Competing in Africa: China, the European Union, and the United States

Given recent developments in the global economy, especially Brexit and the Trump administration’s “America First” policy, it is worth assessing how Africa’s three largest commercial partners—China, the European Union, and the United States—are likely to impact the region in the near future as it relates to trade and investment trends.

The China-in-Africa story may be increasingly familiar, but its complexity cannot be overstated. As China’s domestic growth began to surge at the end of the last century, demand for natural resources and job creation forced China to look for markets abroad. Africa was a willing partner, due to its abundance of commodities and need for infrastructure development.


China’s role on the African continent has been defined by the financing of more than 3,000, largely critical, infrastructure projects, according to the AidData Project. China has extended more than $86 billion in commercial loans to African governments and state-owned entities between 2000 and 2014, an average of about $6 billion a year. In 2015, at the sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), President Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion in commercial loans to the region, which would increase lending to at least $20 billion a year if that pledge is fulfilled.

As a result, China has become the region’s largest creditor, accounting for 14 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s total debt stock, according to Foresight Africa 2018. In Kenya, for example, the volume of Chinese loans to the government is six times larger than that of France, the country’s second-largest creditor. The FOCAC that will be held in Beijing later this year is likely to continue this trend of extending commercial loans for infrastructure projects.

While China’s level of foreign direct investment (FDI) is relatively low, accounting for just over 5 percent of total FDI inflows into the region in 2015, two-way trade has grown 40 times over the last 20 years and now exceeds $200 billion. More recently, there has been a surge in Chinese private investment combined with a continued, but more limited, state engagement. A 2017 McKinsey study reports that there are more than 10,000 Chinese-owned firms operating in Africa today, about a third of whom are involved in manufacturing. Notably, French academic Tierry Pairault points out that the overwhelming majority of these enterprises are small and micro businesses. McKinsey also reports that Chinese investment in Africa increasingly contributes to job creation, skills development, and the transfer of new technologies, practices more generally associated with Western business norms.

As China works to implement the Belt and Road Initiative, the largest public works program ever, the issue of China’s commercial loans and the subsequent debt incurred by African governments is likely to increase as a public policy concern. There is room to limit the negative consequences of these loans: China should consider transitioning toward a blended financing model, based on Western and Chinese sources of financing, for its support of Africa’s much-needed infrastructure projects. In addition, Africa would benefit if China were to more actively open tenders to international competition as opposed to tying commercial loans to the exclusive use of Chinese companies and materials on terms that are often opaque. A larger portion of grants, as opposed to a singular reliance on commercial loans, even at concessional rates, would be in Africa’s interest.


While the history of colonialism continues to haunt the Europeans—see the viral video of President Akufo-Addo declaring his intent to free Ghana from aid while sharing a stage with French President Macron—when it comes to doing business, language, local knowledge, and historical connections matter.

The launch of the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership and the first-ever summit between the 27 members of the EU and the 54 nations of Africa in 2007 seem to have hit a reset of sorts in the two regions’ relationship. Indeed, over the last decade, the EU has worked, with a large degree of success, to transition to a partnership model based on reciprocal trade. The fifth EU-Africa Summit took place in Abidjan in 2017 against a background in which two-way trade exceeds $300 billion. In association with the summit, the EU pledged to mobilize more than $54 billion in “sustainable” investment for Africa by 2020.

The EU is shoring up its commercial position in Africa through a web of free trade agreements, or Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), which Brussels is negotiating or has concluded with 40 African nations in sub-Saharan Africa. The EPAs provide European companies with preferential access to markets across the region and will liberalize about 80 percent of imports over 20 years. Progress on concluding the EPAs is not without its challenges. Not surprisingly, Nigeria contends that an EPA undermines its industrialization strategies, and Brexit detracts from the EU ability’s to negotiate as a common market.

A comprehensive EU trade strategy combined with a private sector that has historic ties to local markets sets the stage for continued growth and influence by European firms in the African market. In addition, the EU is well positioned to share lessons learned from its decades of experience with regional economic integration as, especially as the Continental Free Trade Agreement was signed by most African Union members in Kigali on March 21.


Since 2000, U.S.-African commercial relations have been based on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a non-reciprocal trade agreement that grants about 40 countries duty-free access for approximately 6,400 products to the U.S.

AGOA has had a mixed legacy, given its goal of growing Africa’s export markets rather than building two-way trade and investment partnerships. AGOA has helped integrate trade and investment into the U.S.-Africa policy dialogue and led to the creation of more than a million jobs, directly and indirectly, on the continent. However, only approximately 300 of the available product lines are utilized and a relatively small number of countries—principally South Africa, Lesotho, Kenya, Mauritius, and Ethiopia—have taken advantage of AGOA to establish a significant volume of non-oil exports to the U.S. At the same time, the EU’s assertive free trade strategy and China’s surge in trade and commercial loans have left the U.S. in need of a new commercial strategy.

In fact, the U.S. commercial engagement in Africa is waning: Over the last five years, U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa have averaged $19 billion. Two-way trade has fallen from a high of $100 billion in 2008 to $39 billion in 2017, largely due to U.S. energy self-sufficiency.

In addition, summits are central to setting government priorities, especially as it relates to trade and investment targets. While the Obama administration held the first-ever summit with African leaders in 2014, the EU has held five summits with Africa, and China is about to hold its seventh heads-of-state dialogue.

Indeed, the U.S. commercial impact in Africa should be more significant than it is. With $54 billion of FDI stock, the U.S. is the largest investor on the continent. There are an estimated 600 U.S. companies in South Africa and more across the continent, including some of the largest American companies. The U.S. business model is welcomed across the continent, given the general practice of U.S companies to hire and promote locally, invest socially and reject corruption, among other practices.

There are important building blocks that could enhance the U.S. commercial presence in the region.

Between 2005 and 2017, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) invested more than $6.5 billion in 14 sub-Saharan African countries through completed or ongoing compacts in infrastructure, health, education, and other sectors. These compacts are designed to drive investment into projects deemed too risky for the private sector, promote economic growth, and enhance regional economic integration in Africa. It is worth noting that MCC investments are grants that are implemented through open-tender bids. While a competitive tender model is a critical component of the agency’s commitment to international best practices, finding more ways to involve American companies should be a priority for the MCC.

USAID’s Power Africa initiative, in many respects, has become the flagship U.S. program on the continent. The program is addressing a critical need: About 600 million people on the continent do not have a reliable supply of electricity. Over the last four years, Power Africa has developed a transactional model, based on public and private partnerships, that has led to 80 projects valued at more than $14.5 billion that are now either online, under construction, or have reached financial close. More than a third of these transactions involve the U.S. private sector, and more than 10.6 million businesses and homes now have electricity as a result of this initiative.

Finally, last month, Congress introduced the BUILD Act, which would create the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) by integrating parts of USAID into the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). The potentially transformative nature of this legislation is in the fact that the IDFC would have a $60 billion lending cap, double the amount that OPIC currently can lend, and could make equity investments up to 20 percent of the total equity of a project. This will make the U.S. more competitive with Chinese state-backed funds, which often take a similar equity position in their projects. Given that Africa comprises the largest share of OPIC’s investment portfolio (27 percent), or $6.2 billion, the proposed IDFC is likely to be a significant benefit to the U.S. commercial engagement in Africa.

The challenge for the Trump administration is to develop a coherent trade strategy for Africa that builds on AGOA, is based on reciprocity, and utilizes existing programs to enhance the U.S. commercial presence on the continent. Given President Trump’s alleged derogatory remarks about African nations and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s abrupt firing while on a visit to the continent, the administration has yet to show that Africa is a priority for the U.S. Fortunately, investing in Africa remains a priority for the U.S. Congress.


China’s commercial presence on the continent will continue to grow, raising the principal concern that China’s significant role in addressing Africa’s infrastructure deficit could be offset by its contribution to a new, and ultimately unsustainable, African debt burden. The EU will work to implement its trade relationship, which will provide European companies competitive tariff advantages. In many respects, the U.S. Congress is driving U.S. policy toward Africa with its numerous and highly relevant legislative initiatives. However, until the executive branch provides diplomatic and policy leadership, the U.S.-Africa partnership will not fulfill its considerable potential.

Post contributed by guest blogger Joel Wiegert, Former State Department official who served in Angola, Tanzania, Ghana, and South Africa and is not affiliated with Covington & Burling LLP. This piece was also cross-posted on Brookings’ Africa in Focus blog.

The Technology Bank

Artificial intelligence and big data are some of the new technologies dominating discourse in 2018.  These technologies are expected to change the way that we travel, learn, and transact.  However, this forecast is less clear for the least developed countries (LDCs).

According to a United Nations study, science and technology and resource and development remain limited in LDCs—several of which are in Africa. Though Africa contains various tech hubs such as Kenya’s Silicon Savannah and Rwanda’s Innovation City, the concern is that without the infrastructure to adapt and absorb existing technologies, it will be difficult for these LDCs to upgrade industries, effectively partner with high tech businesses, and contribute to sustainable development.

So, the question is: how do we overcome the technological divide?

In late 2017, the U.N. General Assembly and Member States operationalized a new mechanism that may provide an answer to this question.  This mechanism is called the Technology Bank.

The Technology Bank is a new entity guided by a Council of thirteen independent experts in science, technology, and innovation (STI) and development cooperation.  The Bank’s goal is threefold:

(1) Improve LDCs’ scientific research and innovation base,

(2) Promote networking among research institutions, and

(3) Help LDCs access and utilize critical technologies.

Set to begin operations in 2018, the Technology Bank could present a window of opportunity to tap into and expand innovation in Africa.

Important for stakeholders, here are three key features of the Bank:

  1. Activities Are Rooted in Sustainable Development

Drawing from technology-driven growth objectives in the Istanbul Program of Action, U.N. Member States in the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda, negotiated the Technology Bank as one of over one hundred concrete measures for implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Sustainable Development Goal 17 specifically envisions the Technology Bank as a means to build robust STI bases by improving technology access, acquisition, and utilization (SDG target 17.8).  The Bank would facilitate North-South, South-South, and triangular cooperation on and access to STI knowledge-sharing (SDG target 17.6).  Cooperation would also focus on the development, transfer, dissemination, and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies on favorable terms (SDG target 17.7).

The Technology Bank also advances collaboration to support other sustainable development goals, which include:

  • Ensuring access to affordable and clean energy (SDG 7),
  • Building industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG 9), and
  • Fostering sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11).

To achieve these goals, the Bank’s Charter allows organizations, firms, and other stakeholders to enter into agreements with the Bank (art. 4(c), 9(c)).  In this way, the Technology Bank is designed with an eye towards long-term collaboration and technological change.

  1. Structured to Provide Innovation Support and Reinforce Intellectual Property Rights

A) Innovation Support via STIM Unit

STIM, also known as the Science, Technology and Innovation Supporting and Enabling Mechanism, is the Banks’ first unit.  STIM aims to strengthen LDCs’ capacities, both to attract outside technology and to “generate homegrown research and innovation and take them to market.”  According to the 3-year Strategic Plan, STIM will promote the development and implementation of national and regional STI strategies.  It will also foster collaboration between LDC researchers, research institutions, and public entities.

B) Reinforced Intellectual Property Rights through IP Bank

The second unit, Intellectual Property Bank (IP Bank), is designed to assist LDCs in building national and regional capacities in the areas of IP rights and technology related regulations by helping LDCs:

  • Secure relevant IP at negotiated or concessionary rates,
  • Obtain technical assistance to identify appropriate technologies,
  • Protect IP for technologies facilitated by Technology Bank, and
  • Protect IP rights derived by LDC inventors.

C) Coordination though the Management Support, Partnerships and Coordination Unit

This third unit aims to ensure synergies and coherence across the different work streams of the Technology Bank, and coordinate with relevant stakeholders on Bank activities.

With effective management of IP rights through the IP Bank, there may be more opportunity for businesses in computer technology and pharmaceuticals, to engage with African entrepreneurs.  Meanwhile leveraging knowledge networks and facilitating technology transfer in STIM may present an opportunity to make technological building blocks more widely available, while supporting human and institutional capacity to innovate.  All three units are designed to work in concert to achieve the action items in the Strategic Plan.

  1. Resources Require Continued Investment

Initial resources for the Bank will come from the host country, Turkey.  As part of the host and contribution agreements, Turkey pledged to contribute approximately USD 2 million annually for five years, and provide personnel and offices for the premises in Gebze.  In January 2018, Norway invested approximately USD 1,070,550.  Under the Charter, these and other contributions will be kept in a Trust, subject to audit by the U.N. Board of Auditors.

Additional resources, however, require input from Member States.  According to U.N.- OHRLLS estimates, the Technology Bank would require an annual budget of USD 35-40 million.  Therefore, the overall sustainability of the Technology Bank, may be determined by stakeholder contribution.

It has been said that “the poorest countries in the world cannot eradicate poverty, achieve strong and sustainable development and build resilience without expanding their scientific and technological bases”  and that the pace of new knowledge creation is too rapid for any one country to attempt to go alone.  The Technology Bank, as it is envisaged, may have the potential to support Africa’s capacity to meet this challenge.  With the ability for stakeholders to participate in the Bank’s sustainable development activities, partner with African innovators, and contribute funds, entities now have another avenue to support new technologies in Africa.

Is Cryptocurrency a Viable Solution for the Unbanked in Africa?

When bitcoin entered the public’s eye for the first time in 2013, it was touted as one of the greatest inventions for the unbanked in Africa. The World Bank estimates that of the 2 billion people without access to the modern financial system, a third live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In recent months, bitcoin and cryptocurrency as whole have received much attention. Further, the underlying blockchain technology has gained mainstream acceptance. While the potential of such technology seems to be limitless, the question remains whether cryptocurrency is a viable solution for the unbanked in Sub-Saharan Africa.

On its face, Bitcoin appeared to be the front runner and ideal candidate for cross-border transactions, especially remittance payments.  However, the volatile nature of the cost associated with such transactions as well as the lack of a robust cryptocurrency ecosystem, has limited the effectiveness of Bitcoin on the African continent.

For many, the cost to send money into Africa through banks and wire services can be a challenge, with transaction fees usually in the range of at least 10 percent. Intra-African money transfer is even more expensive and the cost can rise to as high as 17 percent. Although Bitcoin was initially cheaper with the average transaction fee being only a few cents, in recent months, the transaction fee has proven to be extremely volatile. In December 2017, the average transaction fee climbed to as high as 50 USD, while in March 2018, it dropped to about 2 USD. Because the transaction fee within the bitcoin network does not depend on the amount of bitcoins being sent, for smaller transactions, the cost of transaction would be prohibitively high.

An additional problem lies in the cost of exchanging Bitcoin into local currency, and the lack of an ecosystem to support such exchanges. Because merchants do not universally accept Bitcoin as a means of payment, recipients of cryptocurrency must deal with the issue of converting into local currency. With low demand for bitcoin in sub-Saharan Africa, the ecosystem to support cryptocurrency is currently not robust enough to make the exchange market liquid.

New cryptocurrency platforms also face strong competition from existing fintech companies such as M-Pesa, the ubiquitous mobile money in Kenya. M-Pesa is supported by Safaricom, the biggest telecommunication company in the Kenya market with more than 70 percent of the market share. In 2015, Safaricom stopped its business with other Bitcoin payment processing companies, further limiting the ability of new cryptocurrency companies to break into the Kenyan market. Moreover, Kenya’s high court has held that Safaricom is not legally required to conduct business with such companies, giving the telecommunications company a semi-monopoly and adding further obstacles to the advancement of cryptocurrency technologies in Kenya.

The history of BitPesa, one of the oldest and best-funded blockchain companies in Africa, is illustrative of the difficulty in offering bitcoin remittance service in Africa, but also the potential the underlying technology has to solve banking issues on the continent. BitPesa initially aimed to provide a consumer level cross-border remittance service. However, when faced with the challenges highlighted above, BitPesa pivoted to provide a business-to-business (B2B) payment service instead. Currently, BitPesa is best used by entrepreneurs in Africa who utilize it as a foreign exchange and B2B cross-border payment system for large transactions. BitPesa has been gaining traction in recent time with over 6,000 customers across the continent, demonstrating that the future of cryptocurrency on the continent of Africa may be going in an upward trajectory.

As cryptocurrency and blockchain technology mature, and transaction costs are reduced, using cryptocurrency as a means of remittance may become a reality for many in Sub-Saharan Africa. Further, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology are gaining acceptance among African millennials who desire to not only use the technology but find ways to learn and innovate upon it. With the demand for cryptocurrency on the rise universally, and a growing base of millennials understanding the underpinnings of the technology, it is foreseeable that in the near future, cryptocurrency could very well be a solution for the unbanked in Sub-Saharan Africa.

For more information on the current state of blockchain technology including a synopsis of the use of cryptocurrency in various countries in Africa, please visit the Global Blockchain Business Council Annual Report located here.

Covington’s Africa Practice Will Be at SXSW

Covington’s Africa Practice is looking forward to being a sponsor of the first-ever Africa House at South By Southwest (SXSW) this year.

Launched in 1987, with a mission to foster discussion and collaboration in the music and art scene, SXSW has morphed into the ultimate gathering place for creatives, innovators, and technologists. Held in Austin, Texas each year, the event now draws politicians, corporates, and others seeking to experience the latest digital trends, hear from rising talent in film and music, or discuss significant public policy issues. Last year, there were over 60,000 “South By” attendees from 100 different countries.

Africa House will showcase the region’s emerging status as a global player in technology, entrepreneurship, and design. At the house, participants will experience pitch competitions, workshops, immersive panels, performances, and networking opportunities for all things Africa.

Africa has become a hotbed of tech activity. Just as the continent skipped landlines and went directly to mobile phones, it is skipping traditional forms of banking, agricultural, and various other sectors by utilizing technology to spur economic growth.

At Africa House, a panel entitled: “Big Law & Africa: How Covington Is Supporting The Continent’s Technology Boom,” will cover how government policies and regulations impact the continent’s tech progress.

The panel will include Covington’s experience in helping aspiring companies tackle difficult regulatory and policy questions as they look to grow and expand. Covington seeks to ensure that entrepreneurs are well positioned to address complex topics such as privacy and data security, cybersecurity, and anti-corruption and anti-money laundering. Navigating the legal structures of the U.S., E.U., and various African markets is complicated. And, we will share our experience in advising emerging tech companies on how to comply with global best practices and ensure they have a strong foundation to succeed.

Africa House at SXSW will be open on March 10th and 11th at the Parker Jazz Club in Austin, Texas.

Ten Key Issues to Watch in Africa in 2018

In this blog, Covington’s Africa practice  highlights ten key issues to watch in Africa in 2018.

  1. U.S. Policy: The derogatory remarks that President Trump made about Africans and Haitians, which he denies having said, create a negative image for the U.S. across the region as the year begins. Nevertheless, the administration will push forward on several fronts. Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, is expected to visit Sub-Saharan Africa in the first quarter of 2018 along with members of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-BIA), an Obama-era initiative continued under Trump. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, may also visit the region. As we analyze here, the Administration’s National Security Strategy focuses on combatting corruption in Africa, moving toward more reciprocal trade relationships and modernizing development finance tools. On January 17, 2018 the House passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Modernization Act. The bill will provide technical assistance to help eligible partners fully utilize AGOA and, perhaps most significantly, enable the Millennium Challenge Corporation to enter into concurrent, regionally-focused compacts to promote trade among eligible partner countries. The bill is now in the Senate and will likely be passed later in the year.
  1. Anti-Corruption: Next week the African Union will meet for its 30th Summit, with the theme “Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation.” Consistent with this focus, anti-corruption initiatives are on the rise throughout the continent. For example, Angola’s new president, João Lourenço has taken swift and decisive actions to root out nepotism and corruption. In December 2017, he changed the leadership of nine public utilities and companies, including oil and gas producer Sonangol and the diamond mining company Endiama.  The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the African National Congress and the prospective state prosecution of companies involved in the sprawling “state capture” investigation are likely harbingers of a continued focus on anti-corruption enforcement in South Africa in 2018. The extraterritorial application of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), as well as other foreign anti-corruption laws such as the U.K. Bribery Act, is well-established. The extent to which the effort of African governments to fight graft will result in an increase in FCPA enforcement activity related to the continent is something to watch over the course of the year.  Against this backdrop, corporates would be well-served to focus on developing and maintaining anti-corruption compliance programs.
  1. Project Finance: Project Finance projects in Africa are likely to increase in 2018, especially in energy/power and transport sectors. For example, spending on electricity production and distribution in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach $5 billion by 2025. The Power Africa initiative launched by former President Obama, and continued by the Trump Administration, is expected to contribute significantly to increased investment in infrastructure projects. The initiative’s 150 public and private sector partners have already mobilized $14 billion in actual investment in the 85 Power Africa projects that have reached final close, which will add more than 7,000 megawatts of new power generation. Additional finance is expected from China, India, and Japan. Sub-Saharan Africa’s wealth of natural resources, particularly in the oil and gas sector, will continue to attract investors. Infrastructure spending for petroleum and natural gas extraction is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 7.1 percent between now and 2025, resulting in a total investment of $8 billion over that time period. Notably, funding models are changing in Africa, and models such as public-private partnerships (PPPs) are to become more prevalent. However, in the energy sector, the preferred model of funding remains privately financed Independent Power Producers. Larger state-owned companies in South Africa have made progress in issuing bonds to raise capital, but with South Africa’s sovereign credit rating under pressure, debt capital raising by smaller State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) may prove challenging.. The African Development Bank is expected to continue to provide a platform for bridging finance, direct loans and loan guarantees supporting infrastructure financing. Southern Africa will account for the largest share of infrastructure spend and capital project activity on the continent, and most of the activity is likely to occur in the South African energy sector. Other important investment destinations include Angola, Ghana, Nigeria, and Mozambique.
  1. South Africa: There is a palpable sense in South Africa that the country has turned a critical corner in the fight against government corruption with the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ANC. Ramaphosa’s 2018 agenda is significant: root out the corruption tied to President Zuma by prosecuting individuals and entities implicated by Guptagate, restore the reputation of the ANC as a genuine party of the people, and revive South Africa’s economy. Ramaphosa must also prepare for a decisive election in 2019 while delivering on job creation and managing the tension between market-based land reform and expropriation. An early indicator of Zuma’s fate will be whether he delivers the February 8 State of the Nation address to Parliament; the expectation is that Zuma will be forced out of office over the near-term. It’s more a question of when, not if.  Analysts will also be watching to see how Ramaphosa will revitalise the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and whether he will act against executives in the country’s key SOEs, who have become widely regarded as having facilitated “state capture.”   
  1. Angola: President João Lourenço continues to move forward on the reforms he initiated immediately upon assuming the presidency. The government has announced plans to tap the Eurobond market, probably by June, and it announced that it will repay contractors $5 billion of arrears by 2019. The government has also published a mid-term national development plan (2018-2022) that identifies 88 actions it will take to reform the economy. Key actions include strengthening the financial sector and assessing the vulnerability “of every and any” commercial bank. Whether the government seeks a deal with the IMF to support its reform efforts will be an important issue to watch in 2018.
  1. Zimbabwe: One of the most pressing questions facing the new government in Zimbabwe is whether it can hold “free, credible, fair and indisputable” elections, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa has promised. Mnangagwa has said electoral observers from the EU, the Commonwealth and the UN would be invited to monitor the polls, a welcome departure from Mugabe’s refusal to allow international election observers. Whether the more than 3 million Zimbabweans in diaspora will be able to vote will be important to the credibility of the elections. The success of the elections will have an important bearing on whether the international community is willing to support an economic reform package, which the government needs desperately. Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has announced a bold economic reform program which he hopes will lead to 4.5 percent growth in 2018; how he deals with government spending, the country’s $1.8 billion to the IMF, agricultural and civil service reforms will be key early challenges.
  1. Nigeria: With presidential elections scheduled for early 2019, political jockeying will intensify in 2018 with a prime focal point being on President Buhari’s health and whether he will stand for reelection. Elections for governorships in Ekiti (July) and Osun (September) will be important indicators of the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to manage next year’s presidential elections. The government’s action on the enduring challenges of corruption, petroleum shortages, and unreliable access to power will continue to dominate the political debate. Economic growth is expected to accelerate to 2.5 percent (it was 1 percent last year). This growth will be spurred by improving oil prices and reforms in the financial, manufacturing, and other sectors.
  1. Kenya: Warning that “lingering political uncertainty can further undermine business confidence and stunt a robust recovery,” the World Bank has downgraded its 2018 growth forecasts for Kenya from 5.5 percent to 4.9 percent. Political turmoil during the 2017 elections caused corporations to take a cautious approach to Kenya and delay investments. Healing the ethnic divisions that divide Kenya, rooting out endemic corruption, and addressing drought that has caused food prices to spike are just a few of the challenges facing President Uhuru Kenyatta. Initiatives to foster lasting reconciliation among Kenyans and regaining the confidence of investors will be key challenges for Kenyatta in 2018.
  2. Mobile Money: Mobile money will continue to grow throughout 2018 as a significant engine of economic growth and inclusion, perhaps faster in Africa than in any other region. Currently, there are 277 million mobile money accounts and 177 million bank accounts in Africa and 30 countries have enacted mobile money enabling regulation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2011, there has been a ten-fold increase in the number of mobile money agents reaching approximately 1.5 million, creating a range of opportunities for small and medium enterprises.
  3. Business and Human Rights: Companies with operations in Africa should track the following legal developments in 2018. Legislative proposals in states including Australia, Netherlands, and Hong Kong may, if passed, impose additional modern slavery and child labor reporting and due diligence obligations on relevant companies with respect to their global operations and supply chains, including on the African continent. Also, coinciding with the increased promotion of “access to remedy“—the third pillar of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights—recent judgments in the UK and Canadian courts have seen claims allowed to proceed against UK/ Canadian headquartered companies in respect of alleged human rights offences connected to their foreign subsidiaries in Zambia and Ethiopia. Judgments on the merits are pending. Companies should consider appropriate risk mitigation strategies and measures.


About Covington’s Africa Practice

 In November, Covington celebrated the opening of its office in Johannesburg, South Africa. With a leading  project finance team in Johannesburg, London, and Dubai, Covington is positioned to service companies’ project finance needs throughout the continent. Through its Global Problem Solving capability, Covington’s Africa practice advises clients on matters related to political and regulatory risks. Covington has also developed a special suite of services for financial institutions, banks and non-bank financial institutions across the continent. This set of services includes a focus on six key compliance areas: (1) anti-corruption (including compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and UK Bribery Act); (2) export controls and economic sanctions; (3) anti-money laundering; (4) privacy and data protection; (5) cybersecurity; and (6) competition, including cartel enforcement. If you have questions about your company’s operations in Africa, please contact Witney Schneidman at

What Next for Trump and Africa?

In late December, the Trump Administration released the “National Security Strategy of the United States of America.” The nearly 70 page document lays out the foreign policy priorities of the current Administration in both thematic and regional approaches. At the time of its release, the press focused on the strategy’s emphasis on Russia and China, and the proposed policies towards these “revisionist powers.” But, there was minimal coverage on what this strategy had to say about Africa.

Nevertheless, President Trump’s recent derogatory remarks about Africans and Haitians, which he denies making, has sparked a controversy that has overshadowed the strategy as it pertains to Africa. The question is whether the Trump administration will be able to pursue aspects of the National Security Strategy (NSS) as it relates to Africa in hopes of reconstituting a “respectful engagement” that is elemental to advancing U.S. interests in the region. As the Administration contemplates its next steps in Africa, it is worth considering what the NSS suggests as it relates to the key issues of trade, corruption, and development finance and the timing of its implementation.


On the trade front, there is a clear theme in the strategy of “promot[ing] reciprocal economic relationships” (emphasis added) throughout the strategy. While there is no mention of how this strategy will be applied to Africa specifically, the current non-reciprocal trade framework of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was not designed to be permanent. It is unclear what is next when AGOA expires in 2025, but establishing a reciprocal trade framework is a logical progression and in line with the strategy’s goals. The Administration could transition to reciprocal trade agreements with individual countries and/or regional bodies that take into account capacity and socioeconomic levels by putting the eligible tariffs lines on a sliding scale and increasing the number of lines in which there would be reciprocity over time. This new framework would enhance the ability of the U.S. to compete against the various European Partnership Agreements in place throughout the continent. The strategy outlines that “fair and reciprocal trade, investments, and exchanges of knowledge…are necessary to succeed in today’s competitive geopolitical environment.” If the U.S. pursues a two-way trade platform between the U.S. and  African markets, it will surely help American companies down the road.

Importantly, the NSS discusses “economic integration” in Africa, a priority that the continent’s leaders and regional bodies have been trying to address for some time. In comparison to other regions, Africa has the lowest level of intra-regional trade, at just 18% (Europe, 69%; Asia, 52%; North America, 50%). There are efforts underway, via the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) and the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), that could bolster intra-Africa trade. A cost-effective action the Trump Administration could take to support Africa’s economic integration would be providing trade facilitation assistance to the continent’s regional bodies as they attempt to address the intra-regional trade gap.


Combatting corruption is mentioned both thematically and in the Africa section of the strategy. The Administration asserts that tackling corruption around the world will help American companies “compete fairly in transparent business climates.” Tackling corruption in Africa would be a boon for the continent’s economies as well. Estimates put the annual global cost of bribery at around $1.5 to $2 trillion – roughly 2% of global GDP.

Opaque business environments and outsized political and corruption risks have depressed African markets’ full economic potential. Facing stiff competition from emerging markets in Latin America and South East Asia, African governments must make sure their commercial climate remains attractive.

The Administration appears willing to put some muscle behind addressing graft and supporting governments looking to counter it. The strategy states that “using our economic and diplomatic tools, the United States will continue to target corrupt foreign officials and work with countries to improve their ability to fight corruption.” Trend lines indicate that some African governments and their electorates are not only recognizing the adverse impacts of corruption, but are willing to support policies and candidates that seek to tackle it head on – Angola and South Africa are recent examples of this trend. African governments looking to counter corruption should recognize the Trump Administration’s heightened interest in this issue and solicit readily available capacity building programs housed primarily in the State Department’s Office of Anti-Crime Programs and the International Unit of the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section.

Development Finance

The National Security Strategy states that “the United States will modernize its development finance tools so that U.S. companies have incentives to capitalize on opportunities in developing countries.” In Congress, the Senate and the House are currently both drafting legislation to revamp the legislative authorities for development finance. “Modernize” is the latest catchphrase for consolidation.

The development finance tools of the U.S. government are dispersed across numerous agencies, including the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), USAID’s Development Credit Authority, USAID’s enterprise funds, USTDA assistance, and other smaller, regionally-focused agencies. Streamlining these agencies and dedicating more resources to one central body appears to be a policy proposal that is gaining momentum in Washington.

This proposal could ultimately help address Africa’s infrastructure deficit. From energy access and transportation, to ICT systems and water, Africa’s infrastructure woes are hindering the continent’s economic growth. Closing Africa’s infrastructure quantity and quality gap relative to the developing world and the best performers in the world could increase growth of GDP per capita by 1.7% and 2.6%, respectively. With limited new public expenditures for these capital intensive projects, African governments are relying on alternative forms of financing. A key form of financing for this effort going forward will be development finance.

The idea of establishing a single U.S. development finance institution would benefit American foreign policy and help Africa address its infrastructure deficit. Indeed, such a development would be consistent with the strategy which states: “the United States will not be left behind as other states use investment and project finance to extend their influence.” An appropriately resourced American development finance agency could be a source of much needed financing for African infrastructure projects. With Africa being a stated regional priority for the new leadership of OPIC, the continent could see increased financing activity in the near to medium term.

There are indications that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Africa in the coming months. A robust commercial strategy will be important if there is to be strong U.S.-Africa relations given the recent controversy.

Ramaphosa’s Victory: Progress or Paralysis?

The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the African National Congress (ANC), and now the leading contender to become South Africa’s next president, was hailed as a “humbling rebuke” of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and a stark rejection of his policies, which have led to anemic economic growth, widespread corruption, and rising frustration in one of Africa’s most significant economies.

Indeed, the markets responded quickly as the South African rand initially surged by more than 4 percent on the news of Ramaphosa’s election, reaching its highest level against the dollar in six months, but were flat a day later.

Ramaphosa’s victory represents an important win for those in South Africa who reject the capture of state institutions and crony capitalism that defined Zuma’s leadership. There were widespread concerns that Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma, Ramaphosa’s rival for the leadership position, would perpetuate many of these policies and shield her ex-husband from legal prosecution for the 783 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering, and money laundering he is facing. The process of restoring South Africa to the ideals espoused by the late Nelson Mandela and putting the nation’s economy on a sound footing will not be easy, however.


Ramaphosa’s electoral victory over Dlamini-Zuma, a former minister of health and foreign affairs and chair of the African Union, was razor thin. His margin was 179 ballots cast by 4,708 delegates—the slimmest margin of victory in any ANC leadership race in the 105-year-old history of the organization. These results indicate that the ANC is evenly divided between the reformist Ramaphosa faction and the populist Zuma one.

In addition, only three of the candidates Ramaphosa supported won spots among the top six positions in the ANC: Ramaphosa himself, Gwede Mantashe as the ANC chairperson, and Paul Mashatile as the treasurer-general. The other three positions were won by Zuma supporters: David Mabuza as the party’s deputy president (who also won the most votes of all candidates), Ace Magashule as the secretary-general, and party stalwart Jessie Duarte as the deputy secretary-general. The margin of victory in these leadership races ranged from 339 to 24.

Ramaphosa did not fare any better in the vote for membership on the powerful National Executive Committee—the ANC’s chief executive body. Zuma supporters appear to constitute the majority of the 86-member committee.

The narrowness of Ramaphosa’s victory will have significant ramifications. There were those who expected that a victory by the reform wing of the party would lead to Jacob Zuma’s exit from the presidency prior to the May 2019 elections. While he will step down as party leader within a week, it is unclear whether Ramaphosa will be able to cajole or force Zuma into early retirement.

A second challenge will be economic policy. Ramaphosa has promised a “new deal” for South Africa based on an “uncompromising” rejection of waste, cronyism, and corruption. He has targeted 5 percent growth (up from the current rate of 0.7 percent), the creation of 1 million jobs within five years, and the restoration of investor confidence. The difficulty of delivering on these promises was underscored on the last day of the party congress when the ANC resolved to amend the constitution to nationalize the South African Reserve Bank and expropriate land without compensation, policies that could undermine Ramaphosa’s agenda.


Perhaps the first indication of Ramaphosa’s ability to chart a new direction for the ANC will be the appointment of a national director of public prosecutions, the government office that will oversee the prosecution of Jacob Zuma on corruption charges. The high court in Pretoria earlier this month declared Zuma’s selection of Shaun Abrahams for that position “invalid,” ruling that Zuma could not appoint the person who might prosecute him. The deputy president, Ramaphosa, was given 60 days to appoint a new director of public prosecutions. Zuma’s legal team has appealed this ruling.

One of Ramaphosa’s most pressing priorities will be to retool the ANC’s message going into the 2019 elections. In last year’s municipal elections, where the ANC lost control of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Mandela Bay to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), the party’s support was 54 percent, the lowest since the first democratic elections in 1994 when Nelson Mandela led the party to a victory with 62 percent of the vote. In the 2016 elections, the DA campaigned on a platform of effective service delivery while the ANC was perceived by many to be a party of self-enrichment and detached from the priorities of the majority of South Africans, namely alleviating poverty, creating jobs and restoring the country’s economic health. Reaching voters and restoring the ANC’s image as the genuine party of the people will be an uphill task for the new party president.


This blog was cross-posted on Brookings’ Africa in Focus.

Covington Welcomes Liberian President Sirleaf for Discussion on Emerging Public Leaders Initiative

On December 7, 2017, Covington’s Africa practice welcomed Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for a roundtable discussion on how to expand the training and support of civil service leaders in Africa through Emerging Public Leaders (“EPL”).

Witney Schneidman, President Sirleaf, and Betsy Williams

President Sirleaf was the first woman to be inaugurated as president of an African nation in 2006. President Sirleaf explained one of the greatest challenges she faced was rebuilding Liberia’s civil service and encouraging young people to be apart of it after inheriting a nation torn apart by twenty years of civil war.

Around the same time President Sirleaf was entering office, Betsy Williams was managing the Scott Fellows program in Liberia, an effort to recruit expats and diaspora to Liberia to support various cabinet ministries. After serving as an assistant in the Ministry of Health, Ms. Williams saw first-hand the needs of the Liberian civil service and developed the concept of EPL, a non-profit designed to attract and train high-achieving young Africans to bridge the capacity gap in civil service in Africa. EPL’s flagship program, the President’s Young Professionals Program (PYPP), was launched in Liberia in 2009. PYPP has trained over 120 fellows, the majority of whom continue to serve in the Liberian government.

Michael Labson (Member of Covington’s Management Committee) and Witney Schneidman (Chair of Covington’s Africa Practice) greeting President Sirleaf

Covington gathered other non-profit experts focused on leadership development to discuss the expansion of EPL’s model throughout the African continent, including Ghana. President Sirleaf reflected on her experience with PYPP in Liberia and participants engaged in a lively discussion with her about the EPL model, her vision for the future of development in Africa, the importance of investing in African governments, and her reflections on Liberia’s handling of the Ebola crisis.

Covington represents EPL on a pro bono basis.

Opportunity in Africa: Covington Launches Johannesburg Office

Opportunity in Africa abounds. Half of the world’s 25 fastest-growing economies are on the continent and according to the United Nations (UN), half of the anticipated global population growth between now and 2050 will occur in Africa. Upwards of 800 U.S. companies have a presence in South Africa alone. Yet, challenges remain: only 35 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity and  the World Bank estimates that an annual investment of approximately $90 billion is required to address the region’s infrastructure needs.

Inspired by the continent’s opportunities and eager to address its challenges, on November 13-15, Covington celebrated the opening of its office in Johannesburg, South Africa. As explained by the firm’s chairman Tim Hester in an interview with BBC Africa Business Report, Covington has built a top-notch project finance team in Johannesburg, London, and Dubai that is positioned to service companies throughout the continent.

The firm is also equipped to leverage its global resources to advise companies on the political and regulatory risks they may face in sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on six key compliance areas: (1) anti-corruption (including compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and UK Bribery Act; (2) export controls and economic sanctions; (3) anti-money laundering; (4) privacy and data protection; (5) cybersecurity; and (6) competition, including cartel enforcement.

Complementing this compliance focus is Covington’s Africa Practice and its unparalleled global-problem solving capabilities, led by Witney Schneidman. Covington’s capabilities in this regard were aptly demonstrated by the firm’s assistance to South African telecom operator MTN in 2016, in which Covington Partner and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder assisted in negotiations with the Nigerian government, resulting in a favorable resolution that reduced MTN’s financial exposure by more than half.

Mr. Holder joined the Covington delegation in South Africa in November and shared his perspective on numerous issues, including the potential for the extraterritorial application of U.S. anti-corruption laws on the continent. Mr. Holder’s comments come against the backdrop of the corruption scandal involving the Gupta family and President Jacob Zuma, which has implicated a number of prominent multi-national corporates.

As reported by Business Day, Mr. Holder’s comments emphasized the broad extra-territorial reach of U.S. corruption laws, and noted that seven of the ten largest fines levied pursuant to the FCPA were against companies based outside the United States. Mr. Holder also noted the increased cooperation among global enforcement agencies and predicted that cooperation between U.S. authorities and local authorities in Africa would increase as economic growth on the continent continues and where national security issues that affect U.S. interests emerge. As Mr. Holder explained, in view of these risks, it is critical for corporations doing business on the continent to put robust compliance programs in place.

Timothy Hester, Witney Schneidman, Robert Legh (Chair of Bowmans), and Eric Holder, Jr.

To view additional photos of Covington’s recent events in Johannesburg, click here.

Questions about Covington’s capabilities in Africa? Contact Witney Schneidman at

A Guide to December’s ANC Party Congress

The much anticipated 54th National Elective Conference of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), is scheduled to kick-off in Johannesburg on December 16, 2017. The primary objective of the conference is to elect a successor to incumbent ANC President, President Jacob Zuma. The person appointed ANC president is expected to lead the ANC in South Africa’s general elections scheduled for 2019, and to become South Africa’s next head of state.

President Zuma is serving his last term as president, and the outcome of the ANC party congress is crucial for his life after government. Over the last 10 years, 783 criminal charges for corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering levied by the National Prosecuting Authority against the President have been in abeyance. With a change of the guard, and depending on the outcome of the ANC leadership battle, there is a possibility that these charges could be reinstated.

The tension in the air is palpable with predictions of the outcome of what arguably is the most important elective conference in ANC history. For the first time since the organization was founded in 1912, there are seven presidential candidates.

The two frontrunners are Cyril Ramaphosa, the current Deputy President of the ANC, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the ex-wife of President Zuma and former Chairperson of the African Union. President Zuma is on record as supporting his ex-wife to be the heir apparent and is trying to throw his rural base behind her. Ramaphosa is believed to have the support of the urban constituencies and some grass roots backers. Many commentators argue that for President Zuma, a win by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will ensure that he stays out of prison and possibly keep the pendulum of corruption, defined by his enduring relationship with the Guptas, going.

There are a number of predictions about the impact on South Africa’s political landscape if either Cyril Ramaphosa (the CR17 campaign) or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (the NDZ17 campaign) wins.

One such prediction is that if the NDZ17 campaign triumphs, the ANC risks losing the 2019 General Elections. In this scenario, ANC supporters will turn their back on the party, as they would perceive a Dlamini-Zuma win as facilitating a continuation of President Zuma’s legacy of corruption and partisan control of government agencies and law enforcement institutions. The fact that Dlamini-Zuma will be the first female president in the history of the 105 year old organization does count in her favor, and so does her impeccable liberation struggle credentials.

The CR17 campaign is working to restore ANC unity and has adopted a strong anti-corruption position. A CR17 win is expected to lead to cohesion and unity of purpose within the ANC and amongst its alliance partners, the South Africa Communist Party (SACP) and trade union confederation Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU). In addition to Cyril Ramaphosa’s uncompromising stance against corruption, as well as his insistence on compliance with corporate governance, he is promising to restore confidence in public service, which has been badly depleted. Ramaphosa’s track record also gives hope to those outside government and the ANC, given Ramaphosa’s prior career as a successful businessman, trade union leader and chief negotiator of the interim constitution which guided the transition from Apartheid to democracy. Many believe that a Ramaphosa-led South Africa would stimulate economic growth and job creation and improve the provision of services throughout society. The principal weakness to Ramaphosa’s campaign are a series of emails that linked him to the Marikana massacre in 2012, where the South Africa Police Service (SAPS) opened fire on a crowd of striking mineworkers, killing 34 and leaving 78 seriously injured.

The competition for the ANC leadership post could also lead to another party split, or realignment, such as the one that occurred in 2007 after Thabo Mbeki lost the ANC presidency to President Zuma.

As far as the other five presidential candidates are concerned, they include: ANC Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize, South African attorney and politician Mathews Phosa, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, Minster in the Presidency Jeff Radebe and National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete.

Political analysts contend that the prospects for these candidates are not as promising as the two front runners, Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma. According to the tallies released beginning of December 2017, press reports indicate that Deputy President Ramaphosa has won the endorsement for the ANC presidency from 374 branches in Gauteng and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was supported by 64 branches of the province, which include Johannesburg and Pretoria. Ramaphosa secured nominations from the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, while the Free State and North West back Dlamini-Zuma. The remaining two provinces are expected to announce their favoured candidates by December 5, 2017.

The current developments provide a glimpse of the race for the ANC Presidency that has essentially turned into a two-person contest. It is evident that the upcoming national elective conference of the ANC is not only important for the future of South Africa, but also for the future of the ANC. The party’s future, and perhaps that of the country, will be determined by the votes cast by the estimated 4500 ANC branch delegates in two weeks time.