Old Masters, New Players: Is the African Economy in the Hands of Foreigners?

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A lot of money is trickling into sub-Saharan Africa,
according to Hashim Wasswa Mulangwa. He explained that
the West is losing investment ground because “economic
strength is shifting to the East”. This, he argues, does not,
however, mean that Africa has completely lost control over
its economy.
Madina Guloba asserted that the arrival of new players is
good. She cited the example of visible Chinese-supported
projects at the grass roots. Sylvie Matelly concurred, stating
that new players in Africa are an indication of investment
opportunities. She, however, emphasised that Africans
must decide on what they want for their countries.
In contrast, Andrew Elias State said the continent faces a
challenge of being trapped in foreign investments amidst
the scramble to invest and control. He argued that by
opening its doors indiscriminately to investors, our
leaders are inadvertently mortgaging the future of
young people. “Are we going to live in the shackles of these
Thomas Schiller says he foresees Africa as a very huge
market, something that will require putting right certain
shortfalls, such as lack of adherence to the rule of law and
unreliable power supply.
While it is not in doubt that new players are here
and are changing the market and investment
landscape in Africa, the question that remained
was whether Africa is ready.
Mulangwa argued that Africa is “consistently not ready.
We have policies and strategies in place but we don’t see
them through.”
Guloba believes there is need for a rethink of policies that
work beyond individual countries. “We are still stuck with
policies that work for Uganda and not for Uganda and its
engagement with Kenya, for instance.”
Schiller argued that even with new players on the continent,
Africa is not attracting enough foreign direct investment.
He said it does not matter where the investors are from or
who they are but whether the investments are being made
in areas that matter.
Is Africa reaping enough from new players?
Elias thinks Africa needs to gain more from new players in
its backyard. “We need to ask why we have only 2 per cent
investors a year but they reap the highest.”
Guloba thinks the problem lies in the scramble for
multinationals by African countries. “The politicians give
them [multinationals] low taxes and the country gets a raw
deal. The politicians don’t see ahead.”
The way forward, according to Elias, is for Africa to sort
out its politics. He decried the disunited manner in which
African leaders negotiate with foreign economic players
and potential investors, which places the continent at a
disadvantage. He cited instances where African presidents
go to China and India as individuals and not as a group.
“We need to increase our purchasing power. I don’t think we
have that purchasing power.”
Mulangwa says the solution lies in the hands of the youth.
“The choices made by those in power today are driven by
the interests of those in power. I think it’s high time young
people rose up to talk and challenge it.”
Members of the audience recommended two key
action points:
• Africa needs new leaders who can drive the continent’s
• Policies that protect the environment from waste and
investment activities are crucial.

Meet the Panelists