Are investors missing out on sub-Sahara Africa?
Africa's improvements have created thriving markets. US firms should enter this last great investment frontier.
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Despite the headlines in Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Congo, the great majority of African countries enjoy thriving democracies and stability, with governments that have earned public confidence through audited elections. Last year more than 54 million Africans voted in 19 peaceful presidential and parliamentary contests.Skip to next paragraph
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The result? Real economic growth in 2 out of 5 sub-Saharan countries was triple that of the US economy last year, on a pace that rivals that of Southeast Asia in 1980. African economies from Senegal to Benin to the Democratic Republic of Congo are more diversified. Growth in the region is expected to hit 6.5 percent this year.
To be sure, there are still serious risks, challenges, and constraints for smart money to navigate: shortages of electricity and skilled talent; countries where reforms are fragile and postconflict governments less secure. Successful investors and entrepreneurs enter these markets aware that differences in culture and shortages of investor-ready information and institutional capacity put a premium on patience and collaboration. There is no substitute for due diligence.
But help is available. By working with USAID, American firms can help shape programs that serve both the aspirations of Africa's citizens and the interests of investors. Most African governments have streamlined business registrations and launched one-stop shops to help potential investors.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation makes loans of up to $250 million for projects in emerging markets. The Millennium Challenge Corporation provides powerful incentives to countries promoting good governance. And for US exporters, the Trade Information Center offers targeted country and market research as well as counseling and export assistance centers.
This growth story is in its first chapter, much as Asia's was three decades ago, with all of the attendant risks and potential rewards. Investors worldwide are aggressively entering and operating in sub-Saharan Africa as the last great investment frontier. American firms should take a much closer look.
Alonzo Fulgham is serving as acting administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID).