Benefits of forest investment on Africa

Focus, Normal

The Nationl, Monday 10th September, 2012

AFRICAN economies have grown robustly over the past decade, but that has not solved the continent’s economic problems.
According to Mthuli Ncube, chief economist of the African Development Bank (ADB), this is because Africa has weak manufacturing and agro-processing sectors.
He further maintains that at least 70% of growth over the past decade has been driven by natural resources.
“Exploiting natural resources is capital intensive and does not create many jobs directly.”
He says that for more people to benefit and to create more jobs, there has to be value-added processing of those resources.
“But more importantly, the answer lies in creating what is known as sovereign wealth funds,” he says.
“These are resources that can be used for creating venture funds, to support new entrepreneurs, new business ideas, which could then create jobs,” he says.
He points to Botswana, which has done a good job in creating sovereign wealth funds out of its diamond revenues, as an ideal example of how such a concept can work.
One of the key functions of the ADB is to advise African governments on their economic policies.
Much of the continent remains poor and in some areas, youth unemployment stands at 50-60%.
“We were in Zambia recently, discussing the issue of youth employment with the whole cabinet and they were very receptive,” he says.
“We are working with them to see if we could set up clusters across Zambia – points where we could stimulate small to medium scale enterprises, support their ideas, build infrastructure, ensure electricity is available,” he says.However, there are well-documented difficulties when it comes to getting governments involved in Africa – corruption and governance.
“We have to make it a mission and show the benefits of managing these resources transparently and efficiently through a sovereign wealth fund-type structure,” he notes.
“Corruption is there. It will come in the way,” he concedes.
“One of the reasons why some of the governments are corrupt or difficult to work with is because of the presence of natural resources, where the elite capture all the benefits and the rest of the people are poor,” he adds.Foreign investment has played a huge role in Africa’s transformation over the past decade.
It certainly brings resources to the continent, but is that a problem if that is not under African control?
Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina says: “We are in a season where there is an enormous amount of opportunity as many things are getting realigned.”
He says that the primary focus should be to change the continent politically and economically for its own benefit and, whenever necessary, to partner with whoever is able to do so for its own strategic advantage.
But does it worry him that there has been a significant amount of land bought in Africa by foreign investors who want to grow biofuels or food for themselves? – BBC