The Diaspora Connects Over Dinner

A couple weekends ago, I had a blast at a Dine Diaspora event that focused on connecting folks of African descent. We had a delicious meal prepared by Chef Dadisi Olutosin, and discussed Africa’s leadership challenges among other issues. The diversity of backgrounds among the participants was cool to see. There was a restaurateur, an investment banker, a diplomat, and an owner of a corporate gifting business, to name a few.

What was so powerful about the dinner was the manner in which it brought together a group of people who spend a good bit of their time doing stuff to contribute to Africa’s economic development. We need more dinners like this, where people can contribute their perspectives on Africa’s development, and how they are contributing.

Kudos to the Dine Diaspora team, and I look forward to the next time I get to attend.

Reflections from Yale’s 2014 Sankofa54 Conference

While doing research for another article, I ran across my talking points from a presentation I gave at Yale’s Sankofa54 conference. They were interesting to take a look at a year later. I figured it could not hurt to post them here.

Reflections on role models for Anna Olivia
Last night was incredible for me. Seeing all of these dynamic women at the head table, hearing from Madame Leymah Gbowee and Vivian Onano. I have a 17-month old daughter and think about her path through this world quite often.  I’m excited about her getting to follow your examples as she grows into her own person. Keep up the good work because I’m going to be name dropping Kiki Ochieng, Ruth …. Let’s go! Get it done. Take Africa’s development to the next level.
Anansi and the Birds
  • He wanted to fly, so he did everything he could to get wings
  • Once he got wings, he practiced and practiced until he got it right
  • One day when the birds went up to a mountain to feast, Anansi surprised them and joined along
  • He saw the food and started eating so quickly that the birds got mad
  • When he went to sleep, they took his feathers
  • When he woke up, he did his routine run to take off, only to discover that his wings weren’t there when he took off
  • Fortunately, he remembered that he could spin material and shot some web to catch a tree from which he could lower himself to the ground
  • For me, As Africa makes its push to take development to greater levels, we need to make sure that we do what we do best, rather than try to use wings that aren’t ours. The principle of Sankofa is key here. Remember our roots.
Regional organizations and panafricanism
  • AfDB and NEPAD work on regionalization
  • the sixth region conversation
  • World Economic Forum bringing together higher level members of the Diaspora – Mayor Reed and President Jonathan
  • Ecobank, Dangote Cement investing across the continent
Regional orgs and investor attraction
  • AfDB and Turkana
  • AfDB and contract negotiation training
Internal markets and latent potential
  • Incorporating the informal economy – Nigeria’s economy rebasing finalized this Sunday, but Nigerians more than likely will continue to feel poor. Revenue to GDP ratio more than likely will decrease.
Capital flow w/o oil
  • Rise of consumer
  • More countries entering the capital bond markets
  • PE encouraging more companies to go cross border
Remittances and repatriation
  • I don’t want to get left behind!
  • Homestrings
Regional organizations and panafricanism
  • A continent where nationals don’t need a visa to travel to 80% of the other countries in Africa
  • Regionalization perhaps not the level of having a single currency, but systems talk to each other. As people move from one country to another, they are able to do business, engage people smoothly and efficiently.
Regional orgs and investor attraction
  • An environment where it is quite easy to get financial data on an African company
Internal markets and latent potential
  • Increased inclusion of informal sector into economy
Capital flow w/o oil
  • An environment where there are 50+ stock exchanges where your every day person can learn about an agriculture company in Côte d’Ivoire that produces the cocoa beans Nestle uses for its products and invest in them
Remittances and repatriation
  • A world where there are direct flights to multiple countries from Atlanta, DC, New York
  • Systematic use of remittances on a macro scale

Lumumba Was Here

Yesterday was the 54th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, independent Congo’s first prime minister.

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, one of the first blacks to attend my alma mater, wrote a nice piece on the importance of Lumumba and his death. He recently published a biography of Prime Minister Lumumba that I look forward to reading.

Here’s a letter Lumumba wrote his wife, Pauline some time before his death.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, President Obama gives his State of the Union address.

Lumumba and King were decades younger than President Obama when they died. It’s incredible how productive they were in such a short time. Much more work to be done still to realize their massive dreams.

Nigerians Feel Good About Their Well Being?

PWBISo, personal well-being in Nigeria is trending upward, according to data compiled by NOIPolls. December produced the highest results for the year – a month when the naira stumbled significantly, the Nigerian Stock Exchange went for a wild ride, and Boko Haram deadliness persisted.More than anything, I think this displays the resiliency of this country’s people. President Jonathan’s team must be pleased to see these results with elections approaching next month.

Here, you can see the dive the naira took in December.

Source: Bloomberg
Source: Bloomberg

Here is Nigeria’s All Share Index for 2014. You can see the ride the market went for in the month as foreign investors sold off and local investors filled the void.

Source: Nigerian Stock Exchange
Source: Nigerian Stock Exchange

Here is a tweet Ian Bremmer sent out on the fatalities by Boko Haram.

Municipal Broadband Gets President Obama’s Attention

I was excited to read that President Obama has set his sights on ensuring that cities can develop their own broadband networks, should they choose to do so. While working with the Georgia Municipal Association, we had a couple of close calls that would have prevented Georgia cities from operating their own broadband networks. President Obama is going to hold a press conference tomorrow to outline his plan for improving broadband connectivity. His main initiatives include:

1. Pushing for an end to laws in states that prohibit the development of broadband services;

2. Growing a network of cities committed to growing broadband connectivity in their communities;

3. Provision of technical assistance for the development of broadband networks in community;

4. Offer of loans and grants for rural broadband providers; and

5. Creation of Broadband Opportunity Council tasked with identifying regulatory barriers with the goal speeding up broadband deployment and uptake.

This is important to watch. The US economy is bouncing back in some ways, but there is yet more economic potential to realize. After following the writings of founders and investors like Marc Andreesen and Peter Thiel, I am convinced that the internet economy will be driving that realization for the next several years. We need as many people as possible participating.

Private Equity in Africa Made One Big Little Step

I may have done a fist pump when I saw that Helios Investment Partners raised $1.1 billion for its latest Africa-focused fund – a new record besting the $908 million the firm raised about three years ago. The notion of investing on the African continent is not such a novelty any longer. Sixty percent of the investors in Helios’ last fund participated in this round. Institutional investors showed up to participate in this round. So what, you ask?

There is much work to be done on the continent, and Africa-focused funds like Helios are securing the capital to ensure that work is done – that’s the hope at least. For example, one of Helios’ portfolio companies Helios Towers raised $630 million in its push for taking Africa’s cell tower infrastructure to the next level. Last year’s Ebola outbreak exposed the need for public health infrastructure in the affected countries. Africa’s agricultural potential remains largely untapped. Transportation is still very expensive within and among African countries. Millions of people are still trying to be productive with no power for light at night. The more capital that private equity firms like Helios, AFIG, ECP, and Kuramo have to deploy, I believe they will play their part in taking out larger chunks of these problems.

So we think the industry will take off in Africa, and we now think that probably the growth rate in private equity in Africa will probably be greater than it will be in any other part of the world. [But] it will take time.

David Rubenstein said this about the private equity industry in Africa during last year’s US-Africa Leaders Summit. It will be interesting to watch this prediction over the coming years. Rubenstein says we should give it 10 years. I wonder if we will see different models flourish on the continent in that time. Bob Diamond and Ashish Thakkar’s Atlas Mara made waves last year with its rapid acquisition of a few banks across Sub-Saharan Africa after raising around $725 million. During his keynote at last year’s Harvard Business School Africa Business Conference, Bob Diamond stated that he saw Atlas Mara serving as a catalyzer of copycats. We will have to see about that. Still others point to the holding company model as working better for the African context due to their not being subject to the 10 year limited partnerships of private equity firms.

Whatever model runs the day ten years from now, I am excited about Africa-focused funds securing the capital to do big things on the continent. I hope Helios’ raise opens the door for other funds to raise funds at the $1 billion plus level.