Diversification has been a watchword for African economies, but what are they actually doing about it? The 2014 oil price drop was felt by many African economies, which discovered that they were over-reliant on natural resources. The need to avoid a repeat and to find more revenue streams to support industrialization has made diversification a critical objective of these governments.
‘’Historically most African countries have relied on monoculture or at least export of primary products and natural resources’’ says Andrew Skipper, head of Hogans Lovells in this recent report. ‘’The challenge is many countries is to build infrastructure and get power in place for them to implement their universally acclaimed aspirations’’ It is a process that has already begun. Skipper notes that in May 2018, oil-producing Nigeria’s other industries accounted for 91% of its GDP, led by agriculture, and agribusiness is one of the main sectors of interest for countries looking to expand their range, along with entertainment, tourism, education, health and fintech.
The limiting factor is scale, he explains ‘’Most individuals countries in Africa, with obvious exceptions, are too small to establish enough scale to diversify to any great extent’’ The signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement AfCFTA in 2018 in part intended ‘’to provide sufficient scale from intra-Africa trade to encourage diversification’’ says Skipper. ‘’By driving official intra-African trade from its current low base of around 15% to something even approaching the European Union’s 67% this should lead to diversification.
Interest in the education and healthcare sectors are linked due to interest from universities in the United States and elsewhere, says Washington, DC-based Hogan Lovells partner William Ferreira. ‘’This interest in Africa is much greater than simply the nuts and bolts of an education programme,’’ he says, identifying investment in ‘’treatment and care programmes, public health programmes-HIV and AIDS in particular, clinical trials- because these schools have medical schools- and capacity building programmes’’
That includes public or private sector investors funding the establishment of physical infrastructure, supply chains and providing specialist knowledge. The United States, with its large private education sector, has been a particular player in this regard, including distance education companies selling courses and software. Ferreira has seen particular activity in Nigeria and South Africa, with ‘’a tremendous amount of interest in Zambia’’ and it is a sector which he only expects to grow in the coming years, saying governments are beginning to see ‘’how important it is to have a vibrant education sector, because not only is that important for the vast numbers of youth across Africa, but it has been proved to be an economic engine across many other countries’’
He continues ‘’When there are strong vibrant universities, they have relationships into industry and they have relationships across borders, and there are economic opportunities that come from that’’ Few sectors have generated as much buzz over the past few years as fintech. There has been soaring interest in a wave of start-ups tackling a range of social and business problems, most notably providing banking to people who could not previously access it. Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have led the way on this, followed by South Africa, and corporations including goggle and IBM are investing in the technology.
James Black, Hogan Lovells counsel in London, notes that with the market still dominated by start-ups, the capital in Africa does not yet match the 54 Billion US Dollars in the Americas or 34 billion US Dollars in Europe, according to a recent KPMG report, but ‘’give that a few years and there will be a huge amount of investment from investment banks, from retail banks and angel investors and the like’’
The other main area of interest has been in financial services for small and medium-sized enterprises, explains Amina Boshoff, a partner in Johannesburg, ‘’on boarding costs for banks have increased over the past decade. It has become more and more difficult for traditional financial institutions to finance small borrowers’’ this has created space for new technology-focused banks and alternative lenders to operate.
Professor Angela Itzikowitz, of the University of the Witwatersrand, says the arrival of the digital banks shows the demand for reduced costs and alternative approaches and that banks are now competing with mobile operators. ‘’while consumers do not have bank accounts, unbanked or under banked, they all have cell phones’’. This places a premium on interoperability, a big focus for mobile operators at the moment.
‘’some of the players are on a fairly robust acquisitive drive, acquiring fintechs, says Itzikowitz, highlighting Goldman Sachs’ investment in mobile banking company JUMO, which operates in many countries across Africa. ‘’coupling the fintech activity with the investment driver is the agency banking model, where banks are partnering with non-bank fintech companies and allowing the companies to conduct banking activity on the back of the bank’’
‘’South Africa is really well placed to get a lot of that investment directed towards it’’, says Black, pointing out that it is English-speaking and has a ‘’focus on rule of law and a well-established legal system as well as a fairly stable economy and being fairly stable politically’’ Meanwhile, recent developments have further changed conceptions of what is possible. ‘’Block chain has brought a fresh breath to the whole industry in terms of the transparency of the technology and reducing that costs of operation’’ argues Alice Blazevic, an associate partner with Ugandan firm. The technology is allowing fintech companies to bypass banks for online money and bringing transparency. ‘’taking care of financial inclusion’’ she says
However, unhelpful attitudes from government were pervasive early on this space too, says Blazevic. ‘’It was the private sector companies that were pushing and they received a lot of resistance at first,’’ due to a lack of understanding about what the technology was and fears due to ‘’a misconception between block chain and crypocurrency’’’’. Time shave already begun to change, however, and ‘’there has been a complete turnaround’’ with governments becoming more helpful, particularly in Uganda, which now has block chain associations and academics.
The need for good regulation is not exclusive to this sector, with Skipper pointing out that all industries ‘’need to have well-developed regulatory structures that are sufficiently advanced to deal with the relevant sector’’, with a particular need for ‘’certainty of policy, rule of law and relative stability in security and currency terms’’ ‘’So many of the shareholders who are buying share in this fintechs are actually foreign companies’’, says Blazevic, and she expects to see more growth in the near future.
‘’I t is definitely not going back in terms of the mainstream financial sector, that is now completely gone, because right now the experience people are having in the financial sector, it doesn’t make sense to go back to the traditional’’ That need to leave the traditional behind is one which will pervade many industries if they are to flourish and allow African countries to diversify.
Following a devastating first half of the year 2020 due to COVID-19, the global diamond industry started gaining positive momentum towards the end of the year as key markets entered into thanks giving and holiday season.
However Bruce Cleaver, Chief Executive Officer of De Beers Group cautioned that the industry is not out of the woods yet, citing prevailing challenges ahead into 2021.
The first half of 2020 was characterized by some of the worst challenges in history of global diamond trade.
The midstream, where rough diamonds are traded in wholesale and bulk to cutters and polishers, was for the most part of second quarter 2020, suffocated by international travel restrictions as countries responded to the contagious Corona Virus.
This halted movement of buyers and shipment of the rough goods , resulting in unprecedented decline of sales, in turn ballooning stockpiles as the upstream operations produced with little uptake by the midstream.
The situation was exacerbated by muted demand in the downstream where jewelry industries and tail end retailers closed to further curb the spread of COVID-19.
However towards the end of third quarter getting into the last quarter of the year, demand in both midstream and downstream started to steadily pick up as countries relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.
De Beers, the world’s largest diamond producer by value started reporting significant recovery in sales in the sixth and seventh cycle, figures began to reflect an upswing in sentiment as well as increase in uptake of rough goods by midstream.
Sales for the sixth cycle amounted to $116 Million, following a sharp downturn in the previous cycles, significant jump was realized during the seventh cycle, registering $320 million, an over 175 % upswing when gauged against the proceeding cycle.
De Beers noted that diamond markets showed some continued improvement throughout August and into September as Covid-19 restrictions continued to ease in various locations.
“Manufacturers focused on meeting retail demand for polished diamonds, particularly in certain product areas, accordingly, we saw a recovery in rough diamond demand in the seventh sales cycle of the year, reflecting these retail trends, following several months of minimal manufacturing activity and disrupted demand patterns in all major markets,” said De Beers Chief Executive, Bruce Cleaver in September last year.
The diamond mining behemoth continued to register impressive sales in the eighth and ninth cycle signaling the industry could end the year on a positive note.
The momentum was indeed carried into the last cycle of the year. The value of rough diamond sales (Global Sightholder Sales and Auctions) for De Beers’ tenth sales cycle of 2020 amounted to $440 million, a significant increase from the 2019 tenth sales cycle value.
Against what seemed like a positive year end that would split into the New Year Bruce Cleaver, CEO, De Beers Group, however warned the industry not to count eggs before they hatch.
“Positive consumer demand for diamond jewellery resulting from the holiday season is supporting the continuation of retail orders for polished diamonds from the diamond industry’s midstream sector. This in turn supported steady demand for De Beers’s rough diamonds at our final sales cycle of 2020,” Cleaver had said in December.
In caution the De Beers Chief noted that “While the diamond industry ends the year on a positive note, we must recognise the risks that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic presents to sector recovery both for the rest of this year and as we head into 2021.”
All segments of the supply chain were severely impacted by the global lockdown measures introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020.
After a strong US holiday season at the end of 2019, the rough diamond industry started 2020 positively as the midstream restocked and sentiment improved.
However, from February 2020, the Covid-19 outbreak began to have a significant impact on diamond jewellery retail sales and supply chain, with many jewelers suspending all polished purchases and/or delaying payments to their suppliers.
Rough diamond sales were materially affected by lockdowns and travel restrictions, delaying the shipping of rough diamonds into cutting and trading centers and preventing buyers from attending sales events.
These resulted in significant decline in total revenue for the business in the first six months of 2020. Total revenue decreased by 54% to $1.2 billion from $2.6 billion registered in the prior half year period ended 30 June 2019.
For the entire first six (6) months of the year 2020 De Beers Rough diamonds sales fell drastically to $1.0 billion from $2.3 billion in the prior H1 period ended 30 June 2019. Sales volumes decreased by 45% to 8.5 million carats compared to 15.5 million carats registered in the prior period.
Next month Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka will face the nation to deliver Botswana‘s first budget speech since COVID-19 pandemic put the world on devastating economic trajectory.
The pandemic that broke out in late 2019 in China has put the entire world on unprecedented chaos ,killing over P1 million people across the globe , shattering economies and almost rendering the year 2020 – a 12 months stretch of complete setback.
The 2021/22 budget speech will come at time when Botswana’s economy is still trying to emerge out of this.
National lockdowns and local travel restrictions have hit small medium enterprises hard, while international travel restrictions halted movement of both good and people, delivering by far some of the heaviest and worst catastrophic blows on the diamond industry and tourism sector, the likes of which this country has never seen before on its largest economic sectors.
As Minister Matsheka faces parliament next month, the reality on the ground is that Botswana’s national current cash resource, the Government Investment Account (GIA) is depleting at lightning speed.
On the other hand the COVID-19 economic mess is prevailing, the virus is reported to have taken a new dangerous shape of a deadly variant, spreading like fueled veld fire and causing some of the world’s super powers back to tough restrictions of lockdown.
According official figures released by Bank of Botswana, in October 2020 the GIA was running at P6 billion compared to the P18.3 billion held in the account in October 2019.
However reports indicate that the account could be currently holding just about P3 billion. The draw down from the GIA has been by exacerbated by declining diamond revenue, the country‘s largest cash cow. The sector was experiencing significant revenue decline even before COVID-19 struck.
When the National Development Plan (NDP) 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at a budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively, since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances.
Taking into account the COVID-19 economic mess in 2020/21 financial year, the budget deficit could add up to P20 billion after revised figures.
Drawing down from government cash balances to finance these budget deficits meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account, hence the near depletion of this buffer.
Meanwhile should Botswana’s revenue streams completely dry up to zero levels; the country would only have 11 months, before calling out for humanitarian aids and international donors, because foreign reserves are also on slow down.
During 2019, the foreign exchange reserves declined by 8.7 percent, from Seventy One Billion, Four Hundred Million Pula (P71.4 billion) in December 2018 to Sixty Five Billion, Three Hundred Million Pula (P65.3 billion) in December 2019.
The reserves declined further in 2020, falling by 2.3 percent to Sixty Three Billion, Seven Hundred Million Pula (P63.7 billion) in July 2020. This was revealed by President Masisi during State of the Nation Address in November last year.
The decrease was mainly due to foreign exchange outflows associated with Government obligations and economy-wide import requirements.
However latest statistics(October 2020) from Bank of Botswana reveal that Botswana’s foreign reserves are estimated at P58.4 billion, with government’s share of these funds significantly low.
Government has since introduced several measures to contain costs and control expenditure with the most recent intervention being the halting of recruitment in government departments and parastatals.
Furthermore, Value Added Tax has been signaled to go up from 12% to 14% in April this year with more hikes and service fees anticipated as government embarks on unprecedented domestic revenue mobilization.
Botswana Stock Exchange listed hotel group Cresta Marakanelo Limited (“CML” or “the Company”) announced the signing of a lease agreement for Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel & Convention Centre, which will see CML extend its footprint by adding the 4 star Gaborone property to its already impressive portfolio. The agreement is subject to regulatory approvals therefore the effective date of the transaction is expected to be 1 February 2021.
CML brings a wealth of expertise to the lease and despite the difficult year for the tourism and hospitality industry, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, CML remains confident in the recovery of the sector and the need to invest in expanding the Company’s footprint.
CML Managing Director, Mr Mokwena Morulane commented: “Our continued efforts to improve our offerings, understand the market dynamics and modern day trends in the face of global challenges, means we are ready for the changing face of tourism and international travel, and this addition to the Cresta portfolio signals our confidence in the future.
“Despite the headwinds faced in 2020, Management has continued to focus on projects that enhance CML’s product offering such as the refurbishments at Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa in the tourism capital Kasane and the ongoing refurbishment of Cresta Marang Residency in Francistown. The signing of the lease for the 4 star Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel & Conference Centre is a great addition to the Cresta portfolio and will unlock shareholder value in the future.
“We remain vigilant to value-enhancing opportunities including acquisitions or leases, after having reconsidered our pipeline against current and expected market conditions.”
Commenting on the lease agreement, the Chief Executive Officer, Mr S Parthiban, speaking on behalf of Phakalane noted; “No hotel chain holds as much expertise in the region, understands our local culture and tastes and what hospitality is about better than Cresta Marakanelo Limited. We believe that the renovations done to the property has made Phakalane Hotel and Convention Centre a unique product in Botswana and at par with international facilities. We believe that this lease will benefit not only us as Phakalane , but the market in general as Cresta has run hotels successfully in Botswana for over 30 years and is therefore expected to bring new offerings that appeal to the local and international markets as well as the residents and visitors to the Golf Estate. We look forward to a long mutually beneficial relationship with Cresta.”
CML like the rest of the tourism and hospitality industry and the entire value chain was hard hit by lockdowns with the surge of COVID-19. By investing during the low period, the company hopes to realise the future value of spending time in preparing for the new consumer dynamics and behaviour. Despite business interruptions as a result of a six-month long state of emergency and several lock-down periods declared by the Government of Botswana to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Company is starting to record an increase in occupancies, which bodes well for the recovery of the industry and the Company’s future prospects.