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Central Africa: Interesting opportunities for patient investors

An open-air market in Kinshasa, DRC

An open-air market in Kinshasa, DRC

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Central Africa is a vast territory with a population of about 130 million. Although many Central African countries have lived in the investment shadow of West, East, and Southern Africa, the region does present some interesting opportunities for the patient investor with an appetite for risk.

Cameroon

“Some people think it is very difficult to do business in Cameroon. They should come and visit the country to see the many ongoing business success stories,” says Ousmanou Kouotou, country manager of DHL Express.

Agriculture represents a major business opportunity Kouotou says. The country’s full potential in the sector is yet to be realised, he feels.

Cameroon is Africa’s fourth-largest grower of cocoa and produced 232,500 tonnes in 2015. The government has ambitious plans to raise output to 600,000 tonnes by 2020, but badly needs investment in the sector.

Regional lender Ecobank notes in a recent research report that the key growth opportunity for Cameroon’s financial sector is mobile banking, which is being developed in partnership between banks and telecom companies.

“The mismatch between the high level of mobile phone penetration – estimated by the International Telecommunication Union at 78% of the population – and the low level of financial inclusion, at just 5%, indicates the huge potential mobile banking has to boost financial inclusion,” it says.

Such mobile banking technologies must encourage mobile phone-based savings and loan originations that are already available elsewhere on the continent, it adds.

Ratings agency Moody’s recently noted that Cameroon’s several targeted development plans support its enhanced growth outlook, with real GDP projected to expand by an average of about 5% over the next five years.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The bigger the population of a country, the bigger the potential market for businesspeople. This certainly applies to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with a population that’s expected to breach the 85 million mark by the end of this year.

The DRC has one of the richest mineral endowments in Africa, and recently overtook Zambia as the continent’s largest miner of copper, with estimated output of 344,000 tonnes in 2014. It is also a major producer of cobalt, tin and diamonds.

According to Ecobank, it has one producing oilfield operated by Perenco in partnership with Chevron and Teikoku Oil, with average output of 12,000 barrels per day in 2015.

“The resources and potential of DRC are enormous, but I would say tourism has the biggest growth potential right now,” says Bernard Malaba, country manager of DHL in the DRC.

“We have so many unbelievable spots all over the country, luxurious nature, and the incomparable human spirit that flows everywhere,” he adds.

The DRC’s people are integral to its identity.

“No one goes there to rest and sit in a chair for a couple of weeks,” notes gocongo.com.

“[DRC] is an experience and asks for active people who – with all respect for nature and local culture – like to learn, observe and have no objection against social contact. People who are not afraid to taste local fruit and food, not afraid to walk in the mud and accept to travel in a country without cold beer or cola,” it adds.

World-renowned chef, author and Emmy-winning television personality Anthony Bourdain – who visited the DRC in 2013 to film an episode of his Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown television show – noted that despite its many challenges, the country was “gorgeously like going back to the earliest beginnings of the world”.

The DRC has eight national parks, five of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as being home to many endangered species.

Central African Republic

The Central African Republic (CAR), a nation of about five million, is slowly emerging from the political and security strife that led to the collapse of the economy and a humanitarian crisis.

The country is a small-scale producer of diamonds, timber and cotton.

Ecobank notes that in recent months, security has improved with the presence of international forces and authorities are implementing an emergency economic reform programme, with support from donors.

The DHL country manager Paul Kom reckons this has created a window of opportunity for investment in some sectors.

But Ecobank says there are two main risks that stick out.

“The first is that conflict could erupt again, which would significantly set back the economy and social development. Meanwhile, public finances will remain under strong pressure and the government needs to keep donors ‘on side’ to maintain access to much-needed financial support to rebuild the economy. A smaller, less heightened risk arises from an external shock such as a large oil price rise or weather‑related collapse in agricultural output,” it explains.

Last month, the International Monetary Fund approved a US$115.8m three-year loan facility. CAR immediately received $17m with the balance to be phased over the duration of the arrangement, which should help the economy to grow 5% in 2016, about the same as in the previous year.

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  • The distance, climate, disease, bad governance, remoteness and ease of unhindered exploitation in central Africa regions cannot continue to serve as excuse for international investor apathy or lack of church outreach with sustained community development mentorship. A sustainable last continent needs sustainable partnerships, of integrity.

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