By: Anthony Sedzro
In 2016, all major predictions went awry. Brexit happened and Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States of America. Then, there is reported slowdown of China’s economy. Early signals show Donald Trump is psyched to focus on the American economy which implies that Africa may not be a priority in the Trump administration. This combined with a “weakened EU”, if UK exits, may also affect the size of aid to Africa. Then, there is the potential of Marie Le Pen becoming the new President of France which will signal another move from centre left and centre right policies to far right nationalist policies. This may impact on Francophone Africa not so positively.
Africa is at the receiving end of these major events happening outside Africa. The key concern is how these major shifts and global events affect the business opportunities in Africa in 2017?
David Ofosu-Dorte, the Senior Partner of AB & David, in his presentation on the topic ‘Unexpected events: Africa impact’, pointed out the various global economic and political events and their impact on Africa as a whole. He talked about signals of American protectionism, and the fall in world commodity prices and its subsequent impact on some African economies. He also highlighted the likelihood of a presidential transition in France, China’s increasing trade in Africa, and Japan’s pledge to give Africa US$30 billion in the next three years. Discussing the impact of these global events, Tony Oteng-Gyasi, a panellist and the CEO of Tropical Cable and Conductor Limited, a cable and steel manufacturing company in Accra, said Brexit is of interest to Ghana and Africa but its impact will be seen more in the next two years. On Donald Trump’s protectionist policies, he said African countries must study the American president’s personality and find out what makes him tick as he could actually help Africa. Oteng-Gyasi said Trump’s protectionist policies could help fight World Trade Organisation (WTO’s) rules which have been unfair to Africa and contributing to the continent’s lingering poverty.
Regarding anti-immigration sentiment that post-Brexit and Trump have generated, Oteng-Gyasi asserted that if Ghanaians abroad do return home because of anti-immigration policies, the country’s manufacturing sector could benefit because their skills, attitude and work ethic is priceless.
Olufemi Sunmonu, Managing Partner of Femi Sunmonu & Associates, Nigeria, said the impact of these global events would be significant. Sunmonu said Nigeria and Ghana do not seem prepared despite the substantial amount of human capital they possess and that both countries always wait for policies to be drawn up by the West before they react. He said Trump’s administration presents big opportunities for Africa but he could also reduce taxes which might attract some American companies to move business back to the USA. On China, he said most of Africa’s trade is basic and we don’t have enough capacity to compete with China to re-balance our trade with the world’s second biggest economy.
Andrew Skipper, Partner and Head of Africa, Hogan Lovells LLP, a reputable law firm in London, said that the Brexit result and the Trump election are not likely to have a massive impact on Africa. On China’s Trade with Africa, Skipper said China is seen as monolithic so its trade with the continent will be impactful.
The annual conference, titled Crystal Ball Africa 2017, with the theme “The Africa Opportunity & The Solutions Looking for Problems”, was held at the Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City in Accra from January 11-12. Although headquartered in Ghana, AB & David has grown into an Africa-wide law firm with branches in many countries. The conference had participants from the law firm’s branches and partner firms across Africa, notably Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Nigeria, and Liberia. The well-attended conference also had participants coming from all over the world.
The two-day event, which was the 4th edition since inception, afforded attendees the opportunity to meet with key decision makers, sector regulators, government officials, project sponsors, financiers, business lawyers, Africa experts, top business executives and others. Aside speeches by key business people, there were also panel discussions and networking sessions.
The Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana in his presentation on the topic “Monetary Policy-2017- What Are The Key Policies Expected” noted in his speech:“…It is projected that the Eurozone will be out of recession in 2017 due to easier fiscal policy. Some growth is also expected in Japan, Sweden, Norway, Canada and Australia. The growth spots in emerging markets and developing economies include the BRICS and Nigeria. It is projected that the recession in countries such as Brazil, Nigeria and Russia in 2016 will wane in 2017 and more than make up for the steady slowdown in growth in China,”.
“Other challenges that the global economy may face include uncertainties emanating from the political fallout from Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump in the United States with its attendant geopolitical tensions across the globe.” These are some of the known external factors expected to influence the central bank’s policy direction for 2017.
“These developments in the global economy and the challenges that may come with them are likely to define domestic macroeconomic policy and the stance of monetary policy in 2017,” Dr Asiama added.
In her welcome address, Isabel Boaten, the Managing Partner of AB & David said that Africa is much more than is depicted in the international press. Africa is a continent of opportunity and AB & David has been helping businesses to take advantage of these opportunities, she says.
“It is our deep belief that no one can tell the full narrative of Africa better than the Africans who live and do business here; we have great ideas and we need to put more energy to implement them within the framework and idiosyncrasies of the continent,” Isabel Boaten noted.
“The solution is the opportunity that Africa offers; it is our desire and privilege to help conceptualise and actualise this opportunity.”
As the law firm itself has grown over the years to have a pan-African footprint, the need to provide a forum to highlight those opportunities for businesses led AB & David to establish the Crystal Ball Africa conference in 2014, Boaten says.
Many of the participants shared their impressions of the conferences and what investment opportunities exist in their various countries. Patrick Jonhera is a Partner at Zimbabwe’s Winterton’s Legal Practitioners and he shares his view.
“Firstly, we are best friends with AB & David Africa, Ghana and, secondly, I think this conference is part of the ‘Africa Rising’ story. Anyone who is interested in the Africa Rising story ought and must be in this conference. The importance of conferences like this is that it allows Africans to share best practices and for participants to compare notes of what is happening on the continent and how to address some of the challenges that the continent faces,” Jonhera says.
A participant (in green, with microphone) asking a question at the conference.
Zimbabwe is mostly in the news regarding politics and its president, Robert Mugabe. But according to Jonhera, this should not be so.
“The narrative on Zimbabwe on most cases is on politics and, not just politics, but on our president which I think is sad. There are lots of things happening in Zimbabwe, a lot of new, diverse businesses. You would look at the emergence of agency banking as an innovation within the financial services sector which has also impacted on the community in the sense that it aids financial inclusion and the ease of doing business”, Jonhera says.
The Southern African country of Botswana is known for its strong democracy and business-friendly environment.
Yvonne Kose Chilume, Partner, AB & David Botswana also observed “The conference has been quite inspirational and very enlightening. The presentations on the various topics were very informative and relevant for a lawyer in these changing times. The panel and presentations ranging from branding, Independent Power Producers (IPPS), intellectual property, innovation, the environment, natural resources, are emerging areas that one needs to update themselves on, you know. The whole global trend on what one is to expect”.
From Liberia J. Awia Vankan, lawyer and Senior Associate of Heritage Partners & Associates in Monrovia, an Associate Member of AB & David observed:
“First, our firm, Heritage Partners and Associates, is an Associate Member of AB & David Africa, and the Crystal Ball conference is an opportunity for the members from the various jurisdictions to converge and meet with one another. The second reason why I participated is to get some insights on investment opportunities in Africa and how we can prepare our firm to benefit from the investment activities by making our services marketable, visible and reliable. Indeed, the Crystal Ball Africa 2017 truly provided this opportunity,” Vankan says.
With Liberia recovering from the Ebola crisis that hit the country a few years ago, Vankan said investment opportunities abound.
“Liberia has many investment opportunities. Beginning from agro-processing and manufacturing (which is a priority area for the government) to infrastructure (real estate), to energy; the country is open to investors who may wish to explore the opportunities, either by themselves or through public-private partnerships with the government,” he added.
Speaking to the GB&F after the conference, David Ofosu-Dorte explained the rationale for the conference.
“The event was originally for our clients only, to bring them at par with what is emerging on the continent, the business opportunities, changing legislation so that they don’t get taken unawares; now it has grown beyond our clients to a forum for local and international businesses, professionals, policy makers and regulators to understand the opportunities on the continent they can take advantage of. The different countries represented–(Switzerland, Netherlands, Nigeria, the UK, USA, Japan, Liberia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia) shows the international appeal of the annual conference.” He added that “the conference is held in January each year so businesses can plan for the year, taking into account some of the things we learn here”. Asked about what goes into the choice of topics into the conference, he explained. “You would notice that we had PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Ernst & Young, Deloitte & Touche, Cynergy Global all here.
“We speak to our clients and speak to various advisors of businesses. We speak to all these people and business associations including Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) who partnered us, and Oxford Business Group who look at businesses and research over 30 countries. So we have this huge resource and tap into it to look at what concerns businesses and we try to bring it altogether in one place and structure,” he remarked.