When it comes to development, there’s a danger of viewing Africa as a single homogeneous country rather than a dynamic continent of unique nations with ever-evolving markets.
Prince Randy Koussou Alam-Sogan is making it his business to change that perception. The French-Beninese entrepreneur is often busy negotiating multi-million dollar projects with international investors to empower African nations to optimize their resources, fund their own growth and take control over their destiny.
As chairman and president of Black Lion Holdings, Alam-Sogan runs one of the continent’s most successful investment consulting firms. The asset management company is currently operating about 170 projects in 30 countries, including 4,000 affordable housing units in Niger; a 460-mile railway in Togo; and a new international airport in Benin.
“We currently manage a pipeline of projects worth a total of $22 billion,” says Alam-Sogan, adding that those efforts trail only the African Development Bank, New Partnerships for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the governments themselves.
Most of Black Lion’s investment sources are based in Asia and Europe. Now Alam-Sogan is on a quest to attract more North American investors, which recently led him to United Nations headquarters in New York. In October, he met with UN officials, economic development leaders, investment banking executives, and other African dignitaries to discuss de-risking infrastructure. The breakfast session, which coincided with the U.N.’s Africa Week, was hosted by NEPAD and the Continental Business Network.
The high-level meeting addressed how best to increase the number of infrastructure projects, how to make those projects appealing to investors and how to mitigate the risk of investing in Africa.
Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, the CEO of NEPAD, told the audience that taking a pan-African approach is the key to achieving their infrastructure goals. “We have to respond to national problems with regional solutions,” he says. This approach has become a priority for NEPAD’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa to create development corridors on the continent. One of those regional solutions is the Nigeria-Algeria Gas Pipeline, which will not only provide reliable gas supply but also boost economic growth in the region.
The continent requires an annual $93 billion investment to meet infrastructure needs, including energy, water-sanitation and transportation, according to NEPAD.
“There is no shortage of funding,” says Zienzi Musamirapamwe, an executive at Barclays South Africa, who attended the meeting. “It’s just a matter of finding projects that are at a bankable stage to attract investors.”
Several U.N. observers agree that it’s a challenge to find those bankable projects. Even governments struggle with presenting well-structured and well-packaged projects that are investment-worthy, says Alam-Sogan, though he notes that the process is improving.
Traditionally, investing in Africa has been considered to be a high risk, a narrative many in the development sector are fighting to overcome. “Is Africa as risky as it is perceived by its investors?” Mayaki asks. Some African nations have been underrated by ratings agencies for too long, Mayaki says. “There is a perceived risk versus the actual risk.”
African decision makers should help shoulder the risk with the appropriate investors, says Franck Behiblo, of Quantum Global, a Swiss-based, Africa-focused investment firm. Greenfield projects, which start from scratch, need initial investments just to get off the ground, and Behiblo suggested that Africans be the ones who make that initial investment.
“How can we sell Africa if we don’t buy it ourselves as Africans?” asks Behiblo, who adds that the project would then become more appealing to other investors.
A lack of funding in the initial stages is a concern in government-sponsored as well as private-sponsored projects, says Alam-Sogan. It hinders feasibility studies and the opportunity to secure the proper technical, legal and business expertise, he explains.
Once the projects are off the ground, they spend seven or more years being delayed by excessive bureaucracy, duplicated services and outdated systems, says Alam-Sogan. Black Lion Holdings, however, has managed to fast-track the project development and delivery process in two to three years all while working within the framework of the U.N. sustainable development goals.
“Africa is truly the richest continent on Earth,” says Alam-Sogan, who is a tribal prince hailing from the former kingdom of Dahomey, what is now present-day Benin.
“I think many investors, especially in the West, are completely misinformed about the great continent that is Africa,” says Alam-Sogan. He is working nonstop to enlighten them.