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Interview Paulo Gomes “As Africans, we have been dreaming of the AfCFTA for decades – now has come the time for all of us to focus on its implementation”

The AfroChampions Initiative has been advocating for African economic integration for years. As such, it has supported AfCFTA’s implementation, in particular to invite African countries and institutions to adopt it, and to accelerate its agenda. Now, with the effective entry into force of trade, the challenge is local adaptation, according to economist Paulo Gomes, former Executive Director at the World Bank, Co-Chair of the AfroChampions Initiative

Since January 1st, 2021, the AfCFTA has been in place, while the African intra-trade has effectively started. Africa is now the largest market in the world. What does this new situation mean to you, as an economist?

We are in a transition phase, moving from theory and theoretical design of the AfCFTA, which has been going on for several years, to the implementation phase today. I think we are now all on the “implementation highway” – this is what everybody – countries, all various organisations, stakeholders – has to focus on. Why? Because there is a sense of urgency, and even more so with Covid. And this pandemic is also an opportunity to reset the way we, as Africans, have taken care of our interests for many years. In this sense, please let me refer to the thoughts of a brilliant man, the economist Felwine Sarr, whom I admire very much and who brings a very important idea that I also share. Africa must accept the idea that it has no one ‘to catch up with’ and that it must now simply implement its vision of things, including the material aspect, i.e. dedicating more means to improve our people’s standards of living, promoting our culture, and choosing a more sustainable development in harmony with nature. We should be proud because we are able to develop a new economic model, not only for our continent – but also new in that it is able to challenge the assumptions that have been in place in many regions and have led to economic or ecological dead ends.

The AfCFTA is indeed a major step on the road to African economic integration. But this AfCFTA, as important as it is, only provides the framework, which has yet to be built, state by state. How can we incite African actors, and in particular the private sector, to seize the opportunities offered by the AfCFTA?

This is precisely the role that AfroChampions has played in this whole process for several years now, during which we have been an important partner of the States and institutions of the African Union to ensure that the voice of the private sector would be heard. Today, once again, we are in the implementation phase, and for this, we are in permanent contact with various stakeholders from the private sector, who are part of AfroChampions, to reaffirm the fact that this integration should not be improvised. It is a matter of each country clearly defining its implementation strategy, analyzing the most immediate entry points, and starting to move forward. 

If you look at a country like Ghana: it has an implementation strategy for the AfCFTA in which the private sector is involved; it has reached the point where procedures are in place; measures have been taken to facilitate access to markets in the sub-region for those who are already producing, and products are already in circulation. In this regard, AfroChampions has worked hard, in coordination with the secretariat, to ensure that technology plays an important role, emphasizing especially the importance of having an AfCFTA number for each company, so that companies can register and have information on who is who through the Africa’App application, so that information can circulate between the various players. The technology will enable us to go faster, to map the SMEs, and also to facilitate access to finance for these SMEs and micro-enterprises that will start producing and trading in the sub-region.

Precisely, what are the mechanisms, and in particular the financial mechanisms to be put in place to finance this integration?

With regards to this integration, what we know is that, regarding negotiations and the various protocols, one of the important elements will be the payment system. In this respect, there are many innovations at the moment initiated by African start-ups. All this will facilitate e-commerce in our countries and a better understanding of the economic players operating on the market. This will allow those who want to finance to have a better knowledge of the players in place, of the trade corridors and of the needs. In this respect, Afreximbank plays a very important role, through the different financing mechanisms it has put in place and through support it can bring to SMEs via banks – indeed, as such it does not interact directly with SMEs but goes through banking institutions, which are directly exposed to SMEs. There are important resources available this way, but we know that these resources are debt resources, and these SMEs need equity to develop their business. It is a combination of debt and equity that will have to be deployed at the country level in order to effectively support SMEs. Here again, technology will facilitate a better understanding, fluidity and interaction between institutions and people. 

This does not solve the issue of the free movement of people and products across borders. Still, there are positive signals: for example, investments are being made in border posts that will enable goods to cross borders more smoothly; for example, it is now possible in some countries to proceed to customs clearance directly at the ports and avoid the enormous traffic jams at the borders. We are seeing these developments in different regions, notably East Africa. In West Africa, there is still work to be done in this area.  It is a combination of several factors: first of all financing, the mobility of goods and services across all borders, but also the rules, which must be more transparent and predictable so that private actors know what they will be confronted to and what requirements will be when they sell to neighboring countries – the rules of the game must be clear at this level.

In a previous interview, at the beginning of the pandemic, you urged people to take advantage of this crisis. In this respect, AfroChampions issued a series of recommendations. Have they been followed and with what impact?

The great advantage is that we have a dynamic AfCFTA general secretariat that interacts with the economic players and supports the countries throughout the process. On the rules of origin, most countries have already made offers, and only 10% of this aspect still remains on the negotiation table for the next months. But it is also important to say that the private sector must improve its own organization. There are deficits in some countries at this level. We need to adopt a more holistic approach between the private players in the countries, so that they can really and collectively take full advantage of this AFCFTA package. This requires, first of all to set up private platforms – organisations, professional federations, dialogues -, then to elaborate proposals for the authorities and finally a more dynamic follow-up of the implementation. 

A year ago, the AfroChampions Initiative also committed to work to mobilize at least one trillion in investments by 2030 to accelerate the implementation of the AfCFTA. What has been achieved so far?

Yes, indeed, we had set a target: to mobilize within ten years, an amount of about one trillion dollars of investments to enable the implementation of the AfCFTA in terms of roads, investments and everything that is necessary to make it fully operational. And if we can do that, Africa’s GDP can grow by 45%. A figure that we wanted to share with everyone. I insist on the fact that we, as Africans have been waiting for decades. For years we have been dreaming of the AfCFTA, today we have started it, now we must focus on its implementation. This means making energy technically and financially accessible, building roads, facilitating the mobility of goods and people, structuring Africa’s industrialization – being much more aware that it must be driven by sustainable development principles. We must not industrialize our economies the way as Europe has done it. It must be done without sacrificing the environment, and by promoting an industrial approach that creates sustainable jobs as well.

So once the ‘target’ is set, we need to think about the ‘how’ – how to reach it. This is why this quantitative objective has been formulated within the “Trillion Dollar Investment Framework”, a framework in which we have laid out actions to be carried out within public-private partnerships over the next ten years. For the record, this investment framework is based on three pillars. 

First, a mechanism for monitoring African public policies and the gradual compliance of national legislation with the AfCFTA Treaty.

Then, a set of criteria to select high-impact projects that can significantly contribute to delivering an ‘AfCFTA that works’.

And, an investment vehicle to channel funds to these high-impact projects – and to mobilize the funds required.

It is important to remember these three pillars, because they are intertwined: harmonizing legislation and rules on the free movement of goods can create incentives for investors, thus demonstrating that the market is becoming unified and that it is possible to design and structure bigger projects, at the level of regions or the continent, potentially more ambitious and more attractive. And for states, it is essential to understand that they need to think outside their national borders. Regional projects are likely to encourage the pooling of costs and skills, and above all, when you form a group of several states you are also stronger when it comes to negotiating the best ‘deal’ with investors. Because the problem we have today in Africa is not building a road here and there, but rather scaling up – in all areas, connectivity, infrastructure, energy…

To answer your question, where are we on this project? Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made progress on all pillars. On policy monitoring: in May 2020, the AfCFTA Year 0 report was published, assessing, the commitments made by states to implement the AfCFTA and their degree of preparedness. 

On sourcing projects: we have also started to identify a certain number of projects – in Cape Verde, Guinea-Conakry, Nigeria – to assess their eligibility with regards to the investment vehicle that just created. We are working to present a precise framework of eligibility criteria during 2021.

On the financing side: we have started to raise awareness of our project among a number of strategic private and public players, notably investment funds and sovereign wealth funds, and the feedback has been very positive. These preliminary discussions have enabled us to refine the approach for what should become an investment vehicle to foster the AfCFTA, Orango Investment Corporation (OIC), which was officially launched a few weeks ago. Neither Orango nor AfroChampions can provide the trillion dollar required on their own – but together we have proposed this framework for raising that amount of money by bringing together the public and private sectors – as an incentive framework.

Orango indeed – this new investment vehicle launched in partnership with AfroChampions, which is meant to address the structural challenges of the African investment market… Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Orango Investment Corporation comes after several years of work and strategic thinking, and ca, be seen as the most significant tangible achievement following the two bomas organized by AfroChampions in 2019, focusing, for the record, on infrastructure finance and deployment (Nairobi, April 2019) and green growth and industrialization (Kigali, October 2019). 

In practical terms, it is a hybrid investment vehicle (equity and debt investment) that aligns with the objectives of the AfCFTA. Orango has certain characteristics that differentiate it from other investment vehicles. First, Orango’s investments will be aligned with the needs and priorities of economic players active in those value chains that are of most importance in the implementation of the AfCFTA. It is very important to think in terms of value chains because it defines, in principle, high-impact projects – and above all it forces participants in a given project to think upstream and downstream in a consistent way, and to better size fundraising. 

Secondly, Orango is interested in projects led by African actors who have the potential to become AfroChampions – i.e. to experience regional or even pan-African development and to create or strengthen local expertise in their sector. 

Moreover, we did not limit ourselves to defining the framework of this vehicle, but we also worked in parallel on mobilizing resources, on a significant deal flow portfolio that considers a number of African countries. The first resources mobilized are domestic African resources. And we are now planning to become more involved in the fundraising process.

The Vehicle has been registered in Rwanda and Mauritius and is progressing rapidly.  We have recruited a senior team representing all regions of the continent, whose members combine together over 90 years of management and investment advisory experience in both the public and private sectors, with a unique network and address book, on the continent and beyond. In the coming months we will have more interesting updates on the first projects selected for the first deals.

What makes Orango unique compared to other initiatives that are being set up to finance African economies?

We felt that the usual ‘private equity’ approach is not enough. So, while keeping this private equity aspect within the vehicle, we are also a developer of sorts. For example, we are working in Senegal, within the framework of Orango, and other private players, on the creation of an industrial park for the installation of pharmaceutical companies to manufacture the most urgent medicines – name is Pharmapolis. Within this framework, the Senegalese government has prepared a strategy, in consultation with the private sector, to encourage the local manufacture of medicines, to supply the local market but also neighboring countries. And this was one of the recommendations made by AfroChampions, with the technical support of McKinsey… We are already discussing with pharmaceutical companies about setting up in Senegal and in other countries in the sub-region. This role of developer allows us to always set up a consortium with an operator equipped with a certain experience. 

In Africa, if we limit ourselves to financing somehow already successful projects, we will not increase the volume of investments and projects nor achieve the objectives of the AFCFTA. You also need to have the capacity to be a developer from the beginning, playing the role of the ‘market maker’, in order to create the market – i.e. the incentive framework. And this is how Orango’s specific features enable it to have a portfolio of deals and to attract investors who like such an approach.

What kind of partners and investors do you expect in Orango?

Orango is primarily aimed at African investors. We have started to mobilize them over the last two months to send a strong signal to Africa and beyond, and we will continue to do so until the beginning of the summer. Why? On the one hand, it allows us to source projects, because these African investors may already be operating in one or more sectors and wish to play a more significant role, to expand into other markets. Orango is an advisory and investment platform also designed to enable the African private sector to play a leading role in Africa – by defining priorities and projects and getting involved through substantial ticket sizes. African investors are capable of delivering sustainable equity, large transformational deals, and capital market development, and Orango should become the vehicle for this vision, helping to direct (or repatriate!) African money to African projects.

On the other hand, forming a group of strategic African investors is a way of maintaining a consensus on the vision carried by Orango. 

After this first round of financing for anchor investors, the aim is to expand the pool of partners. We have already received expressions of interest from African and international institutional players, and sovereign wealth funds.

Can you give us an idea of the projects that are in your pipeline?

Many projects already. In this ‘post-Covid reset’ spirit, the priority is of course on everything related to life economy and health – the Pharmapolis project in Senegal is an important aspect of this. 

We have also identified logistics projects to support the agricultural sector, in Guinea-Conakry – in order to help structuring the local poultry value chain and reduce the volume of imports every year. 

Also in Guinea-Conakry, another focus is in the mining sector and supporting activities. For example, we are interested in rail logistics to export minerals, but also in everything that facilitates the development of minerals, particularly energy projects associated with mining projects. 

In textiles, notably with partners in Egypt, we are moving forward on an opportunity to further transform cotton production in our countries, which is very important. On this point, we are working on the entire textile sector. 

In aquaculture, the African demand for fish will increase. Aquaculture can play an important role. We are working in Cape Verde in this area with international partners. 

Orango’s desire is to support value chains that are important for the AfCFTA and, once again, we will never do it alone but always with operational partners. It is because we are there to derisk the operational risk as much as possible that we can associate actors representing the whole value chain in a given industry and have projects with a higher impact.

Exergues : 

“We should be proud because we are able to develop a new economic model, not only for our continent – but also new in that it is able to challenge the assumptions that have been in place in many regions and have led to economic or ecological dead ends”

“The technology will enable us to go faster, to map the SMEs, and also to facilitate access to finance for these SMEs and micro-enterprises that will start producing and trading in the sub-region”

“We must not industrialize our economies the way as Europe has done it. It must be done without sacrificing the environment, and by promoting an industrial approach that creates sustainable jobs as well”

“African investors are capable of delivering sustainable equity, large transformational deals, and capital market development, and Orango should become the vehicle for this vision, helping to direct (or repatriate!) African money to African projects”

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