Investing in Africa, Is It for You?

Investing in Africa, Is It for You?

Find out what it takes to have a successful business in the continent.

Published August 1, 2011

Are you an adventurous entrepreneur looking for a new challenge?  If so, you might want to consider investing in an African nation.


While such a venture isn’t for everyone, a business project on the continent could not only assist with building local economies but it might also result in a healthy financial return for the investor as well.


“The opportunities in Africa are tremendous for a range of businesses, small to large,” Stephen Hayes, president and CEO of The Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), told His group aids U.S. investors — from huge companies like Wal-Mart to a variety of small business owners — interested in doing business on the continent.


Some of the popular investments center on tourism since there is usually a need for small hotels and upscale properties, said Hayes. In addition, housing, in general, is needed all over Africa. Training institutions, such as vocational schools or junior colleges, could be another market that has good profit potential on the continent.  Outside of those things, it’s hard to generalize African investments, Hayes said, because each nation is so different and offer their own unique opportunities.


Here are key components to launching a successful venture in Africa:


1)    Have a reliable partnership in place. “You can’t do business in Africa without having a partner on the ground,” Hayes said. “You can spend a lot of time and money just stumbling around trying to figure out who’s a legitimate business partner who has the connections as well.” For this, the CCA has designed the U.S.-Africa Business Partnership Center focused on forging connections between U.S. investors and potential African partners.


2)    Pick and choose your spots well. “Africa is …a tough place to invest. You’ve got … 54 different countries; all of which have different sets of laws, different standards, different cultural factors etc that all play into it. You’ve got to do strong research,” he said. “And there are a lot of countries that are becoming good investment areas."


3)    Don’t be romantic about it. An important part of the puzzle is to make sure your investment is realistic. I recommend people getting involved, but they really need to know why they're doing it and where they think the opportunity is, Hayes says.


4)    Have solid financial and business plans. Since many U.S. banks are adverse to African investment, setting up solid financial backing is key.


5)    Understand that you’re in it for the long haul. “You’ve got to understand it will be a long term investment. If you’re looking for a quick in and out you’re in the wrong place. I would also argue that you’re not helping Africa if that’s your motive,” Hayes said. “You’ve got to give yourself five years, because you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. It’s going to take time to find the right combination, and then you have to be prepared for failure. It’s going to take time. Is it worth it? Absolutely.”


If you believe you have the stamina to get everything you need to be successful in place, don’t think your racial background or ethnicity are obstacles. When it comes to demographics, Hayes doesn’t think it matters.


“I personally feel it’s just as tough for an African-American as it is for a white guy to go into Africa,” he said. What “makes a difference is whether you have the commitment to make it work because it’s tough.


“I think it just depends on your skill set. You’ve got to be able to build relationships and go from there.”


All in all, the savvy investor with a dose of goodwill could do well on the continent.


“I’m not saying you’re going to get rich…but you can make a decent living and make a difference in other people’s lives by investing in Africa,” Hayes said.


But don’t think of it as charity. Investing in Africa is good for the American economy as well, he says.


“Our greatest opportunity as a country is to link with Africa more than any other region in the world economically,” said Hayes. “I think the opportunity is there, it’s still wide open.  You’ve got a continent where most people in most countries want a relationship with America. I think it’s foolish that we haven’t moved much more strongly toward an economic relationship with Africa.”


Get more info on the Corporate Council on Africa and their programs for small investors here.

(Photo: The Corporate Council on Africa)

Written by Hortense M. Barber


Latest in news