Greed vs Aid

Africa’s tryst with development continues and the theories of development are never ending. Now, Reuben Abraham points to a Business World article titled “Can Greed Save Africa”. Or what can be more appropriately called “profit making”, it provides an example of how plain business sense can provide development opportunities to Africa.

In many ways, Africa’s economic situation seems hopeless. While $625 billion in foreign aid has poured in since 1960, there has been no rise in the region’s per capita gross domestic product, notes William R. Easterly, economics professor at New York University. What’s more, from 1976 to 2000, Africa’s share of global trade dropped to 1%, from an already negligible 3%. The U.N.’s scale of human development, which considers health, education, and economic well-being, ranks 34 African nations among the world’s 40 lowest. Thus far, foreign aid hasn’t made a dent.

Greed, however, might. Thanks to the global commodities boom of the past few years, sub-Saharan Africa’s economies, after decades of stagnation, are expanding by an average of 6% annually—twice the U.S. pace. And like bees to honey, investors are swarming into the region in search of the enormous returns that ultra-early-stage investments can bring. Blue Financial, for example, has already netted its early private equity backers a ninefold gain thanks to the 385% rise in its stock since its October, 2006, initial public offering in Johannesburg. Emerging Capital Partners has bought all or part of 42 African companies this decade and cashed out of 18, with gains on their investments averaging 300%. “The money we can make is matchless,” says Emerging Capital Partners CEO Thomas R. Gibian, a former Goldman Sachs (GS) banker.
Masoud Alikhani is no moral crusader; he thinks the “We Are the World” movement of the 1980s, which sought donations to end African hunger, “made beggars of whole nations.” The burly 66-year-old is among the new wave of investors at the tenuous nexus of venture capital and agribusiness in Africa. Five months ago he pitched a large hedge fund in New York on the merits of ESV Biofuels, as his company is called. The fund’s partners agreed to take a tour of the facility in January. “We are capitalists and opportunists,” says Alikhani. “We are doing this to make money. That’s the only way to help.”

For more on this Profit vs Aid question, check out the work of William Easterly.


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