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JLL Notes from WEF Africa

Mark Bradford attends the World Economic Forum on Africa and shares his perspectives

​​JLL Notes 1:

The World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa is underway in Abuja Nigeria, its focus : " Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs". Presidents, dignitaries and delegates from both the private and  public sector around the world have gathered with the tangible objective desire of playing a role in guiding the continent to the promising future which it deserves. 

This morning started with the privilege of attending a private session chaired by ex British Prime Minister  Gordon Brown and focused on Africa's Strategic Infrastructure Initiatives . Nigeria's President Good Luck Jonathan was joined around the intimate table by a number of fellow African presidents who together with a select group of public and private sector representatives, gave relevant insights into the progress and challenges being made by Public Private Partnerships (PPP) in addressing infrastructure on the continent. It was an encouraging display of unity driven by what is emerging as a common African objective.

Whilst Africa is branded as a single entity, those who have spent any time on its soil will testify to the fact that the continent is comprised of 54 clearly differentiated states each with its own unique circumstances and ambitions. This is an important factor as Africa strives to achieve its much needed PPP's , for as long as Africa continues to be branded a single entity, a screwed commercial risk profile will prevail in the minds global investors. For investors who have not spent time in our markets, it is understandably hard to accurately envisage risk and outcome particularly against a background of fresh memories of the impact of 2008 on the worlds established economies.

Perhaps the most significant bottleneck preventing Africa's economies from reaching the next stage of their potential is the glaring lack of infrastructure. A number of transnational infrastructure projects are under consideration. The biggest obstacle to unlocking finance for these projects lies in the ability to mitigate investor risk. Average 2014 GDP growth forecasts of 5.2% are statistically impressive but the reality is that economies remain fragile and are not  yet sufficiently transformative. With an estimated ten million young Africans joining the job market annually, pressure on governments to accelerate social transformation and to grow economic opportunity is mounting.

En route to Abuja, having spent a couple of days working in Lagos, I met a number of international delegates traveling into Africa for the first time to attend WEF.  All had done their research and quoted the continents impressive GDP and other statistics. One explained to me what the " simple" solutions to Africa's challenges were based upon what had worked elsewhere in the world.  What I heard at this mornings session echoed what I as an African know to be our reality, one which unfortunately for my " transit advisor" stands juxtaposed to his theory.

We are at the beginning of a continental industrialization, a process and phase in our economic growth which Africa will realise in its own way and in its own time. It is not relevant to base the path of our industrial revolution on those previously walked in other parts of the world as these are different times requiring vastly different outcomes . Given that Africa has significant renewable energy  resources, a increasing and sizable consumer market, and that we are free of an inhibiting technological platform  legacies, we have the real potential to accelerate the development of our revolution and industrial platform

An enlightening start to the WEF , with first hand confirmation that our continents potential and challenges are being realistically addressed by its public and private leadership. JLL have an increasingly strategic role to play in advising both the public and private sector on opportunity and risk as the national and urban platforms industrialize across the continent. Our growing local African presence coupled with experience against a background of global best practice will allow us and through us our clients to play a meaningful role in Africa's future.

JLL Notes 2:

I have observed a notable evolution of focus in WEF Africa over the past twelve months.

My 2013 interaction with the forums delegates in Cape Town centered around Africas potential and how global corporates could assist with its acceleration. Private sector participants exchanged views on market potential, on perceived risks, and operational experiences. My impression was that for many, WEF Cape Town was an exploration into whether or not to venture into Africa, many giving considering to the viability for the first time.

WEF Africa in Abuja, is in my opinion, notably different. The majority of private sector delegates with whom I am meeting are already operational on the continent. Familiar faces from last year are growing operations and shared experiences are both local and actual.  Public and private delegates are interacting over medium to long term planning issues. It is no longer about what multinational corporates can offer the African agenda, but rather about their ability to adapt  business models to accommodate local operating environments.

Of significant relevance for Africa is the focus on sustainability, not only of its environment but of its decisions , activities and commitments. Whilst private funding is needed to satisfy infrastructure ambitions, there is an open awareness of not having to accepting it on punitive terms which could stint future economic growth - there is growing competition amongst financiers. There are workshops and sessions on sustainable business practices which will benefit local communities, and an awareness that to be successful , corporates will have to involve themselves across the full spectrum of their value chain. Other topics discussed today included rethinking education, Africa rising, the African consumer, unlocking job creation growth, metrics that matter, and securing the future.

In just twelve months, the tone of my WEF interactions have changed from " should we and when" to long term strategy and building upon existing operations in an ever increasing partnership between the public and private sectors. These delegates are here to hold serious conversations around African expansion.  Africa is standing taller.