Watch: Africa Investment Forum postponed due to Omicron

As the countdown begins to the third edition of the annual Africa Investment Forum (AIF), organisers say the event will be delayed due to the emergence of the new Omicron variant.


Image : AfDB

Three days before the event, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has postponed the 2021 Africa Investment Forum as delegates prepare to travel to Abidjan.

This marks the second year running that the vital investment forum has been disrupted due to the coronavirus, with last year’s event cancelled.

A buffet of deals worth $110 billion to help economies on the continent rise to their feet after a bitter recession will have to wait, President Akinwumi Adesina told reporters in Abidjan, at a pre-event press conference on Monday.

“It’s very important that we put the lives of people first. We have to be sensitive and we have to be responsible,” he said.

“Several billion dollars of investment projects were scheduled for investment board rooms with project sponsors and investors at this edition of the Africa Investment Forum. Unfortunately, with rising global travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 Omicron variant, and heightened concerns for health and safety, it is necessary, regrettably, to postpone the event. The health and safety of everyone comes first.”

No indication was given as to when the conference would be held.

Press briefing with African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina announcing postponement of Africa Investment Forum 2021

The heavily mutated Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa on Nov. 25, withe first cases identified in neighbouring Botswana and later cases reported in Tshwane, the municipality in which Pretoria is located. The new variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of surging infection rates that could have ‘severe consequences’ in some places, meaning the world must prepare, the World Health Organization said on Monday.

Three days of sessions were intended to mobilise investment and explore policy environments in Africa’s burgeoning telecoms sector, manufacturing, energy and climate change, health and infrastructure to help buoy African economies reshaped by the lingering pandemic.

“A special focus should be given to infrastructure projects that will do most to promote job creation and stimulate value chains, strengthen social sectors such as health and education and support climate resilient growth,” Alain Ebobissé, the CEO of one of the event’s founding partners, Africa50, says.

Africa50 CEO Alain Ebobissé says infrastructure investment will be a key driver of post-pandemic economic recovery on the continent.

As economies on the continent struggle to their feet amid new variants and adapt industrialisation plans to meet global carbon emission reduction targets, they need infrastructure investment more than ever, says AIF’s senior director Chinelo Anohu.

“This combined with the urgent need to make further progress to help hundreds of millions of people across Africa get access to basic provisions means high levels of international investment is needed every year – and it also makes for unprecedented opportunity. That is why the AIF’s 2021 Market Days event is so important – we must deliver these upgrades to supply chains, create new jobs and put Africa’s economies onto new and stable footings.”

With activity on Africa’s capital markets tanking over the past two years, one panel was scheduled to look at why and explore ways of jump-starting interest in stock exchanges as an effective tool for raising finance.

With Covid also dealing a major blow to foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa, which was down 16% in 2020 from $44bn in 2019, another panel was meant to give perspectives on where growth is headed as FDI picks up to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

Market Days

One of the forum’s flagship events, Market Days, which was also cancelled last year due to Covid-19, was meant to set up the stall for a pipeline of projects that are ripe for investment.

One such project is for a $96m specialist hospital in West Africa offering 250 beds and world-class healthcare. Another is for the construction of a $45m WHO-approved vaccine production plant in East Africa, designed to produce three vaccines, including one for Covid-19.

Before the announced postponement, a preview of agribusiness deals worth nearly $400m outlined projects in the agriculture sector, including one which requires $345m in capital for the construction and operation of a food market that will serve about 15 million people in Africa’s largest food exchange zone.

At Market Days 2019 in Johannesburg, fifty-seven deals worth around $68bn were discussed, including a strategic liquefied natural gas development project in Mozambique that was Africa’s largest single foreign direct investment. AIF 2020 did not take place due to Covid-19.

This year’s Africa Investment Forum was meant to showcase118 deals in its pipeline from all eight founding members.

Boom and gloom

Despite the urgent need to rustle up greater inflows of private capital into African business and investment, the continent’s biggest challenge is not raising finance, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a recorded address ahead of the event.

“Our biggest challenge is not a scarcity of financing, but overcoming a global economic system that has not allocated sufficient long-term resources to support Africa’s economic transformation.

“Now more than ever, it has become urgent to take the necessary steps to transition us towards becoming a resilient continent. We must exploit collectively our productive capabilities, build the capacity of our regional development banks, and develop country focussed development banks for infrastructure financing.

“This is a time for all of us to rise to the occasion. See you in Abidjan.”

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