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Private Equity for Africa’s Transformation: What Governments Can Do

07.09.2015Excerpt from Innovative Financing for the Economic Transformation of Africa*

African Governments have a key role to play in promoting private equity as one of the major potential sources of investments for enhancing growth and development in their countries. Areas for government intervention include the following:

Improving the legal and regulatory environment: The private-equity industry needs policies and regulatory frameworks that foster its growth. Policymakers need to have deeper understanding of the industry in order to develop these policies. Most private-equity funds on the continent are registered in countries with good regulations, and flexibility in the free flow of funds. No player wants to set up a holding company in a country with fund transfer restrictions.

Building the talent pool: Private equity is effective only when managers are prudent in using capital to grow businesses in a sustainable manner. In Africa, however, the industry is still new and the continent lacks adequate skilled and experienced fund managers. Governments should create the enabling environment for Africa to attract and retain more talent in the form of skilled and experienced managers, specifically with operational experience, in order to make the industry grow.

Creating awareness among key private-equity players: There is limited knowledge about the industry in a number of countries, as well as very little or no engagement between private equity industry players and regulators, resulting in communication gaps between them. Policymakers need to understand the issues affecting the industry, including political risk. There is, therefore, a need for greater engagement between policymakers and private-equity actors.

Improving availability of funds for the private equity industry: Finding adequate financial resources for the private-equity industry remains one of the major challenges in many African countries. This calls for an urgent need to explore how Governments could facilitate the flow of capital into private equity. Normally pension funds are restricted in what they can invest in for reasons of prudence, including even restrictions in investing in companies that are listed on stock markets. African Governments should find a way to ensure that these pension funds are invested in private equity, albeit wisely and responsibly. They are also encouraged to explore co-financing and co-sharing opportunities with other private-equity investors, in sectors such as infrastructure financing (for example energy, telecommunications and water). The Ghana Venture Capital Trust Fund is a good example of such a public-private partnership initiative, partly financed by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.

Encouraging investment of local African capital into private equity: Building up private equity in Africa entails accelerating development of the ecosystem and sourcing investments from local capital markets and funds. There is a need to improve the knowledge of local African investors through education, better understanding of the asset class, incentives and the regulatory framework. Significant sources of local capital (pension funds, family offices, sovereign funds, high net worth individuals, diaspora) can be tapped both for investing and exiting private equity assets.

Encouraging more impact investments: Adequate consideration should be given to investing in sectors that could positively change the lives of many people, while making decent returns for the investors. In this regard, Governments should provide special incentives for private equity firms to put their money into sectors such as agriculture, where the majority of the poor are actively involved.

Other enabling measures to enhance the role of Governments

Enabling measures need to be specific to each country. Private equity is not exclusively driven by the size of an economy or opportunity. Some countries have policies that are friendlier to private equity-friendly than other countries. Governments need to maintain policies that allow them to foster growth. The macro, political and socioeconomic situations are the driver for an enabling environment.

Governments should therefore make the effort to implement and sustain strong macroeconomic reforms. Governments should strengthen the bond and equity markets by introducing securities-lending, encouraging new listing requirements and supporting companies for listing and post-listing, especially as there are not many companies listed in sectors such as agriculture and oil and gas. Governments are also urged to open sectors such as telecommunications, banking and insurance services for investment, as these provide key opportunities for private equity investors.

African investors cannot move around as easily as foreign investors. This deters local investment. Governments should enact policies that encourage local investors and foreign investors alike. In this regard, implementing protocols on the free movement of people and capital across the continent will be very beneficial.

Furthermore, efforts to accelerate the achievement of the objectives of Africa's regional integration in areas such as trade facilitation and infrastructure networks can greatly boost the ecosystem for private equity and for investments in general.

 

*If you find value in this excerpt, you may enjoy reading the full book, Innovative Financing for the Economic Transformation of Africa, a publication of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

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