Berlin conference: Time for German companies to go Africa

Speaker after speaker talked about the immense potential for greater German-African trade at the first Germany-Africa Business Forum (GABF) in Berlin recently.

The event, which brought together entrepreneurs, CEOs, key opinion leaders and politicians, featured presentations on the challenges and prospects for doing business in Africa.

In his keynote speech, former President Thomas Boni Boyi of the Republic of Benin praised the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel for making Africa a major topic of Germany’s current presidency of the G20.

He called on Germany to enter into a strategic economic partnership with Africa similar to the partnerships that the UK, France, India and China already have with the continent.

Boni told the packed conference room of the prestigious Adlon Hotel at the event, which took place on 23 March, that the time had come for German investors to increase their activities in Africa.

Boni cited the factors that speak for Africa as a favourable destination of trade and investment, including abundant mineral deposits, plentiful arable land, high population growth and increasing political stability driven by democratic governance.

The former Benin leader said agriculture, mining, manufacturing and oil & gas were the sectors mostly yearning for foreign investment in Africa.

Germany’s increased involvement in Africa will help create jobs for its teeming youths and wealth for its populations, outcomes that are ultimately also in the interest of Europe, he concluded.  

A cross-section of participants at the one-day conference / Photo: GABF

In his opening speech, Guillaume Doane, the executive director of GABF, said the time had come to strengthen the relationship between the African and German business communities.

Douane, who is also the CEO of the African Branding Corporation, cited the factors favourable for German investment in Africa and the benefits the continent can derive from joint ventures.  

“Things are moving fast in Africa,” he said, adding that the potential to strengthen economic ties between Germany and Africa was tremendous.

Zander pointed out that Africa currently accounts for only 2% of Germany’s foreign trade, showing that there is plenty of room to grow the economic ties between the two partners. He also lauded Germany for making Africa a major issue of its G20 presidency as Europe cannot isolate itself from the problems of the continent.

Zander gave examples of where German know-how can perfectly match Africa’s needs. Renewables account for about 30 per cent of Germany’s energy mix and the country’s expertise in the field could be deployed to assist African governments in their ongoing efforts to solve the energy crisis in the continent.

In his comments, Sebastian Wagner, executive director of DMWA Resources, said Africa was no longer the continent of the future but of the now. He said German business culture could offer a balance to the “vibrancy” of doing business in Africa. “There is a lot of potential for increased German-African trade,” he enthused.

In a presentation, Uganda’s deputy of head of mission in Germany, Ambassador Johnny Muthahi Muhindo, marketed the attractiveness of the east African country for foreign investment. Uganda’s membership of the East African Community (EAC), he said, made the country a suitable gateway into a dynamic region.

Uganda was looking for investments in agriculture and food processing as well as in the exploration and exploitation of its diverse mineral riches, Mr Muhindo told his audience.

The country, which is on the verge of oil and gas production for export, also offers investors opportunities in the development of infrastructure for its nascent hydrocarbon industry.

From left: Rebecca Enonchong (founder and CEO, Appstech), Alvaro Martinez (Executive VP, Region WE & MEA, GEA Group), Erick Yong (Managing Partner, GreenTec Capital Partners), Rob Withagen (Co-founder & Managing Director, Asoko Insight) and Tim Nuy (Executive Director, MyBucks) / Photo: GABF

The envoy listed the incentives being offered by his government, including free land for large-scale farming, tax holiday and administrative support. Uganda was also looking for investment in tourism sector, assuring that the country was making efforts to making doing business easier.

Uganda had a high growth potential as it’s currently implementing policies to promote economic growth and the improvement of the citizens’ welfare, Muhindo said.

He added that Uganda preferred fairer international trade rules and positive partnership to development aid, which he said had not helped much until now.

In her own presentation, Carole Kariuki, CEO of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), cited hard statistics about the country’s economy that make it attractive for foreign investors.

Kenya’s GDP of US$53.4 billion accounts for about 40% of the regional economy. It’s also a gateway to doing business in the region as goods and services produced in Kenya can be sold across the ECA.

Kenya had improved its infrastructure in recent years and it’s attractive for consumer goods manufacture as a result of its growing middle class, she added.  

In his contribution, Marc-Peter Zander, CEO of Africon, advised German investors not to be discouraged by the negative reputation of Africa which he said was driven by prejudice.

He pointed out that many major infrastructure projects were being implemented across the continent which are driving demand for steel. He said about 18 million tons of steel would be needed in Africa by 2020, creating opportunities for investment in the production of the metal.

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As unfashionable as doing business in Africa appeared to the casual observer, Zander said almost all the 30 major German companies trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange were already engaged in the continent.  

Several panels discussed specific themes during the one-day conference. Discussants talked about the challenges facing foreign investors in Africa, such as infrastructure bottlenecks and high transactions costs. They also discussed huge opportunities in the manufacturing of consumer goods, especially foods and beverages for which a huge market exists.

GABF, which will henceforth take place annually, “aims to develop fresh commercial and social concepts that shape business as well as economic and political thought and institutions.”

Femi Awoniyi

For more information about GABF, visit:


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