Eye on West Africa

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Living in West Africa is, as I’ve written before, a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Up, down, upside down and turnabout – except that this rollercoaster never comes to a gentle stop.

Gambia is, heaven forbid, looking at the prospect of internal conflict after another disputed general election, with the incumbent refusing to give way.  Nigeria, the focus of attention for a decade or more, the place to be and invest, has experienced a full year of negative GDP growth; the currency is in free-fall, and the prospects for 2017 look, well, bleak.  Benin, Nigeria’s tiny neighbour, is dependent on the big boy next door for much of its economic activity.  Nigeria has just banned the import by road of used cars (or did it withdraw the ban? Difficult to tell which way is up sometimes), which means that an entire industry in Benin’s capital city Cotonou, with several thousand jobs involved, no longer has any customers.

But citing again the fact that every negative has a positive, there are three countries that are on the rise in West Africa, one of which has been at the bottom of the hill for many years.

Cote d’Ivoire experienced internal conflict for much of the last decade, and in the early months of this one, with severe damage caused by what became street-to-street fighting in Abidjan, the commercial capital.  Six years after taking power in early 2011, after the terrible aftermath of the 2010 election, and after a peaceful re-election in 2016, President Alassane Ouattara and his colleagues in government have delivered the country through years of conflict to prosperity. It is now the fastest growing economy in the world, forecast by the IMF to experience 8% real GDP growth this year.  That’s actually the highest globally in percentage terms. No one in the developed world comes anywhere near it. It is higher than China and India. The average for sub-Saharan Africa is just 2.9%.

Sure, it’s starting from a small base, but the momentum is there, and growth begets growth.  Due to the years of conflict, the hotels in Abidjan got a bit ‘tired’, but refurbishment is underway. The Radisson Blu at the airport opened last year, and some large international brands are moving, including Azalaï and Mövenpick.

A recent article published on AllAfrica.com says that Cote d’Ivoire “may well be Africa’s new economic powerhouse”.  Sorry Nigeria, you’re going to have to do better.

Ghana and Senegal are also experiencing some of the highest growths rate globally.  Neither country has had the conflict that Cote d’Ivoire and other West African nations have experienced, although Ghana has been through a bit of uncertainly recently. It has been hit by the reduction in the world market prices of oil, gold and cocoa, a severe shortage of electric power, alleged poor governance at the centre, and a ‘wait and see attitude’ for the general elections held in December 2016 – which, unlike other countries, passed off peaceably (once again). There are high hopes for economic recovery in 2017, with the IMF projecting 7.4% real GDP growth.  Such a high figure mean a greater likelihood that the hotel industry will receive greater demand, and that new projects in Accra, such as the Marriott in Airport City, will finally open.

Senegal has been kind of a ‘Steady Eddy’ in recent years, with average GDP growth in the last decade of around 4 to 4.5%. There was a dip to around 2% in 2011 due to poor agricultural output and a lack of confidence building up to the early-2012 election, but recent efforts to further diversify the economy are succeeding, with GDP growth projected at almost 7% this year.

Senegal’s capital, Dakar, benefits from good road infrastructure and good air access to the rest of Africa, Europe and the USA.  Like Abidjan, the hotel market has been dominated by French brands, with several Accor properties in operations, but this is changing. There is a very successful Radisson Blu on the Corniche in the Fann district, with a Hyatt and another Azalaï, a hotel chain making huge strides in West Africa, under construction.

That same article says that Senegal has “… long been a bastion of political stability in West Africa.” This is definitely an essential, recurring theme, along with economic diversification, to stimulate investment and growth.

So, three to watch in West Africa. In fact, don’t just watch, get your hands dirty and scoop up the opportunities.