The African Finance Corporation (AFC) which was established to help bridge Africa‘s huge infrastructure gap, has made investments totaling more than $4.5 billion in a decade of operations. In an interview with AllAfrica’s Bunmi Oloruntoba and Reed Kramer during this month’s Annual Meetings of the IMF and World Bank, CEO Andrew Alli outlined that corporation’s strategy for scaling up to address Africa‘s major infrastructure
Give us a quick overview.
The Africa Finance Corporation is an African multilateral organization that is tasked with financing infrastructure projects in five sectors. These are power, transportation, telecommunications, heavy industry and natural resources. In addition to financing projects, we also provide various types of advisory services. We aim to catalyze as many new projects as possible across the continent. We have a balance sheet of approximately $4 billion.
Where do you source the capital?
Initial equity capital came from a number of shareholders. Our biggest is the Nigerian Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria. They own about 42% of AFC’s equity. There various financial institutions which own the bulk of the rest, and we have a 10% shareholder which is an industrial company. That’s our equity base.
To address the shortage of ‘bankable’ projects, AFC is developing expertise.
We started off with a billion dollars of equity through retained earnings. That has grown to about 1.3 billion. We’re lucky enough to have an A3 credit rating, which is the second highest for a financial institution rating in Africa. This gives us a good access to the capital markets. We raise Eurobonds – we did one earlier this year. We raised a Sukuk (Islamic bond) earlier this year. We borrow in the commercial market, and we also borrow from other DFI’s particularly the international ones – DFI’s meaning Development Finance Institutions.
It’s always a problem to obtain capital. But we started off well capitalized, and we’ve been prudent in how we managed the business. Now we’ve got a very solid 10-year track record as well.
What role is AFC fulfilling that other multilateral finance institutions are not?
At the time we were founded, we were the only African institution with a focus solely on infrastructure financing, albeit with a rather broad definition of infrastructure. It’s important to have an organization that is devoted to infrastructure because it’s quite a difficult asset class.
For example, because we focus on infrastructure, we have developed expertise in project development. One of the reasons there aren’t that many infrastructure projects happening is a lack of skill and a lack of resources to do project development – taking a project from an idea through to where it can be financed. There are organizations helping with feasibility studies, but feasibility is, maybe, one-tenth of the process.
Once you know a project is feasible, you have to agree on the concession. You have to do the environmental studies and raise the financing, et cetera. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and we focused on this project development early.
We’ve also done a few pioneering things. We started off doing projects on our own, then we brought in other partners. We started financing third party developers. We closed a big project in Ghana called Cenpower which is a 350-megawatt power station where we were one of the lead developers. More recently we’ve been instrumentally in setting up the Africa Project Development Association – an association of power developers.
Also, unlike some other entities who are in the infrastructure space, we do equity as well. We take equity stakes in projects. We also do mezzanine financing, which you will find is less common.
The estimates for the infrastructure financing gap range from $30 to $50 billion per annum. This includes projects that are ‘bankable’ as well as those that generally must be undertaken by governments, because they serve the public interest but don’t generate revenue. There are lot of infrastructure projects that have developmental impact, but have to have government funding because they aren’t commercial. Rural roads, for example, have to be done on the balance sheet of the government. They don’t produce a return for an investor.
What’s the governance structure of AFC?
The ultimate decision-making is the shareholders. Day-to-day, we have a board of directors – a number of them represent our larger shareholders, and we have one independent director. We’ll probably get another one soon. The board has three subcommittees: risk and investment, audit, and board nominations and governance. There’s a management team, which has an executive committee – a standard governance structure.
Does progress – or lack of progress – towards regional integration impact what you do?
Regional integration makes bigger markets, which makes for more healthy economies, more healthy companies. But it doesn’t always help with infrastructure projects. Power is one where you can get good economies of scale, and we’re seeing the development of regional power pools. But a lot of projects we are involved in don’t have a regional aspect – roads in-country, ports, et cetera. With regional projects, the complexity goes way up. You’ve got different political objectives, different regulations, different philosophies. Bringing that all together is difficult. If it really makes a lot of sense to do it, then of course, you should. But if you can do a project based on a single country then that’s where you should start.
How do you assess the Chinese role in infrastructure development?
A lot of it is orthogonal to what we do, because the Chinese have typically followed a model of government-to-government financing. They are helping governments finance the large chunk of projects that are not commercially bankable but are important. Now and again, they stray into the private sector, but largely that’s what they’ve done. It’s been roads, stadia, railway lines – things like that. We find them quite complementary. We have such a large need in Africa that I welcome funds from any source. As long as it’s well managed, Chinese funding is just as good as funding from anywhere else.
What are your biggest obstacles?
There is the gap between the obvious need for infrastructure investment in Africa and the lack of projects in which to invest. The bottleneck is not money; it’s actually lack of projects. There are a lot of people who would like to invest in infrastructure in Africa, but the projects are just not there. So we spend a lot of time and effort trying to help develop new projects.