Addressing the Foreign Direct Investment paradox in Africa

Kigali based garment factory in Kigali Special Economic Zone has been critical at attracting FDIs. Sam Ngendahimana.

Africa’s experience on inward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) presents a paradox. Conventionally, capital is expected to flow from countries with low to high returns.

During 2006-2011, the region experienced the highest rate of return on FDI (11.4 per cent) compared to 9.1 per cent in Asia, 8.9 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean. The world’s average was 7.1 per cent. Yet Africa’s share of the global net FDI has been very low over the past decade.


For instance, sub-Saharan Africa’s share of global net FDI between 2010 and 2016 stood at 1.87 per cent, compared to 30.34 per cent for Europe, 26.45 per cent for East Asia and Pacific, 17.334 per cent for North Africa and 13.25 per cent for Latin America and the Caribbean. FDI inflows, which averaged 4.3 per cent during 2010-16) declined from $71 billion in 2014 to $59 billion in 2016, and is expected to rise to $65 billion in 2017 —compared to about $1.7 trillion globally.


The weak primary commodity prices and the fall in consumer demand in Europe explain the declining trends to a significant extent. In 2016, Angola, Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana were the most attractive FDI destinations.


FDI, which used to concentrate in the extractive sector, is spreading across manufacturing and services sectors. The services sector, for instance, accounted for about three quarters of the Greenfield FDI projects in 2016, while manufacturing accounted for about one fifth. In fact, FDI is becoming a major source of financing economic diversification.

In Ethiopia, the focus of greenfield FDI in 2016 was manufacturing (e.g. leather products, pesticide, fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals) and infrastructure projects; and it helped Mauritius to diversify its economy from sugar into textiles and tourism, and recently into luxury real estate, offshore banking and medical tourism.

The existence of business opportunities in the extractive sector (e.g. oil and gas, gold, diamonds, cobalt and copper), shifting of light manufacturing from emerging countries like China, development of special economic zones (e.g. Mauritius, and Senegal), and improved investment policy regimes (e.g. investment promotion in Egypt, tax incentives in Tunisia and Zimbabwe) are among drivers of inflow FDI to Africa.

Why is Africa experiencing an FDI paradox? Africa’s labour and natural resource endowments are insufficient to attract financial capital. Other endowments count. Critical among these include low public capital (e.g. low infrastructure like energy, roads, rails and airports); low human capital (e.g. absence of skilled, educated and healthy labour force); and low institutional capital (weak security and judicial systems, weak property rights, and poor regulatory and standards). The high quality of these capitals enhances productivity of physical and financial capitals and reduces cost of doing business. When these are directly provided by investors, they serve as taxes on returns on investment.

Other drivers of the FDI paradox include fragmented investment policies; information asymmetry (limited access to investment opportunities by foreign investors); and high sovereign risks (e.g. low absorptive capacity, high corruption, political instability, weak capacity to manage shocks). All these aspects weaken government capacity to optimize social returns on investments that could complement and catalyse financial capital.

Financial intermediation costs (e.g. high brokerage, loan evaluation, and agency coasts, and contract enforcement) often proxied by domestic lending rates (which is as high as 60 per cent in Madagascar and 44% in Malawi) impede FDI inflows. Addressing impediments to public, human and institutional capitals, as well as reducing sovereign risks and intermediation costs, and ensuring investment policy harmonization across African countries, are central to eliminating FDI paradox in Africa.


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