Last week I listened to a 34 year old former banker talk about building a business in Africa. Zain Latif runs a private equity fund investing in sub-Saharan Africa called TLG. He is a smart American (he was a Vice President at Merrill Lynch at 23); polite and self assured and fascinated by his subject, which is how certain sub-Saharan African countries function, and how investors like him can make long term returns in a way that generates long term benefits for a country’s citizens. He holds the success of the private and informal sectors in India as a valuable blueprint for Africa – India demonstrates that world class businesses can emerge out of chronically poor and poorly governed societies. India’s entrepreneurs have been forced to innovate; the result has been world beating businesses, many of which are focused on providing consumers with essential products and services like clean water and cheap medical care which the state is unable to provide. If this can happen in India, then why not Africa?
And of course, in much of east and southern Africa, there are plenty of Indians trying to do exactly this. Zain argues that despite appearances, he struggles to come across the Chinese in Africa as China’s interaction with Africa is mainly at a government level. If you are operating in the private sector the Chinese are nowhere to be seen. He has investments in Kenya (real estate), Ghana (private healthcare) and Uganda (bottled water). He thinks Nairobi / Kenya is reaching saturation point, he is bearish about Rwanda, he stays north of the Limpopo because South Africa is on a different spectrum to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, and because it is already well capitalised. These days, raising funds for Africa is not difficult, the hard part is finding a good investment, and structuring the exit.