The World Bank Group continues to engage in South Sudan despite the odds, and for good reason
Tell people you work in Juba – capital of South Sudan and now the newest member of the East African Community – and more often than not they won’t know where to find it on a map. Those of us who know are often met with doubtful stares when we talk about enhancing trade and competitiveness in a country that is struggling to emerge from decades of grueling civil war, not to mention a 98 percent illiteracy rate, inadequate capacity, a maternal mortality rate of 254 for every 100,000 births and a 250 out of 1,000 infant mortality rate.
Fact is, Juba is situated in the heart of Africa, where such challenges, and the daunting figures that go along with them, exist. But look deeper and you see commitment, potential, and signs of the World Bank Group’s positive impact. In short, you see opportunity.
“The only way to achieve the sustainable development goals is to use more public capital strategically for unlocking private investment, particularly for infrastructure,” says Amadou Hott, CEO of the Senegalese Fund for Strategic Investments.
The Senegalese Strategic Investments Fund (FONSIS, for its acronym in French) is part of a rapidly expanding network of state-sponsored strategic investment funds (SIFs) now emerging in countries at all income levels. The World Bank Group and its partner, the Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility, work with FONSIS in an advisory role, and FONSIS provides input to the Bank’s research on SIFs. In the World Bank Group’s recently issued Climate Change Action Plan, SIFs feature as one of the tools to crowd in private capital to climate mitigation and adaptation projects.
Mr. Hott was in Washington last week for the Spring Meetings, and we caught up with him during a break in his schedule. Mr. Hott represents a new generation of African financial sector professionals and leaders, who have returned to opportunities at home after earning degrees at leading global universities and gaining extensive experience on Wall Street, in the City of London, and in other global financial centers. He was also nominated a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
Q. FONSIS has been doing some very interesting projects. Could you tell us about some of your signature investments?
One project that I think is innovative is our building and commercial operation of the POLIMED (Pôles d’Infrastructures Médicales) diagnostic center within the public hospital of M’Bour, a coastal city 70 kilometers from Dakar. The hospital itself couldn’t afford to buy the required advanced technological equipment, and we were asked to build and run the diagnostic center as a commercial operation, with the public doctors and technicians of the hospital providing the medical services to keep down patient fees. Since operations started at the end of December 2015, more than 4,000 patients have been diagnosed, and the financial results are looking good so far. We intend to replicate this model all over the country to upgrade our medical infrastructure.
Another interesting project is the 30 megawatt, €41 million, solar energy power plant Santhiou Mékhé, and a 9 km transmission line to the grid. We closed that deal this past February. We were approached by the project’s initial developer, and our role was to structure the financial side of the project, help finalize the power purchase agreement with the off-taker, reach out to potential investors, and negotiate the debt and equity contributions. We also put down about €1.0 million of our own capital as a cornerstone investor, to give the project credibility at the initial stage. We expect the plant to be producing electricity in late 2016. I think we’ve achieved a good result: about €40 of external equity and debt co-investment for every euro that we ourselves invested. In general, we aim to achieve a multiplier of around 10 on our own invested capital, but we achieved an exceptionally high multiplier in this case, as we managed to secure a debt/equity ratio of 80/20.
The White Nile in South Sudan. Photo by Steve Utterwulghe.
As I was landing in Juba, the bustling capital of South Sudan, I couldn’t help but reminisce about my days working in Khartoum for the UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General. The war between the North and the South, of what was then, in 2004, still the Sudan, was raging as the peace negotiations were taking place in a plush resort on the shores of Lake Naivasha in Kenya. I was mainly focusing on guaranteeing access to the people of the Nuba Mountains, one of the three fiercely contested areas between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA). I was doing my fair share of shuttle diplomacy, going back and forth between the SPLM/SPLA leadership based in Nairobi and the Government of Sudan in Khartoum. At that time, hopes were high that one would soon see the end of decades of a bloody war in Africa’s largest country. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was finally signed in 2005. In 2011, South Sudanese participated in a referendum and 99 percent voted for independence. South Sudan became the newest country in the world.
But what should have been a new era of peace and prosperity quickly turned into a feeling of dejà vu. Dreams were shattered as a new internal violent conflict broke out in December 2013, putting the progress achieved at significant risk and disrupting economic activities and livelihoods.
The country is very rich in natural resources, including oil, minerals and fertile arable land. However, with 90 percent of its population earning less than US$1 per day, South Sudan is ranked as one of the poorest countries on the planet. South Sudan remains an undeveloped economy facing important challenges, including high unemployment, weak institutions, illiteracy and political instability. The economic overview of the country by the World Bank suggests that “South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world, with oil accounting for almost the totality of exports, and around 60 percent of its gross domestic product.” The conflict has dramatically affected the production of oil, which has fallen by about 20 percent and is now at about 165,000 barrels per day. This, combined with the sharp global drop in oil prices, has greatly affected the fiscal position of the government.
In such an environment, private sector development is a must, since it has the potential to create market-led jobs and growth. However, private sector growth requires a conducive investment climate and an enabling business environment.
South Sudan has made progress in this area, thanks in part to support from the international community, including the World Bank Group. Yet more needs to be done. South Sudan ranks 187th out of the 189 economies in the Doing Business ranking, just ahead of Libya and Eritrea. In addition, among the top constraints reported by firms in the World Bank Group's Enterprise Survey, 68 percent mention political instability and 58 percent cite access to electricity, followed closely by access to land and finance.
Kenya’s financial sector has expanded rapidly over the last decade and lending to businesses—including small and medium size-enterprises has played a big part. As the Kenyan economy is enjoying a period of relatively high growth, the financial sector’s ongoing ability to channel credit affordably and efficiently to SMEs will be needed to underpin inclusive and sustained economic development.
To better understand the SME finance landscape in Kenya, a World Bank-FSD Kenya team embarked on a study with the Central Bank of Kenya to explore the supply-side of SME finance. In addition to quantifying the extent of banks’ involvement with SMEs, the study shows the exposure of different types of banks to the SME market, the portfolio of services most used by SMEs, and the quality of assets. Our report also discusses the regulatory framework for SME finance, the drivers and obstacles of banks’ involvement with SMEs, and their specific business models.
Ecosystem: A complex of living organisms, their physical environment, and all their interrelationships in a particular unit of space. Tourism: A social, cultural and economic phenomenon that entails the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal, business or professional purposes.
I was part of a tourism ecosystem, once, when I built and operated a small lodge on the banks of the Nile in Uganda. While I was living in a tent in the bush building the lodge, life was simple: My little ecosystem was the land around the lodge and the tribulations of fending off monkeys and snakes by day and leopards, hippos, elephants and mosquitoes at night. The sun and rain beat down hard, and tools and workers broke down regularly. The generator was a particular pain in the neck.
Apart from supplies coming in, I was not really connected to the outside world. Money ran out for awhile and I had to rush to Kampala and persuade the bank give me a bigger overdraft (at 26 percent interest – thieves!).
Once the lodge was finished, I had to join another ecosystem: the world of registering the company, getting licenses, drawing up employment contracts, getting a bank overdraft, getting a tax ID number – all the elements of the enabling environment for me to do business. Then I had to join another one: I needed bums on beds, and I had to link my wonderful product to local markets; I had to develop promotional materials and packages; I had to interact and contract with tour operators and local travel agents to supply me business; I needed market access.
Nile Safari Camp: home for two years
Then, guess what? My business plan wasn’t panning out. I didn’t get the occupancies or the rates that I projected from the local market. I had to step into yet another ecosystem: the world of international long-haul travel. I needed more and better-paying customers. I had to understand how the big international tour operators sold their product, what they were looking for in new product and how they contracted. I had to join another ecosystem to make that happen. Turns out my little product wasn’t enough to attract international customers on its own, I had to team up with other lodges and offer a fuller package; we had to cluster our products. I had to diversify and innovate and find ways to add value to my accommodation offer – birdwatching, fishing, guided walks, weddings and honeymoons, meetings and workshops. . . . Well, there are whole ecosystems around each of those market segments. You need to understand them before you can do business with them.
The world has reacted in different ways to the news of this black-maned martyr. For various reasons, the media has gone into overdrive, the public has been outraged, and enterprising phone-case companies have gotten creative. So what does it mean for us in the field of tourism, conservation and development?
The global spotlight has been a good thing. First of all, it has raised the temperature of the debate around conservation. People have flooded the dentist’s business page with negative online reviews (“murderer!”), called for his extradition to Zimbabwe, signed petitions, made donations, retweeted celebrities and forced three US airlines to ban wildlife trophy transport.
Publicity like this can have a lasting effect on consumer demand by stimulating more responsible behavior. For example, media exposs on sex tourism and child abuse in Thailand and Madagascar caused the tourism industry (more than 1,000 travel and hospitality companies) to adopt a global code of ethics. Public backlash against the negative impacts of orphanage tourism (volunteering) in Cambodia – following a 2012 investigation by Al Jazeera – meant that most large travel agents removed the product from their books, not only in Cambodia but globally. There is an opportunity here for all tourists, hunters and operators to reflect on and improve the way they behave and interact with wildlife.
More crucially, Cecil’s publicity has revealed the divisiveness of the issue. While everyone condemns the illegality of what happened, conservationists, columnists, academics and others cannot definitively agree on bigger questions. Does trophy hunting really contribute to conservation? Or should it be banned? Is photographic tourism a better alternative? Do we actually know?
For those of us concerned with such development goals as natural-resource management, job creation or local community empowerment, this lack of a global consensus poses a policy challenge. Indeed, the last few days have highlighted that indeed both consumptive (hunting) and non-consumptive (safari) tourism can demonstrate positive impacts.
So perhaps the question is not “Which is the better alternative” but “How can we better capture the value and benefits of each?” One way is to look at the policy framework and its role in regulating the supply side of the equation.
Sub-Saharan Arica has launched a new wave of “special economic zones” (SEZs), with more and more countries establishing or planning to establish SEZs or industrial parks. However, can Africa overcome the past stigma and make the zone programs truly successful?
This was one of the hot topics during the China-Africa “Investing in Africa Forum,” held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from June 30 to July 1, organized by the World Bank Group with the government of Ethiopia, the government of China, the China Development Bank and UNIDO.
Why did the the African zones fail, in the past, to attract many investors? My answer was they were not truly “special” in terms of business environment and infrastructure provisions, and many constraints were not significantly improved inside the zones. This analysis was supported by another panelist, His Excellency Dr. Arkebe Oqubay, Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. According to Dr. Oqubay, past zones in Africa were “missing the ‘basics’ such as power, water and one-stop services, and were not aligned with national development strategy.”
That viewpoint was shared by almost all the other panelists, which included senior African and Chinese officials and international experts at the SEZ session, which was characterized with candid discussions and greatly benefited from the background paper prepared by Douglas Zeng of the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice.
I recently spent three days in Hargeisa, Somaliland. An eye-opening experience, as much as one that strengthens my conviction that World Bank Group is doing the right thing by engaging in this fragile country.
Somaliland is business unusual. Imagine among others, sitting in a mandatory security brief and specifying your blood type straight off the plane, going to meetings in armored cars, wearing the hijab – a veil worn by Muslim women in the presence of adult males – scheduling meetings around prayers and the time of Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims end their daily fast during Ramadan.
The business environment in Somaliland is characterized by a fragile state, poor public service delivery, a weak legal and regulatory regime, inefficient and costly trade logistics, and a fragmented private sector with limited structured engagement with the government. Although the private sector accounts for more than 90 percent of GDP (an anomaly in Africa), it has poor access to finance and lacks an organized voice.
Meeting with the President of the Republic of Somaliland.
During my mission, I met with key Ministers, entrepreneurs and development partners and discussed the challenges and opportunities linked to the ongoing economic development agenda, notably the development of infrastructure and the energy sector. The exchanges highlighted how the World Bank Group's program in Somaliland is laying a foundation to create job opportunities and to accelerate the pace of economic development by fostering business reforms and SME engagement. In this light, the set-up of a high-level taskforce – reporting directly to the President – to implement Doing Business reforms compiled in a Doing Business memo, is a milestone and a strong sign of client buy-in. That is always crucial for the World Bank Group's programs to reach their objectives.
Last, I participated in the presentation of the pilot Reform Champion Program, which aims to develop the capacity of government officials and some representatives of the private sector to implement key reforms that will address constraints to economic growth and development. The project is expected to help trained reform champions implement at least five reforms to improve government-to-business services by July 2016.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) impressive growth over the past decade or so has been matched by its equally impressive showing on the World Bank Group's "Doing Business" index. In 2012, one-third of the world’s top reformers on the index were from the continent, and every year its countries feature in the top 10 most active reformers. In 2014, five of the top 10 were from SSA.
Doing Business tracks progress in reforms that support a firm through its life-cycle, from start-up, through to raising capital, to potential closure. Through a mix of wide geographic coverage and rankings that generate a lot of public attention (not all of it wholly positive), the report has been a powerful motivator of investment climate reform, with the data serving as a useful means to measure progress made.
Doing Business as a start
While a large appeal of Doing Business as a measure of a country’s business environment is that it focuses on tangible business activities to which the private sector and policymakers can directly relate, its indicators are limited in scope. They are therefore intended to be used mainly as a litmus test of the state of a country’s investment climate. Therefore, while Doing Business's accessibility and global profile can be very useful in generating momentum for private sector reform, it ought to mainly serve as a starting point for a country to then engage in both broader reaching and deeper investment climate change. (This approach to the use of Doing Business has largely underpinned investment climate reform efforts in SSA by the Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice.)
So, if Doing Business is a starting point and is used as such, is there evidence to support the assumption that it triggers wider and deeper private sector reform? Or is movement on Doing Businesses a starting point and, unintentionally, an ending point too?
Linkages to wider competitiveness reform data
One of the most comprehensive measures of the state of different countries’ business environments is the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), a data set of over 110 variables that looks at the current state of, and tracks changes in, competitiveness across the world. The data set is structured under 12 pillars that cover measures from institutional development to technology and innovation.
Using GCI as a good measure of competitiveness, and interpreting changes in it as a reflection of a country’s effectiveness in engaging in wider competitiveness reform, we can look at the relationship between GCI and Doing Business and, significantly, the extent of movement on the two indices.
A high-level review of the relationship between changes in GCI and Doing Business for different regions between 2007 and 2013 shows SSA to have performed comparatively well on both indices, performing similarly to countries of Eastern and Central Europe and surpassing the world average. However, looking beyond averages to GCI’s specific pillars, SSA’s performance has been variable, advancing as a region in some areas more than others. Figure 1, below, shows GCI pillars where SSA has improved the most and the least, highlighting the top and bottom three.
Figure 1: Variations within competitiveness (SSA score on GCI, total and select pillars)
Of particular interest is Pillar 6, Goods Market Efficiency, because many of the areas that this pillar tracks are also areas where the Bank Group has focused its investment climate reform interventions, from business entry and competition, to taxes, trade and investment. (Two of the 16 indicators in this pillar actually comprise Doing Business data – the number of procedures and days required to start a business.)
Pillar 6 is one of the top three GCI pillars that have the greatest upward pull on SSA’s overall performance on GCI, countering the areas where SSA has slipped in its scores.
Reducing risk is the only way for community joint-ventures to get serious with commercial banks. Without commercial finance, this niche tourism sector might never deliver on its potential. Photo: World Wildlife Fund
Over the last 20 years, joint-ventures between local communities and the private sector have grown up as a feature of the sustainable tourism development agenda. Typically, the community provides the land, the heritage or the wildlife asset base while the private sector brings the capital, management know-how and business networks. When they work well, these partnerships contribute substantially to local economic and social development, as well as providing professional, unique and authentic tourism experiences for visitors.
Lena Florry is an Area Manager for Wilderness Safaris, the private-sector partner in a community joint venture (CJV) lodge in Namibia. ”What we have here at Damaraland really changes our lives,” she says. “Previously, in our village, I was herding goats. Now we have good jobs and a much better life.” Crucially, Lena is also a member of the local community and takes personal pleasure in sharing the model’s success story with the camp’s US$500-a-night paying guests.
Typical benefits include income for communities through lease or contract agreements, employment and supply-chain opportunities, skills and knowledge transfer from the private sector, and usually a kind of joint “tourism asset protection” like wildlife preservation or heritage protection. In Namibia, for example, community conservation generated about US$7 million in returns for local communities in 2013, and the elephant population doubled in 20 years.
While much emphasis has been placed on the development impacts of this model, the actual health of the businesses has often been overlooked. As long as the ventures continue to deliver a development dividend – such as contributions to a community fund, or increased biodiversity – all is believed well. For the venture’s supporters, it may then come as a surprise when applications for commercial finance are rejected.
“We would like to finance the sector,” says Christo Viljoen at First National Bank (FNB) Namibia. “But our biggest challenge is to determine the financial viability of the community joint-ventures. We find the risks involved are not properly addressed in the business plans.”
Banks report that risks typically have to do with corporate governance, low-quality financial data, collateral, the level of experience of the sponsor, and a host of structural problems in the CJV business – not least, the balance between the development dividend versus the profitability of the business. All these factors help to undermine a firm’s viability. A business that cannot demonstrate financial viability – and, thus, show how it will pay back a loan – cannot be financed.
This presents a very real problem. Without the means to make necessary investments in the business (such as refurbishment or expansion), the quality of the tourism product deteriorates, occupancies and rates decline, and funds for the community and for wildlife protection drop.
In an effort to help the various stakeholders increase the financial viability of CJVs, reduce risk and increase loans, the World Bank Group and the World Wildlife Fund released “nine tips” at the recent tourism trade show ITB Berlin 2015. Dr. Hannah Messerli of the World Bank’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice said, “We believe that destinations that address these issues are more likely to provide comfort to the banks in lending.”