During a recent tour of the continent, a team from Prosper Africa – a US government initiative which focuses on increasing trade and investments between African nations and the United States – visited Nigeria in search of investment opportunities. In an interview during the visit, LESLIE MARBURY who serves as the Acting Chief Operating Officer, spoke of incredible opportunities, particularly in Nigeria’s digital as well as the creative space, which the US is keen to explore. She spoke to ONYINYE NWACHUKWU, BusinessDay’s Abuja Bureau Chief. Excerpts:
Can you explain what prosper Africa is all about?
Prosper Africa, is a US government initiative to increase trade and investments between African nations and the United States. It’s a commitment from the US government to strengthen mutually beneficial two-way partnerships. The intent is to increase trade and investment flows from Africa to the United States, and also from the United States to Africa. So that is catalyzing private sector investment into African businesses and infrastructure, and helping African businesses export to the United States. And what we’re seeing so far is a lot of interest and a lot of opportunity. We have several successes, and I can give you a few examples. You see the enthusiasm of the US companies coming into Africa. We’ve seen Google invest a billion dollars in Africa just a few months ago, to increase access to fast and cheaper internet. But we’re also working with smaller businesses. And as one example, you know, tomato Jos, they used prosper Africa advisory support from USAID to raise over 5 million dollars in investments. That company works with local farmers and producers to make delicious tomato sauce. And they just recently opened a factory in Kaduna state.
Another example is ipNX, it’s an innovative women-led digital infrastructure company, here in Nigeria. And they’re using funding from the US Trade and Development Agency to support the expansion of fiber optic cable across the country. One thing we are trying to do is mobilize all types of investments – venture capital, also institutional investments. We know how much venture capital is coming into Nigeria more than anywhere else in Africa. Pension funds in Kenya use prosper Africa advisory support to establish a new investment consortium by Kenya by Kenyans for Kenya. And the consortium plans to mobilize more than $200 million of investment in Kenya’s infrastructure by 2026, and to increase collaboration with American pension funds that manage trillions of dollars in assets. That’s an example of that we would like to replicate in other places.
How much has Prosper Africa been able to catalyze for Nigeria and Africa?
Since 2019, the US government has helped to close 800 Prosper Africa deals across 45 different African countries for an estimated value of $50 billion. And we look forward to building on this momentum. I know that the third largest number of deals that we are seeing is in Nigeria, and I don’t have the total dollar value off the top of my head, but I can get it. More venture capital went into Nigeria, than any other country in Africa. I know that, may be half of that has gone into FinTech and it’s certainly an area that we are seeing a lot of opportunity. The way we work is to connect businesses that are looking for capital to venture capitalist. And we have a virtual deal that helps to facilitate this.
We are reaching out to entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders to raise awareness about market opportunities, and about the US government tools we have available to help advance these opportunities
Why is the Prosper Africa Team in Nigeria?
We are a part of the prosper Africa economic delegation, that with the Deputy Assistant Secretary from the Department of State, are visiting four countries in Africa, we started with Nigeria. That’s where the action is. We started with Lagos and then to Abuja, and we are looking at how we can increase trade and investment between the US and these countries. We are not just sitting back and waiting for opportunities to come to us. We are reaching out to entrepreneurs and investors and business leaders to raise awareness about market opportunities, and about the US government tools we have available to help advance these opportunities. Prosper Africa coordinates 17 different US departments and agencies who are working in trade and investment and are committed to prioritizing Africa. The visit has provided us an incredible opportunity to engage across private sector and government. Our focus on this trip has been the creative sector, and the digital economy. So we’ve talked to content creators, distributors, and particularly in the film, music industry, and then also policymakers in the creative sector, and there is a lot of opportunity there. The creative sector creates jobs. And when Nigerian music and film go to America, people learn more about the country and the continent, and get to enjoy the things that you all know and love.
Are there deals you were able to close on this trip both in Nigeria and other countries?
We are looking now at about 350 deals in countries across Africa. Like I said, the third, just behind South Africa, and Kenya is Nigeria and the number of those, and we are working with the different US departments and agencies to try to advance those deals.
Have you seen any barriers so far in Africa/Nigeria’s business environment that could deter your own investment plans?
What we are hearing a lot about is just lack of access to finance and infrastructure like energy, which is really important for the digital and creative sectors.
Are there plans to come in and help fix some of those challenges?
We’ll see. That’s why we are here to look for solutions to help with investment trade.
What types of business sectors and entrepreneurs does Prosper Africa support?
We go where the action is. Prosper Africa is private sector led, and we are constantly looking for where the market opportunities are. In Nigeria, we certainly see opportunity in the digital space, including fintech, Ed-Tech, health-tech, and connectivity. In the creative sector, we are seeing great opportunity in film and music, other priorities for the Biden/Harris administration, or anything around climate, so renewable energy, where there’s also a lot of opportunity here, and as you hear today from government, agriculture is also a priority.
There are so many other agencies of US government that are involved in Prosper Africa. There are 17 different departments and agencies, the ones that you may know best include State Department, the Department of Commerce, USAID, the Development Finance Corporation, US Trade and Development Agency, XM, and others. In prosper Africa, we’ve created a one stop shop, we bring together the full suite of US government, Trade and Investment Support services, and we are adding new and improved tools all the time. This includes market insights, deal support, financing, and more. We take the burden off the private sector so that they don’t have to navigate Washington. We created a digital resource center at prosperafrica.gov where companies small and large can find out more information on US government tools, and how to access them.
Since Prosper Africa is basically about increasing trade and investments between African nations and the United States. How does it then view AfCFTA?
We are just really pleased to see all of the advancements made in implementing the AfCFTA. And we want it to be a success, we know that when it’s fully implemented, will be the size of the fifth largest economy in the world. And we know it’s not only the US interest, but also the world’s interest that African nations realize this potential. The Biden/Harris administration is ready to help harness these economic gains, and we are committed to providing technical assistance to support cross border trade and investment, whether at the country level, at the regional economic blocs or to the AfCFTA Secretariat.
What do you think should be the success factors for AfCFTA?
I think that’s for African people to decide the success. Like, you know, certainly, you see the goals of the AfCFTA to increase the trade flows to make it easier to do business with Africa. I think you’ll see increases in investment flows within Africa, but also between the United States and Africa, as it will be a more attractive destination.
How is Prosper Africa helping women entrepreneurs and businesses handle those challenges they face?
We met with women entrepreneurs while we were in Lagos, and it was a very dynamic group. And they noted a couple things that they needed support with. One was networking, another was access to finance, and another was around skills, particularly in the digital sector. Where prosper Africa comes in is in connecting them to finance. We have several examples of female entrepreneurs and businesses that we’ve helped in a couple of ways, one, to help them raise capital for their business. And the second is to access US markets. One example is a woman in Ghana, who was producing Shea butter, we provided her assistance and now her products are on the shelves in the United States. That’s the kind of thing that we want to see more of.
Does Prosper Africa have investments already in Nigeria’s creative sector?
This is the first trip focused on creatives and the opportunities are there. We met with businesses in content creating, the distribution side, to try to understand their constraints, and see where the US could partner with the sector here. We know that the US creative economy is unparalleled, and we’ve seen in some states of the United States, where they’ve used the creative economy to really drive economic growth and create jobs. So we’re looking for partnership opportunities between the US and the Nigerian creatives.