Call it cliché, but opportunities in Africa abound, says Alain Mangion, CEO of Malta-based Credinvest International. First, however, a word of caution: the name Africa is itself a misnomer as this beautiful continent is actually as much a melting pot of diverse cultures, norms and business practices as you will ever find in any.
That said, no matter the culture, legal framework or geography, the common thread is indeed that opportunities abound. Consumer products, financial services, engineering, construction, real estate, all these sectors and several others do provide exciting pastures.
"We Maltese have always been entrepreneurial and innovative in business– and there are clear indications that a considerable number of firms have outgrown our market for quite a while."
The Firm is now working across Africa from West to East, North(ish) to South – Senegal to Kenya, Ethiopia to Botswana, and continues to advise and support Governments on projects from inception to implementation.
“We focus on different sectors according to clients’ requirements: healthcare in Senegal, transportation in Nigeria, housing accommodation for students and state employees in Botswana. It is easily conceivable that the multiplier effect of these investments will also go a long way towards full economic recovery in a post covid scenario.”
Challenges are ever-present, but is any market without risks? For consumer products, there may be a hard currency shortage to address, but you would find international forex management firms which could handle the exchange, albeit at rates short of the official ones. Ensuring transactions with partners in loco always through the main local banks always provides additional comfort against non-payment risks.
Digitalisation is on the doorstep, too. “I am always so impressed by the resounding success of M-Pesa in Kenya and other countries – launched way back in 2007, would that make it the world’s first digital currency? Possibly.” For many years, across the continent, several households reaching for telecommunications actually skipped the landline altogether and went straight to mobile. The pattern is likely to repeat itself with digital payment platforms, phone apps and so on.
Competition is fierce and firms often achieve pricing models in line with disposable incomes, by entering into local licencing agreements or franchises.
“I am often asked, is it safe? Personally, I have been to different African countries almost 20 times, and have never ever been in any danger at all. Quite the contrary, I enjoy several warm friendships and lasting memories which accompany them. We are partners at the same table, sharing the same fruits. Speaking of which, the cuisine in these parts of the world is a treat you won’t easily forget.”
Alain adds a call to a Maltese approach to African business: “I do feel it is time for us here in Malta to resurrect the export credit service. Across the EU, today, you see export credit agencies from the newer members, as we are, offering financing or insurance packages, or a combination of the two, to their home firms wishing to contract in Africa. The mechanisms follow the OECD rules assessing various country risks, but the offering of competitive financing to accompany services, will be key to carving out our niche in the face of competition, notably from Asia. We build roads here, do we not? So why should we not be building a few across the water far South?”