U.S. Agency: Nigeria a key African market

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation is a new, modernised agency that will support investments in developing countries to drive economic growth, support stability, and improve livelihoods. In this briefing to launch the programme, Overseas Private Investment Corporation Acting President and Chief Executive Officer David Bohigian give insight into the initiative. Excerpts:

What does this initiative mean?

This agency is going to advance U.S. investment in emerging economies around the world, with a continued strong focus in Africa.

It’ll build on the U.S. commitment to Africa that’s been expressed for almost 50 years through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, where OPIC has worked to mobilize private investment in projects that have built everything from hospitals and power plants to schools, affordable housing, healthcare, and financial services, to really help develop the critical infrastructure and societal needs in Africa.

What we’re seeing is that when the U.S. government invests alongside the private sector, it can mobilise significant capital and it’s an important factor for other investors to be willing to come in and develop infrastructure and develop other needs for countries there.

We’re invested throughout the continent right now in private equity, as well as political risk insurance and project finance across just about every sector of business and investment. And it’s the kind of projects that private capital wouldn’t do on their own.

Today, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation has over $5 billion invested in Africa, which catalyses billions of dollars more, and that kind of investment really promotes stability, prosperity, connectivity, and trade. And why we’re here today to talk about the launch in less than two months of the Development Finance Corporation. It really is one of the biggest changes in U.S. foreign policy this century, and it’s giving the United States significantly more resources to invest in development. Today I mentioned we’ve got about $5 billion in Africa that’s catalyzing billions of dollars more; we expect that to significantly increase with Development Finance Corporation.

So I’m going to give you a little bit of background on the Development Finance Corporation. About a year ago, in early October last year, Congress passed and the president signed the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development—or the BUILD—Act, which had broad bipartisan support, and we’ve been working to implement that since then. It really does show the U.S. commitment to development finance, and working in emerging markets is good for those societies as well as American businesses and taxpayers, and that the capital needed is catalysed by development finance. We’ve been doing this at OPIC since 1971, and one of the key factors in the Development Finance Corporation is the successful history we’ve had of helping countries create prosperity.

Going forward, we’re going to be working with colleagues from USAID even more closely. One of the key pieces of legislation was the Development Credit Authority; some of the people who do loan guarantees in a private sector focus at USAID will be joining Development Finance Corporation.

Second, we’ll be having an investment cap of $60 billion, which should help catalyse hundreds of billions more, and that’s more than double our current capacity. For the first time, the Development Finance Corporation will be making equity investments, which will be particularly useful in private equity funds throughout the continent. We’ll also have technical assistance and feasibility studies to be able to be more proactive in identifying and developing opportunities for development. We’ll also be focused more on economically empowering women, where today we’ve already mobilized more than $1 billion, and Senior Advisor Ivanka Trump and I traveled to Ethiopia earlier this year to talk about the Africa piece of the 2X initiative. We’re also working on our Connect Africa initiative, which takes into account the needs and infrastructure and telecommunications and technology, as well as value chains throughout Africa to make Africa more connected with the world.

We think this model for development finance really is the future of finance, and we’ve got a long history of investing in Africa that we intend to build on. I visited Africa several times, Worku visited Africa more times than I can count, and we’ve seen everything from a Cameroonian eye hospital that’s helping cure people of cataracts and blindness, then we go to Togo where OPIC helped triple the amount of power in Togo.

How will the United States International Development Finance Corporation benefit Nigeria, in particular, and Africa, in general?

Well, clearly Nigeria is a key market throughout Africa, and we believe that OPIC has already been able to help expand finance in small and medium-sized enterprises through a $200 million financing to Union Bank of Nigeria. What’s happening through that facility is we’re expanding on lending to women-owned, women-supporting, small and medium-sized enterprises. We’re helping to upgrade UBN’s digital banking projects and technologies, and really helping to support an entrepreneurial class that will help catalyse additional investment into Nigeria. So we think that the Development Finance Corporation can build upon that example in Nigeria and beyond.

Which sectors of the economy will be funded by the new agency?

Well, OPIC and the U.S. Development Finance Corporation are invested across just about every industry in Africa and in emerging markets around the world. That can include energy, as we’ve worked through our Power Africa program. It can include affordable housing, where I’ve visited housing in Ghana that’s helping the middle class afford housing there. As I mentioned earlier, healthcare; we’re also in education, and our Connect Africa initiative puts a major focus on infrastructure. It also puts a major focus on technology, as well as connectivity for telecom, and also logistics and value-added manufacturing. So across all those sectors, OPIC has invested and we expect more from the Development Finance Corporation in the years ahead.

In Chad in particular, I’m proud of the fact that we invested in off-grid solar recently, this year; not only will that provide energy to the people of Chad, but it also promotes women’s economic growth.

As you know, the United States doesn’t operate in a vacuum; it doesn’t operate in Africa in a vacuum, and in fact, the largest investor, in the broad sense of the word, on this continent now appears to be China, through its Belt and Road Initiative and the Shanghai Coordination Council efforts. I am sure that your programmes and your new format had China in their sights in some way, and I’d like you to discuss that. How do you see these programmes and their future fitting in with the Chinese efforts in this region?

The Development Finance Corporation, as well as OPIC, are born out of the same impulses that created the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, and so the United States has been doing development finance for generations, and what’s important when we think about the choices that these leaders need to make about developing their societies are five factors. The five factors when countries are considering finance, first mean that these nations need to protect and respect their own sovereignty; that’s crucial. Second is that the local workers are getting the benefits of the jobs in these economies, to provide for their families and their societies. Next, that these projects are respecting the environment, to protect the natural beauty and the resources of these countries. Fourth, it’s crucially important that these procurement processes are transparent and have anti-corruption measures in place. And last, it’s important to make sure these projects are built to last. So I think it’s important for leaders who are considering infrastructure or value-added manufacturing, telecommunications, or other sectors of the economy, to make sure that those five factors are weighed when they’re making the decisions.

It’s also something that people forget when they’re looking at development finance; what the United States model is, and the western model, is trying to catalyse private investment. So when you look at the flows of FDI from the United States, there’s almost $60 billion of FDI stock, which is far more than any other country in the world, from the U.S. alone. And so you need to look at the private sector and what they’re doing that’s being catalysed by the U.S. government, not only the government money that’s going into Africa. And we think that catalysing private sector is the way to build stable societies.

To what extent will the Development Finance Corporation consider environmental issues, particularly, perhaps, climate change, in deciding whether to invest and deciding whether to catalyse private investment in those projects?

Right, well, clearly, respecting the environment is a key pillar of how the U.S. invests, and OPIC as well as the Development Finance Corporation take that into account through our environmental policies. We’ve been investing across full-spectrum energy through Power Africa throughout the continent for years now, and have an enviable environmental record. In Kenya in particular, we’re helping to finance a hundred-megawatt wind farm, Kipeto, which is going to provide up to 460 gigawatts of electricity to the grid.

As I mentioned earlier, off-grid solar in Chad has been a focus of ours. In addition, we’re financing wind and solar across the continent and around the world, and whether it is in the energy sector or beyond, when it’s major infrastructure, there’s no one who has higher standards than the United States on maintaining the environment in Africa and throughout the world.

What is OPIC’s total planned financing for projects in Kenya in the short-term, and which projects are these?

So on Kenya, I just mentioned the Kipeto wind project. Beyond that, our current portfolio is about $700 million through 16 different projects in Kenya. One of those that we’re proud of is Twiga Foods -is a fresh produce distributor in Kenya that’s expanding regionally. We’re helping to provide additional trucks and cold storage units, and it really is empowering small and medium-sized businesses there.

We’re also doing deals that are affordable housing, that are in education, that are value-added manufacturing, and in affordable vehicles. You can find all of our Kenya projects if you go to the website for OPIC or to the app store, where we have OPIC projects—is that the app?—OPIC Portfolio, and you can click into Kenya or any other country in the world to find details on every project. Again, going to the transparency point, where every country, every citizen can find out where the U.S. is helping to create development outcomes that are positive for Kenya and beyond.

What is your message to African-focused private equity fund managers, and what would be the impact of the new DFC on Africa’s private equity industry? And how will the DFC approach the private equity different from OPIC? And then just last, what will be your criteria for evaluating funds managed, and will there need to be some kind of link to American businesses in terms of the investments?

Alright, well, thank you for that. One of the most exciting parts of the BUILD Act is the change in being able to invest equity in private equity funds. OPIC has a more than 30-year track record of investing in private equity funds, and over 100 funds, but we always had a debt product that was different from other limited partners.

Today, throughout the world we’re invested in approximately 40 funds with almost a $4 billion portfolio. We’ve been creating portfolio companies to help across every industry, including education, infrastructure, energy, and beyond, and we expect that the Development Finance Corporation will be able to do much more of that. We expect that the private equity industry will continue to catalyse additional capital, to help build the small and medium-sized businesses that should be the core of Africa’s entrepreneurial future.

I’m proud of the fact that last year we launched a venture capital initiative to be able to work with earlier stage businesses, so that’s been an expanded mandate for our private equity business, to help more growth businesses. But as we move to Development Finance Corporation, the ability to invest equity in private equity funds we think could significantly increase our ability to work with fund managers. And the way we evaluate fund managers is first and foremost, how they can help create stable societies and other development goals. We’ve got a track record of more than 40 years of returning money to the U.S. taxpayer, so we are looking for financial returns; we are looking to catalyse additional capital, but primarily we’re looking to ensure that development happens through the private equity funds in which we invest, and I believe having an equity product for the first time will help unlock billions of dollars of additional capital for Africa in the decades ahead.

What are some specific actions that you will take to eliminate barriers to trade and investment for the especially risky and poor countries in SADC besides Botswana, South Africa, and Angola?

Well, thank you for that. You know, what the Overseas Private Investment Corporation has done over the last 50 years is to ensure that countries are more prosperous, and the BUILD Act is working to ensure that we focus, under the Development Finance Corporation, even more of our efforts in countries that have less than $4,000 per capita GDP. So that’s going to lead us into more investments into sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Africa as a whole, to be able to ensure that we’re helping people there get electricity, help them get affordable housing, help them get education and beyond. And I think ensuring that we’re focused more on where we can help people become self-sufficient and prosperous is going to be a key tenet of the Development Finance Corporation. We will also continue to operate in higher-income countries, but I think the development focus will be stronger than ever.

In Zimbabwe in particular, we’ve worked with financing to help fund mortgages for homes there, as well as working with the International Rescue Committee to provide services to refugees for healthcare and social assistance in Zimbabwe. And those are just two of the examples of how we’re trying to focus on the people who need it most throughout Africa. And we’ll continue to look at countries that we believe are ready for private sector investment and ensure that those governments that are expecting private sector investment are protecting their own sovereignty, making sure that local workers get the benefit of the deal, ensuring that people are respecting the environment, making sure that tax dollars from local populations are actually going to the projects and not going offshore in inappropriate ways, and that the projects are built to last. So we think that our model and our track record are the right way to create prosperity in Africa in the 21st century.

What kind of difference will this cooperation make or bring compared to previous investments, particularly in the case of Ethiopia?

So the Development Finance Corporation, in October of this year, will help build on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s almost 50-year track record. What will be different about the Development Finance Corporation is first, we’re going to have a $60 billion mandate, which, importantly, will help draw in private sector capital that should account for hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in Africa. It’s important to make sure that we’re comparing the money that we’re catalysing – hundreds of billions of dollars – as opposed to just the money that the U.S. taxpayers are helping to catalyse with.

Also important is, as we transform to the Development Finance Corporation, our colleagues from USAID’s Development Credit Authority will help us create strong linkages with missions from USAID and in embassies throughout Africa and throughout the world, as we’re able to expand the product offerings and really take a whole-of-government approach, working with the entire U.S. government with all the tools that we have for finance and trade.

Next, we’ll have the ability to do technical assistance and feasibility studies, to be able to be proactive in identifying and addressing development needs that otherwise we might not have been able to help with. We’ll continue to empower women, we’ll continue our Connect Africa initiative to focus on infrastructure, technology, and value chains. But I think what you’ll see is an increased focus on Africa and the development needs there.

Explain to me why this is in my interest, and especially given the direction in Washington these days to cut back on foreign assistance. How do you convince me that this is a good project, a good investment?

I want to contrast foreign assistance from what the Development Finance Corporation does, which is a development finance investment. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation, for more than 40 years, has returned money to taxpayers in Iowa, Missouri, Maryland, Alaska, and beyond, by ensuring that the money that we invest is returned from the projects which we invest in. So when we go to a private equity fund, we are investing in that private equity fund. The expectation is that we’re going to have development outcomes as well as financial returns. We think that economics is a key pillar of foreign policy, that creating opportunities for societies is in the long-term interest of the United States and of the world. More prosperous nations are better partners for us, from a political standpoint as well as an economic standpoint. Trade and investment go hand-in-hand.

So the American taxpayer knows that we’re helping to create power and schools and housing that’s going to help create a prosperous middle class that will be a better trading partner for us, a better political partner for us, all while we are actually returning money to the taxpayer. So I think it’s an important distinction to draw between foreign assistance, which is a key component of U.S. foreign policy, but what we do here at the Development Finance Corporation is invest to catalyse private sector partners that prove that we’re going to be able to have a return on capital for the U.S. taxpayer, at the same time meeting the development needs of the world.

How will the DFC make sure corruption doesn’t come in and cut out the real beneficiaries from the projects?

U.S. companies have a long track record of operating under a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and we take that very seriously. We believe it’s the gold standard in ensuring that our companies and the projects in which they’re involved have anti-corruption measures in place. What’s also important, as we look to work with overseas partners, is that their procurement processes or their public-private partnerships are truly transparent. There are some development finance projects in the world right now that have not upheld those standards, and we think that’s to the long-term detriment of the people in the countries who are helping to pay for these projects. So we believe that the U.S. corporations have a long history of ensuring the highest possible standards of transparency and anti-corruption.

  • Transcript courtesy: Department of State’s Media Hub

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