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30 D+C  e-Paper  December 2015 The economies of many sub-Saharan countries have grown fast in recent years. Accordingly, companies in the formal sector have become stronger. Some of them consider the entire continent their home market and are running operations in many countries. Josef Boven of DEG, the KfW subsidiary that finances private-sector development, assessed the scenario in an interview with Hans Dembowski. Interview with Josef Boven What kind of sub-Saharan private-sector com- pany is active across the entire continent? Three industries matter in particular: banking, tel- ecommunication and retail, with retail driving food processing and consumer-good production too. It is noteworthy, moreover, that private equity funds are increasingly engaged in Africa, and they normally plan at continental and regional levels. The manage- ment of private equity funds is most professional and expects high profits, and that in itself should encour- age other investors. Let’s consider the financial industry first. What kind of African banks are internationally active? Generally speaking, the financial sector is still some- what underdeveloped in many parts of Africa. Many poor people do not have access to it at all, and even small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) struggle to get loans. Observers note, however, that a number of big African banks are increasingly operating at conti- nental or regional levels. Standard Bank from South Africa has become pan-African in this sense, and so has Ecobank Transnational. Most of Ecobank’s cli- ents are Nigerians, but the bank was initially started by the chambers of commerce of several nations with support from ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States. The trend is healthy. The range of financial services is growing, and operations are becoming more professional. At the same time, ever more banks are expanding into neighbouring coun- tries within their region. One example is I&M Bank in Kenya, which now has subsidiaries in Rwanda and Tanzania. To support this regional strategy, DEG has become a shareholder of I&M Bank, and so has our partner Proparco, the French development finance institution which promotes the private sector in a similar way as DEG does. Are other global investors interested in Africa’s financial industry as well? Yes, absolutely. Atlas Mara, for instance, is imple- menting a fascinating platform strategy, raising capital on the London Stock Exchange and using the money to buy African banks in order to build a strong supra-regional network. Business oppor­ tunities look good due to solid economic growth which has stimulated the demand for financial ser- vices in Africa. In a similar way, rising purchasing power has stimulated the retail industry. It makes sense to organise supermarkets and supply chains internationally. ShopRite from South Africa is doing that. In the retail business, it is essential to under- stand local preferences, and I have the impression that African companies are closer to consumers than global competitors. And local preferences are driving demand for food and consumer goods from Africa too? Yes, exactly. To give an example: we are financing and advising Kevian, a juice producer in Kenya. We have contributed to modernising its filling lines with up-to-date technology from Germany. In principle, tropical fruit juices can be exported to Europe. The trouble is that many German companies tend to ignore opportunities of this kind. Many of them still think of problems when they hear “Africa“, and have neither noticed the continents dynamic development in recent years nor the chances that result from it. On the other hand, the mere fact that we are cooperating with Kevian illustrates that there is a huge, unmet demand for financial services and advice, which, in turn, highlights the great relevance of the banking industry’s expansion. Let’s take a look at telecommunications. Celtel was an early multinational from sub-Sahara Africa. Mo Ibrahim started it, proving that mobile telephony is viable and introducing this technology in many countries. The DEG was a shareholder right from the start. Do you regret that the company has been sold and now belongs to the Indian multinational bharti airtel? No, we have no regrets. Celtel’s history proves that Africa is attracting ever more big foreign investors, which is healthy. Moreover, the trend is good for customers. bharti airtel’s sophisticated low-cost business model is excellent, so many people can afford its services. This is what matters for economic and social development. We want as many people as possible to benefit from progress. By starting Celtel, Rising ambitions