Chapter 1. Africa’s sustainable investments in times of global crises

African countries represent the world’s investment frontier, holding important assets. Africa has by far the youngest population of all continents, with a median age of 19 years, compared to 30 for Latin America and the Caribbean, 31 for developing Asia as the next youngest regions and 42 for Europe as the oldest (UN DESA, 2022). By 2050, Africa’s population will almost double, from about 1.4 billion inhabitants to nearly 2.5 billion. More than half of the world’s population growth will happen on the continent, including in rural areas (UN DESA, 2022; AfDB/OECD/UNDP, 2015). In 2022, Africa was the only world region with positive year-on-year growth in start-up funding (5%) (Cuvellier, 2023). Estimates suggest that agricultural yields for cereals and grains in large parts of Africa could double or triple, adding 20% to global output (McKinsey, 2019). The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s cobalt production makes up 70% of the global total – providing a key input for battery production (ANRC, 2021). From 2011 to 2020, African forests increased carbon stock by 11.6 million kilotons of CO2-equivalent net emissions, while carbon stocks in forests outside Africa declined by 13 million kilotons. Of this increase, 59% was in Central African forests, now recognised as the world’s largest carbon sink. The continent boasts 60% of the best solar resources globally (IEA, 2022a).

Africa has enjoyed high growth, supported by investment, but this has not sufficiently driven productive transformation. Since the turn of the 21st century, Africa has boasted the world’s second-highest rate of economic growth after developing Asia. African growth is bouncing back since the global recession of 2020: growth estimates are at 3.7% in 2023 and projected in 2024 at 4.2% – after developing Asia and before Latin America and the Caribbean, respectively at 5% and 1.6% for 2023 and 4.9% and 2.2% for 2024. High investment rates boosted Africa’s growth, with the contribution of gross fixed capital formation to gross domestic product (GDP) growth reaching a peak of 1.2 percentage points in 2017-19, before declining during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-22 (Figure 1.1). Overall, high growth has not sufficiently catalysed productive transformation, including job creation and value chain integration (AUC/OECD, 2018, 2019, 2022).

Sustainable investments are essential to steer the productive transformation towards inclusion and resilience. When mobilising and allocating investments, African countries need to manage tensions between economic goals of productive transformation and social and environmental goals such as inclusion and resilience to climate change (Box 1.1). This is the case, for example, when balancing energy production and carbon mitigation, agricultural land use and conservation, or mass employment creation and labour standards. To face the emerging global challenges of the 21st century, African countries can use sustainable investments to make the most of the continent’s unique assets while reducing their vulnerability to crises and shocks.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the global repercussions of conflicts and climate change are widening Africa’s sustainable financing needs.

  • In 2020, the annual sustainable financing gap (i.e. the gap between the financing needed to achieve the SDGs and the availability of financial resources) reached USD 272 billion, the highest level since projections began in 2015 (Figure 1.3), largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While available financing rebounded in 2021, worsening macroeconomic conditions in 2022 are likely to widen the gap yet again.

  • The repercussions of conflicts are creating additional investment needs and strains on Africa’s finances. Recent conflicts have led to disruptions in supply chains and increases in the prices of critical imports (food, energy and fertilisers) while fuelling inflation and triggering a global tightening in monetary policies. This could add an estimated financing need of USD 6 to 10 billion per annum for African commodity-importing countries (IMF, 2022d).

  • To keep global warming below 1.5°C by 2030, African countries need an estimated USD 277 billion per year to implement their nationally determined contributions as per the Paris Agreement – almost ten times more than the USD 29.5 billion mobilised so far (CPI, 2022).

Decreasing tax revenues and rising debts and interest rates are putting many African countries in debt distress. While government revenues continue to represent by far the largest individual source of finance, they decreased sharply in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic (Figure 1.3) while per-capita GDP dropped by 4.1% in 2020. African governments collected on average 6.2% less revenues in 2020 than in 2015, on a real per-capita basis (taking into account population growth and inflation). Rising debt levels, increasingly owed to private creditors, contributed to raising the cost of debt service from only 3% to over 5% of gross national income over the 2010-20 period. The rise in global interest rates since March 2022 has added constraints for African governments by impacting global liquidity and exchange rates and triggering portfolio investment outflows. By February 2023, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) considered 8 African countries in debt distress,1 plus 13 countries2 at a high risk of debt distress (IMF, 2023). For instance, between 2021 and 2022, Eurobond yields more than tripled for Ghana and roughly doubled for Egypt, Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria and Tunisia, pricing these countries out of the market (Smith, 2022). Debt relief mechanisms can address part of the debt burden; these include the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) or the G20 / Paris Club Common Framework for Debt Treatments beyond the DSSI (Ekeruche, 2022; IMF, 2021a).

ODA to Africa must continue to increase, especially for adapting to climate change. ODA increased in response to COVID-19, with African countries receiving around USD 65 billion in 2020 and 2021, compared to less than 51 billion in 2019. However, in 2020, this increase did not compensate for shortfalls in spending by African governments and in financial inflows (Figure 1.3). ODA has also not yet met the levels pledged by the international community. In 2020, high-income countries provided and mobilised USD 83.3 billion for climate action in developing countries, missing the USD 100 billion target set at the United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen in 2009 (OECD, 2022c). From 2019 to 2020, international public climate finance for African countries grew only marginally from USD 22.3 to USD 24.3 billion (CPI, 2022). The most fiscally constrained countries are also the most vulnerable to climate change: on average, low-income countries in Africa would need an equivalent of 21% of their GDPs to implement nationally determined contributions compared to only 9% for middle-income countries (CPI, 2022).

Africa’s sustainable financing gap remains small in global comparison. The USD 194 billion average sustainable financing gap for 2015-21 calculated in this report (Figure 1.3) would be equivalent to an annual reallocation of less than 0.2% of the USD 112 trillion total global stock, or 10.5% of the USD 1.8 trillion African-held stock of assets under management (BCG, 2022; Juvonen et al., 2019). An annual reallocation of 0.2% would bring the total allocation of global assets under management to Africa from currently under 1% (Table 1.1) to around 2.3% by 2030, still well below the continent’s share of global GDP (2.9% in 2020).

Due to global crises, uncertainty, risk and sovereign debt have become more prevalent as investment barriers for African countries. The “Lucas paradox”, after Robert Lucas’ seminal article (Lucas, 1990), captures the phenomenon that global capital does not flow from rich to poor countries despite higher marginal returns in poorer economies. Empirical studies have suggested that domestic institutional factors such as government stability and bureaucratic quality have been the dominant explanations of this puzzle (Alfaro et al., 2008). Yet, the recent global crises have had little effect on institutional factors, while exacerbating alternative explanatory factors: capital market imperfections, specifically uncertainty, risk, sovereign debt and home biases (Leimbach and Bauer, 2022; Ndikumana and Boyce, 2003).

Recent global events have accelerated an increasing preference for new greenfield FDI in high-income over developing countries, have reduced Africa’s participation in global value chains and may be increasing poverty. In the last decade, global greenfield FDI – new FDI projects reflecting future investment trends – has decreased at an average annual rate of 3%. Since 2016, new investments have been shifting from developing countries to high-income countries (Figure 1.4). The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend: in 2020-21, high-income countries outside of Latin America and the Caribbean attracted 61% of global greenfield FDI (the highest share ever recorded), compared to 17% for developing Asia, 10% for Latin America and the Caribbean and only 6% for Africa (the lowest share since 2004). Similarly, Africa’s participation in global value chains has stagnated since the 2008 global financial crisis and was only 1.7% in 2019 (AUC/OECD, 2022). The pandemic exacerbated this trend, in part due to multinational enterprises in high-income countries reshoring or near-shoring their production to reduce their exposure to supply chain shocks or postponing investment decisions in the face of global instability. The World Bank (Brenton, Ferrantino and Maliszewska, 2022) estimates that a shift towards global reshoring to high-income countries and the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”) could drive an additional 52 million people into extreme poverty, more than 80% of them in Africa.

Returns to FDI in Africa have narrowed compared to FDI in high-income countries. Narrowing FDI return differentials between developing and advanced economies have contributed to declining shares of FDI inflows to developing countries (Evenett and Fritz, 2021). In Africa, the decline in FDI returns has been mostly driven by resource-rich economies due to a downward trend in oil prices from 2011 until prices rebounded in 2021 (Figure 1.5). In contrast, FDI inflows to non-resource exporters (such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar and Mauritius) have been relatively more resilient (Ideue, 2019).

Africa attracts the lowest share of capital from institutional investors compared to other world regions. In the last decade, global assets under management grew from USD 48 trillion in 2010 to over USD 112 trillion in 2021, despite economic downturns. Even during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global assets under management further grew at a record 12% (BCG, 2022). Africa receives the lowest share of global capital across different types of investors, ranging from 0.8% for venture capital to as low as 0.02% for insurance companies (Table 1.1).

Among the many factors that can attract a greater share of global investments, African countries can focus on improving investor confidence and reducing the cost of capital. The global crises have amplified the detrimental effects of elevated uncertainty, risk and information asymmetries that characterise investments in many – though not all – African countries. Addressing the specific barriers to investor confidence and decision making is essential to reverse current trends and sustain high levels of investment, even during future shocks.

Foreign investors continue to point to economic and political risks as barriers to investment. Current survey data suggest that factors that have weighed on investor confidence for several decades – such as macroeconomic conditions, political risk, weak regulatory systems, rising debt and currency volatility (Collier and Pattillo, 2000) – continue to be of concern (Figure 1.6). Representatives of global multinational enterprises (interviewed for this report) emphasised policy instability and the lack of regulatory capacity as barriers, mentioning abrupt shifts in these leading them to withdraw investments. Interviewees expressed their wish, in particular, for better transparency in the negotiation process of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), pointing to limited public information and insufficient opportunities to provide technical inputs.

Investors take into account risks related to political and policy factors, including governance. While investors have traditionally looked to Africa for market access, growth and natural resources (Onyeiwu and Shrestha, 2016; Cheung et al., 2012), recent evidence suggests that preconditions of political and policy factors can be as important (Andoh and Cantah, 2020; Calderon et al., 2019; Osabutey and Okoro, 2015). Good governance is especially conducive to investment once countries reach a minimum threshold of government stability, democratic accountability, law and order, and bureaucratic quality (Yeboua, 2020).

Non-equity modes of entry into foreign markets, which can limit exposure to risks, have become more prevalent. Modes of entry into foreign markets that do not require investors to acquire an ownership stake (i.e. licensing, franchising and management contracts) have increased rapidly over the past two decades, outpacing the growth of FDI (Qiang, Liu and Steenbergen, 2021). Since these agreements lie between arm’s-length trade and FDI, they can enable technology-driven multinational enterprises to access overseas markets through contracts and digital channels without a significant physical presence (UNCTAD, 2020b).

Information shortages and limited data availability, amplified by fragmented African markets, hinder investments. In-depth interviews, literature review and the AUC/OECD investor survey conducted for this report confirm that an overall lack of information and data inhibits assessments of investment opportunities in African markets (see also Pineau, 2014). Limited data may result in delays (investors “wait and see”) and thwarted investment activity (where information is insufficient for an informed decision). Despite ongoing progress on the implementation of the AfCFTA, African markets remain heterogenous and fragmented, with varying statistical capacities, which increase search costs and prevent economies of scale for market-seeking foreign investment.

Information shortages can fuel “perception premiums”. A lack of information such as statistical data creates uncertainty, thereby amplifying the detrimental effects of real risks on investment mobilisation. As risks become more difficult to assess, subjective perceptions gain importance, potentially affecting investment decisions directly (Jaspersen et al., 2000) or indirectly via the increasing cost of capital (Fofack, 2021).

The cost of capital for African governments increased sharply as a result of conflicts and tightening global financial policy, effectively pricing most countries out of capital markets. For instance, the spread on an average African Eurobond (a measure for the potential cost of borrowing on capital markets) across 20 African countries issuing such bonds reached a 15-year high of about 12% in September 2022, eclipsing previous peaks of about 9% during the global financial crisis in 2008 and roughly 10% during the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. In September 2022, only Morocco and South Africa had bond yields low enough to ensure access to capital markets with relative certainty, while even these countries’ yields reached over 7% and 8% respectively, roughly doubling compared to 2021 (Smith, 2022).

The poor credit ratings of many African countries drive up the cost of capital. Country credit ratings express the likelihood with which a sovereign will service or default on its foreign financial obligations. Credit ratings not only influence the conditions for sovereign debt but also serve as a benchmark for private debt holders (UN, 2022). They influence the cost of both public and private capital (e.g. interest rates and longevity of loans). Private investors mostly rely on ratings published by credit rating agencies (Box 1.2), while export credit agencies (e.g. Coface, SACE) and international organisations (e.g. IMF, OECD) develop ratings to determine the financial conditions that sources of public finance can offer. The high cost of capital acts as an investment barrier, especially in sectors where high upfront capital expenditures are required (Box 1.3).

Africa’s better investment performance compared to other world regions does not necessarily result in increased investment amounts. Historically, superior returns on investments in African countries have not translated into rising investment amounts, as investors expect higher returns to compensate for higher risk (Asiedu, 2002). For instance, over the past decade, risk-adjusted rates of return have been depressed as a result of policy uncertainty (e.g. around protectionist measures) (Evenett and Fritz, 2021). Market-seeking FDI in sectors such as retail, information and communications technology (ICT), financial services, and other consumer services in Africa has increased less than in other parts of the world, despite higher returns. For instance, US-based companies active in wholesale trade, finance and insurance earn significant premium returns on their activities on the continent compared to those in other world regions, though less than 1% of their foreign investments takes place in Africa (mostly in Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa) (Figure 1.8).

The majority of infrastructure projects in African countries lack the investment necessary to succeed, but some countries’ specificities benefit experienced investors. In infrastructure, 80% of projects fail at the feasibility and business-plan stage, as only a few projects meet investors’ risk-return expectations (OECD/ACET, 2020; McKinsey, 2020). At the same time, Africa shows the lowest default rates on infrastructure project finance debt at 5.3%, compared to 6.1% in Asia and 10.1% in Latin America (Kelhoffer, 2021). Multinational enterprises interviewed for this report emphasised that Africa-specific experience allows them to generate higher rates of return in Africa compared to other world regions. Once the upfront costs for risk mitigation are borne (see Box 1.4), virtuous cycles between recognition by other market actors, operational expertise, government relations, economies of scale and innovation can unfold. New investors frequently rely on experienced intermediaries to compensate for information shortages, creating competitive disadvantages for smaller investors that are unable to afford such services.

External financial inflows represent important sources of finance for development on the African continent (Table 1.2). In 2021, as in previous years, FDI and remittances made up the largest external financial flows (6.4% of Africa’s GDP); yet their potential to promote sustainable growth remains underexploited due to limited integration with productive activities on the continent. ODA and sustainability-oriented private investments (impact investing and philanthropy) are still small and show specific sectoral and country biases (Box 1.5).

Similarly, among domestic sources of investment in African countries, regional multinational enterprises and institutional investors offer untapped potential to support sustainable and resilient growth (Table 1.2). Mobilising domestic resources is necessary to widen the fiscal space of national governments and reduce debt burdens, as well as attract sustainable investments from the private sector.

Foreign direct investment can contribute to sustainable development beyond the capital invested and can have long-term crowding-in effects. Through spillovers to local suppliers and domestically owned firms and through training the workforce, FDI can enhance growth and innovation in the host country and contribute to its sustainable development (Box 1.6). A recent study finds that FDI in Africa has little effect on domestic private investment in the short run but creates significant crowding-in effects in the long run: a one percentage point increase of the share of FDI in GDP led to a 0.3% rise in private domestic investment in a large sample of African countries, with weaker effects in non-diversified commodity-exporting countries (Diallo, Jacolin and Rabaud, 2021).

In the last two decades, Africa’s coal, oil and gas industry attracted the largest share of greenfield FDI, but recent trends show increasing market-seeking investments in Africa’s services sectors, such as retail and ICT. In 2003-20, the largest share of greenfield FDI in the continent went to the energy sector (36%), mostly targeting activities in the coal, oil and gas industry (30%), with renewable energy investments representing only 6% of the total. About 60% of the greenfield FDI that went into coal, oil and gas came from Europe and North America. These investments generated on average only 0.25 jobs per USD 1 million of capital expenditure while feeding Africa’s most polluting industry, responsible for almost 50% of continental CO2 emissions since the beginning of the century (Figure 1.11). While this industry has represented the largest source of government revenues and accounted for half of the exports outside the continent for many resource-rich African countries (IEA, 2022a), it has not led to productive transformation and regional integration. In recent years, the emergence of new technologies and booming domestic consumption markets meant that new FDI has focused less on Africa’s extractive sectors and more on retail, ICT, financial services and other consumer services (AUC/OECD 2021).

Africa’s manufacturing sectors – in particular textiles, industrial and electronic equipment, and automotive – show the highest potential for creating jobs but remain less attractive to foreign investors. During the 2003-20 period, greenfield FDI to Africa’s manufacturing sectors accounted for 20.6% of total foreign investment on the continent and generated on average 5 jobs per USD 1 million invested – the highest ratio across sectors. Manufacturing activities are responsible for a relatively small share of CO2 emissions on the continent (Figure 1.11). The specific sub-sectors of textiles, industrial and electronic equipment, and automotive have the best records in terms of job creation (14, 10 and 9 jobs per USD 1 million invested respectively), but they attracted only 4.5% of total greenfield FDI capital expenditures in Africa over 2003-20.3

Linkages between local affiliates of multinational enterprises and domestic suppliers are important channels for productivity spillovers from FDI. Such linkages can help domestic firms and small and medium-sized enterprises upgrade (Amendolagine et al., 2019; Javorcik and Spatareanu, 2008) through several spillover channels (Table 1.3).

Foreign firms are less likely to source supplies locally in Africa than in Asia, and the extent of local sourcing varies among African countries. Analysis of firm-level data from the World Bank Enterprise Surveys shows that, on average, foreign firms operating in African countries rely less on inputs sourced from local suppliers compared to their peers in Asia (Figure 1.12). Sector-specific factors, value chain structures and policy considerations can explain variations across African countries: for example, in Ethiopia and Morocco, advanced local supplier capabilities exist in key sectors such as textiles and automotive, allowing foreign manufacturers to source locally. Differences in shares of local sourcing by foreign investors can result from legal and regulatory requirements, as in Egypt (OECD, 2020a) and Tunisia (OECD, 2021c).

The transfer of knowledge and technology from multinational enterprises depends on the absorptive capacity of Africa’s small and medium-sized enterprises, which often suffer from a high level of informality and information asymmetries. Absorptive capacity – defined as the production and technology gap between domestic and foreign firms – shapes the ability of local firms and small and medium-sized enterprises to benefit from technological spillovers from multinational enterprises (Lugemwa, 2014; Vu, 2018). A recent study on 100 manufacturing firms in Kenya shows that absorptive capacity plays a statistically significant role in FDI’s boosting firm performance, implying that firms need some level of knowledge and technology capacity to fully tap the benefits of FDI (Wanjere et al., 2021). However, investments targeted at African small and medium-sized enterprises are often hampered by informality and information asymmetries (Box 1.7).

Mobilising remittances as part of diaspora investment can help develop local production networks. According to International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD/World Bank, 2015), up to 30% of remittances target economic activities. However, most of these remittances are channelled towards informal activities and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises through extended family ties and social networks, rather than towards structured diaspora investment products. This is due to limitations including a lack of knowledge about investment opportunities along with low confidence in regulatory and political systems (Asquith and Opoku-Owusu, 2020). Diaspora investments can support the development of local production networks as most diaspora investors tend to establish more connections with local suppliers than non-diaspora foreign investors (Amendolagine et al., 2013). Structured diaspora investment products could tap into the estimated USD 33.7 billion annual diaspora savings, channelling some of these funds more directly towards productive investments on the continent (Faal, 2019).

African multinational enterprises account for a minor share of greenfield FDI to the continent but have increased their investment in specific sectors. From 2017 to 2021, intra-African FDI flows accounted for only 9% of total greenfield FDI to the continent.4 However, in 2020-21, despite a sharp reduction in total greenfield FDI to Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa-based investors increased their engagement in new investment projects in ICT, renewable energies and metals (Figure 1.13). For example, in 2020, MTN Nigeria (a subsidiary of the South Africa-based MTN Group) announced plans to invest over USD 1.6 billion in 4G network infrastructure across the country until 2023 (NIPC, 2020).

Original analysis for this report shows that the growth of African multinational enterprises in services – such as finance and retail – has increased the potential for job creation, but they are highly dominated by South African groups. Overall, Africa’s services sectors combine comparatively low environmental impact with a relatively positive job creation potential (Figure 1.11). For example, greenfield FDI in retail generates on average 5.6 jobs per USD 1 million of capital expenditures.5 In South Africa, Africa’s top FDI source and destination in 2021, the retail sector accounts for 21.5% of total employment (Statistics South Africa, 2022), mostly due to the dominance of large domestic retail companies. Analysis of firm-level data from the Orbis database across 521 African private companies listed on a stock market with subsidiaries in Africa highlights the dominance of South African firms as intra-African investors (Table 1.4). They represented 34% of firms included in the sample and three-quarters of turnover and market capitalisation. While 23% of Africa-based listed firms in the sample operate in manufacturing, the vast majority (69%) is active in service-oriented sectors such as financial services (29%), retail (8%), real estate (6%), and information and communication technologies (6%).

African groups in financial services and retail tend to have a larger geographical footprint. Based on the analysis of the Orbis database, on average Africa-based listed companies have established 17 subsidiaries on the continent, compared to 8 for Western European companies, 4 for North American companies and only 3 for Asian companies. African groups hold three-quarters of subsidiaries operating in Africa in the financial sector – mostly financial holding companies and banks – compared to companies from other regions (Figure 1.14). While less than 10% of African listed firms operate in retail – mostly food and beverage, construction materials – they account for over half of retail subsidiaries on the continent, illustrating the dominance of a few large African groups (e.g. Shoprite, Pick n Pay).

Manufacturing and retail are the most job-intensive sectors, but sectors with high market value – financial and ICT – can indirectly create jobs. Manufacturing and retail account for over 50% of direct employment among Africa-based listed firms. In contrast, the financial and ICT sectors represent over 60% of market capitalisation, but they create less than one-fourth of total direct employment: about 500 000 employees (Figure 1.15). However, the financial and ICT sectors offer the potential for indirect job creation through increasing financial inclusion and digital upgrading in the rest of the economy (AUC/OECD, 2021).

African firms expanding within the continent often have better knowledge of the new business environments than non-African firms. Formal and informal knowledge of the business environment often helps regional pioneers enter neighbouring markets by facilitating investment decisions and reducing costs (Kathuria, Yatawara and Zhu, 2021). Using such knowledge, Dangote Cement, for instance, has successfully competed against non-African incumbent companies and expanded across ten African countries (World Bank, 2016). Firms can acquire capabilities in their domestic market that can allow them to expand to countries that have similar institutional settings; this appears crucial to succeed in difficult market environments (Verhoef, 2011). Research on the location strategies of three South African firms – SABMiller, MTN and Massmart – highlights the ability to implement non-market strategies as well as leverage important political connections to navigate weak institutional environments (White, Kitimbo and Rees, 2019).

African institutional investors have grown, while their investments in alternative assets remain negligible. According to the latest estimates, in 2020, African institutional investors had assets under management of about USD 1.8 trillion, registering a 48% increase from 2017 (Juvonen et al., 2019). OECD data show that pension funds across 15 African countries accumulated USD 380 billion of assets by 2020, with South Africa accounting for almost 80% of the total (OECD, 2021d). This translates into an average GDP share of 25% for Africa (mostly driven by South Africa, Namibia and Botswana), compared to 22% in Latin America and the Caribbean and 3% in developing Asia (Figure 1.16). Yet, alternative assets – such as infrastructure, real estate, green and sustainable assets, private equity, and venture capital – accounted for less than 3% of portfolios in an assessment of five African pension markets, namely Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria and South Africa (AfDB/IFC/MFW4A, 2022).

The absence of environmental, social and governance (ESG) frameworks, capacity constraints and a lack of information for investors limit sustainable investment in African countries. Specific sustainable investment frameworks are still missing across the African continent, with South Africa’s implementation of an ESG taxonomy in April 2022 as one exception. Data and management capacity constraints make accurate ESG criteria assessments more difficult, which can lower ESG scores and increase the risk of exclusion from international sustainable investment (OECD, 2022b). In a survey of 70 African banks, 70% saw green lending as an opportunity, but 60% cited technical capacity as a barrier to implementation (EIB, 2022). Mirroring global trends among institutional investors (OECD, 2021a), half of the major African pension funds provide information on the importance of sustainability to their investments. And these share only limited information on their specific strategies and implementations (Stewart, 2022).

Better institutional governance and co-operation across countries can help Africa’s sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) attract private capital for sustainable investments. Total assets under management of Africa’s SWFs amount to USD 100 billion across 30 funds (Global SWF, 2022). Several SWFs have established private equity funds for sectors such as healthcare and renewable energy to attract foreign investors to sustainable investment opportunities (Table 1.5). In a recent survey of senior executives of African SWFs, all respondents underlined the importance of independent and effective institutional governance as the first priority to generate the trust of international and domestic partners. Eighty-three per cent of respondents said that the current collaboration between the continent’s SWFs was insufficient and that much more needs to be done also in the context of the AfCFTA (IFSWF and Templeton, 2021). In June 2022, African SWFs, with collective assets under management of USD 12.6 billion, formed the African Sovereign Investors Forum, a new shared platform to accelerate co-ordination to mobilise capital for sustainable investments (AfDB, 2022).

Pension and sovereign wealth funds may be willing to invest in African infrastructure projects, provided quality criteria are met. In a 2018 study on institutional investment and commercial project development in Africa, all surveyed pension and sovereign wealth funds stated they were willing to consider investing in African infrastructure projects that are already generating revenues. While only 11% of pension funds reported interest in infrastructure projects under development (greenfield projects), most indicated a willingness to invest indirectly in the early stage of project preparation through investment vehicles and entities that strictly meet their investment criteria, such as high-quality bonds, funds, banks and corporations. Most investors surveyed ranked public-sector commitment and experienced project management among their top investment requirements (Danso and Samuels, 2018).

The estimation of Africa’s sustainable financing gap in this report draws on the methodology outlined in the OECD’s Global Outlook on Financing for Sustainable Development 2023 (OECD, 2022b). While other estimation methodologies exist (e.g. UNCTAD, 2022a), the OECD methodology can be replicated with data that is available for almost all African countries over time. Based on original projections of the annual financing needs of African countries to achieve the SDGs and the financial resources available to meet those needs conducted in 2015 (UNCTAD, 2014, 2016), this report assumes a baseline USD 200 billion sustainable financing gap per annum for the African continent until 2030 in a scenario where financing conditions remain constant (UNCTAD, 2020b). As per the OECD (2022b) approach, the baseline is adjusted according to changes in Africa’s main (foreign and domestic) sources of finance compared to 2015 as the year in which the baseline was projected (Annex Table 1.A.1).

In contrast to the OECD (2022b) approach, this report presents the available financing and the sustainable financing gap from 2015-21 (Figure 1.3). For this purpose, the methodology deviates from OECD (2022b) in that 2015 instead of 2019 is used as a baseline while one-off COVID-19-related fiscal measures were omitted. To calculate official development finance, only net ODA data were used instead of data from the Total Official Support for Sustainable Development (TOSSD, 2022) database, which are not available for all African countries for the time period 2015-21.

The Orbis database from Bureau van Dijk (BvD) – a Moody’s Analytics company – provides harmonised financial and ownership information at the firm level, across more than 100 countries and over 400 million private and public listed firms. Data are collected from over 160 different government and commercial information providers (national business registers). While BvD harmonises the data in a standard “global” format, the data are not nationally representative (see Kalemly-Ozcan et al., 2022, for more information).

In order to extract a sample of companies active in Africa from the Orbis database, the following data selection criteria were applied:

  • active privately owned companies with subsidiaries (minimum 10% of direct ownership)8 located in African countries

  • companies with “latest year of accounts” not older than five years (2017-2021)

  • publicly listed companies registered as Global Ultimate Owners (GUO).9

For each company, consolidated accounts are reported. When these are not available, unconsolidated accounts are reported.

Due to data quality considerations (see also OECD, 2020b), the analysis is focused on listed firms for which data are of higher coverage and quality to allow cross-sector and country analysis.


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← 1. Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

← 2. Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Sierra Leone and South Sudan.

← 3. Authors’ calculations based on fDi Intelligence (2022).

← 4. Authors’ calculations based on fDi Intelligence (2022).

← 5. Authors’ calculations based on fDi Intelligence (2022).

← 6.

← 7. The data were downloaded on 15 September 2022.

← 8. The 10% threshold is defined in accordance with the OECD definition of FDI relationship:

← 9. In the Orbis database, a Global Ultimate Owner (GUO) is the individual or entity at the top of the corporate ownership structure. The GUO filtering condition is applied to identify the company group and avoid the selection of multiple entities belonging to the same group.


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