethers, and one of my final points I want to mention, is the interesting thing I read is that CNBC has launched their first African channel. Why is CNBC doing this? It’s the 24-hour rolling African news channel. They’re doing it because they are expecting things to happen. Me and you, the investments we are going to be making, the investments the world is going to be making — that’s the 24-hour news channel dedicated to Africa. So that’s the change that’s coming down the pipeline. So in conclusion, I want to turn back to that very slide that made such a deep impact on me all those years ago. This time [I’ll] give you the entire picture that I saw in 2002, and ask you that when you think about what your role can be in Africa, think about your journey in terms of bringing light to this continent. Because there are amazing opportunities available. And think about the concept of transformation in the back of your mind because things can be turned around rather quickly. In 1899, Joseph Conrad released “The Heart of Darkness,” a tale of grim horror along the Congo River. If one looks carefully, on the Congo River is one of those bright lights. And that’s the very Congo river generating light — the old heart of darkness now generating light with hydro-electric power. That is a transformation in power of ideas. So the next step, over the next four days, is us exploring more of these ideas. And perchance, if you can always keep this picture in your mind, that when we convene maybe in the distant future, in 2020, that picture will look very different. Thank you. (Applause)

Paul Whisler


  1. a great talk, africa has problems, but there are solutions. i dont like it when people fall into the trap and try to offer solutions for all africa and ignore how different the different areas and cultures and gouvernments in africa look. some countries need food or peace the most, essential basic help is needed here, others dont have these problems and need some help in starting economy, and some countries are ready to compete in global financial markets and need the opportunity to do it.

  2. great video! gives a MUCH brighter picture of africa then i realized! there may be a way after all!

  3. Africa is a place of great opportunity…


    For the holders of global capital (=bankers!), not for the AFRICANS! It used to be called COLONIZATION, now it's called CAPITALIST IMPERIALISM! So let's forget famine, slavery and AIDS and focus on bringing more ATM machines to african people, so they too can become slaves to our global fractional-reserve-debt-based banking system even more than they already are! Fuck YEAH!!!

  4. One of the main, no the main mean to bringing africa out of poverty, famine and so on. Is a good economy, money! So how is investing in africa a bad thing? ;)This has nothing to do with colonization.

  5. It is a very nice speech but how come he doesn't say a word about Ghana? I ask this because he is always talking about other African countries like Nigeria,South Africa,Botswana and Egypt.

  6. Perhaps the most important web connection I've come across all year. ~Thanks to Tom, tlg847

  7. I guess this means you could make as informed a speech about the entire continent of Africa, within 20 minutes, and not leave out a single country within it? ~Goood showw then!

    I think he did splendidly myself:)

  8. Africa is resource rich so they will stay poor. The U.S. will exploit them for oil and diamonds while backing dictators. There are forces at work too strong to fix with simple aid.

  9. Most excellent intro to Africa and the various countries therein. Kudos to TED and Euvin Naidoo for bringing critical focus to Africa and its emerging role in global business integration and sustainable development. 🙂

  10. What Africa seriously needs to do is nationalize all our resources so that WE sell our stuff, and WE reap the benefits and WE build up our countries, because the ppl that own everything and mine our lands dont give a damn about us or our standard of living. Its the only way that the richest continent in terms of mineral wealth will be somewhat comparable to the rest of the continents.

  11. What Africa seriously needs to do is nationalize all our resources so that WE sell our stuff, and WE reap the benefits and WE build up our countries, because the ppl that own everything and mine our lands dont give a damn about us or our standard of living. Its the only way that the richest continent in terms of mineral wealth will be somewhat comparable to the rest of the continents.

  12. This man is selling cheap labor, consumers, souls to 'foreign' investors and debt. No?

    Does no one dare to ask what made forestry in Uganda possible? 'Qui bono'

    "Only serious reply's please"

  13. 'Alternative'?!?… Isn't 'foreign' not the alternative of what is supposed to be?

    My suggestion would be: "us must trust us tusting us"

    "Trust me, that is THE soulution"

  14. Nonsense. We ought to stop thinking like this. 'They' banking DOES NOT WORK!!!
    The financial industry is just outsourcing the dept collecting to western citisens / investors / entrepenors.
    Whitey is as misseducated as 'we' are.

    NO FOREIGN INVESTORS (none else but diasporians) PERIOD

  15. What does 'none but diasporians' tell you, and why do you think it just shows up in my previous comment?… ('sigh'… Am I that smart or are you that desperate to make a point on my account?)

    It seems you lack the experience Africa has with foreighn investors.
    Pan Africanism is not working as long as our sweat and tears are transfered to tax money behind enemy lines. Realise that there are folks that NEED nationalism to survive. NOW!
    There is a gap to overcome tho. A nation.
    United we stand.

  16. All I read off your hands is echo's from corporate sponsored media.

    Sleep tight. Stop wasting my time.
    If I was done knowing what you typed in here, I'd be on the couch every night watching TV.
    Only after a couple of drinks in at the bar, I'd pobably think it was smart to repeat after mainstream media.

    The religion that is breaking everything up is WARship of tarot cards called 'dollar'.

  17. I got my answer: "you are desperate to make a point."

    "keep it to the on off toggle of your remote"

  18. Dude. You got a brain to store all you read… havent you got the guts to use that brain?… for you.

    Becouse now you are wasting my and your time. I don't know Africa from books, FOOL.

    "I AM AFRICAN one that doesn't sleep"

  19. stop bla-bla-ing.

    You are a good laugh to inquired minds with eyes and a heart.

    "tss tss tsssss"

  20. OMG! (LOL)
    I remember this conversation again! I wasn't supposed to answer you again because all my arguments and your shallowness are (still) there for all to read.

    I sank to your rank, damn it!

    "Shoot me"

  21. No stay in America its good for u 😉 u gonna catch AIDS lol fools its booming in Africa all banks are moving there business there.

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