Covid-19 is at once a wakeup call for Africa to the fact that it lacks the basic infrastructure to drive its various economies and, also, a huge opportunity to start looking inwards at this time when the world economies are hit hard by COVID-19, principal partner of Access View Africa, Ghana, Nkechi Denis Akunyili, tells MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in Accra. Akunyili, who is UBA Ghana’s immediate past regional treasurer in charge of the West Africa Monetary Zone, cites the creativity that most African countries exhibited in swinging into production of personal protective equipment, to meet national demands in the wake of the pandemic, as an impressive reaction that must be sustained for the continent’s economic well-being in the new post-pandemic world order.
Many international borders shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic still remain closed and most parts of the world are under lockdowns triggered by the pandemic or gradually trying to ease them. How long do you predict that this situation will persist?
COVID-19 has really been a wakeup call for the world but most importantly for Africa, a real eye-opener. On how long it will last, I am not a professional on subject matter but from the information overhang, I get the feeling that this is different from any that we had witnessed in a long time. The fact that a recovered COVID patient is prone to another infection tells us that the road to recovery is long and real adjustments will have to be made to not just our lifestyles, hygiene but also the way we conduct business, for us to ensure that we contain it successfully, without burning out.
How will all these affect the way the world works, and, ultimately, the global economy?
It’s already affecting everything. I guess within the first one month, we all realised it can’t be business as usual. With countries closing boarders all over, it was imminent that businesses in the hospitality industry, airlines tourism and especially countries that heavily reliant on tourism will definitely take a hit. It’s already happening. Most countries rely heavily on China being a production hub for finished goods and that has really changed the world economic dynamics. There should be shifts in production plants across the globe from heavily impacted areas to less impacted regions, it’s all about taking advantage of the moment. I pray Africa wakes up to take advantage of this (long story for another day). The most interesting thing though, is the way businesses are adjusting which has being amazing. Businesses are seeing that it’s possible to achieve a lot remotely without physical presence. Technology is now being used more efficiently to achieve so much in the work place. Team meetings are held across borders virtually achieving same purpose with the prospect of lower travel expenses for businesses. We just hope that companies don’t embark on layoffs as they realise they will achieve their goals with fewer key staff. The point is that there are pros and cons of Covid-19. We need to work to ensure that we come out of it with a better and sustainable economy with stronger resilience.
With their advanced health systems, the developed world, including the United States, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, France, among others, are seemingly at a loss to secure their citizens against the virus. Are you disappointed that science has taken this long to discover a cure for the virus?
Well, I don’t think anyone prepared for this outbreak and it’s no wonder that countries and indeed the world is struggling to find a cure to it. I won’t say I am disappointed but this outbreak calls for a concerted global effort to ensure that we find a quick cure for this virus or at least keep it in check so we don’t also lose 2021 as we already lost 2020.
Ghana is the headquarters of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, not Nigeria, which is the largest economy in Africa. Nonetheless, how can Nigerian businesses in Ghana fully exploit the opportunities and benefits inherent in the AfCFTA?
AfCFTA head office presence is just a physical location and not determinant of country success in this initiative. The African countries that are ready to play in the continent and take advantage of the huge platform and market that this laudable treaty presents is the country that will benefit most regardless of the headquarter location. The point is, what structures have we put in place in Nigeria to enable businesses to thrive and take advantage of this platform. I trust Nigerian businesses; they defy every challenges but the point is that there are infrastructures that will enable trade to thrive, which the businessmen cannot provide for themselves. Railway, for instance will help haul goods across states to neighbouring countries. What are we doing on that? How ready are we really when it comes to this? We cannot just be the largest economy without being ready to be a major player in AfCFTA. We need to wake up to this fact and act quickly, honestly.
You were UBA Ghana’s regional treasurer in charge of the WAMZ. How can West African countries break the jinx that continues to militate against the successful launch of the sub regional currency, the Eco?
Eco is a laudable idea, however for the Eco to work, every country in West Africa will have to step up their game to move its economies in the right direction; reduce imports drastically, increase exports, lower inflation and achieve currency appreciation. Having a bloc of countries with strong economic fundamentals is what will make the Eco very effective. To achieve this, going back to our agriculture roots is very key to ensure we achieve import substitution and all mentioned above to achieve the desired convergence criteria that will enable Eco thrive.
Against the backdrop of West Africa’s experience with the ECOWAS bloc, including issues with establishment and cross-border trading among ECOWAS citizens, what do you think are the general prospects of the new AfCFTA?
The good thing with AfCFTA is that it is an agreement that has the buy-in of all the countries within the bloc with laid down rules that they have to abide with, which will include open trade liberalisation across borders. It will definitely be a better arrangement than the pre-AfCFTA era.
What is Access View Africa all about?
Access View Africa is a boutique business development, investment and financial advisory outfit with focus on African businesses. It focuses on enabling businesses to optimize their potentials by identifying financial opportunities across Africa for potential investors to take advantage of and add value to African businesses, with a view to making an impact in the various African economies where we operate. As business enablers, we play a key role in business development of our local clients’ businesses, ensure they are run efficiently, working to create value for investors by identifying business opportunities for them to deploy resources in our clients’ businesses locally and working with the businesses to protect investor’s interest whist ensuring that the businesses succeed.
To investors, we are solution providers of trusted investment outlets for their finances across Africa. We not only identify these businesses but act as our investors’ eye in the business they have invested in. We also help our clients navigate the regulatory terrain of the various African markets they want to go into; and, work out hedging solutions that will ensure capital protection against foreign exchange risk. We make this possible through our product partners in the various African markets that we operate in. That way, our Investors will trust that we have their best interest at heart to grow our businesses together.
We guide our clients on the best financing options for their business, as we understand their need. We help them to explore business development opportunities within their country and across Africa.
Trade finance solutions are provided for our clients tailored to their specific business. Having studied their businesses, we advise clients to take advantage of platforms that we present to them through our unique product partnership in the various markets to boost their business.
To our local financial institutional clients, we help them optimize their balance sheets by ensuring efficient deployment of financial resources. Through our product partners across the African markets, we help our clients seek investment outlets for their excess cash/financial resources. We help our clients carry out portfolio re-allocation of resources from less yielding assets to higher yielding assets whilst ensuring risk is mitigated.
We also raise required funding for our partner Financial Institutions (FIs). This could be in the following forms: trade loan, import financing, outright loan to the FIs that meet our client criteria, asset buy back or refinancing of loan to free up liquidity.
How long has the company been in Ghana? Are your services and operations limited only to Ghana?
I left my 23-plus years banking career in December 2019 to incorporate this company with a solid board and team that share a common passion. Backed by a passion to see African businesses grow, we operate out of Ghana with an African focus. We have product partners across Africa that we sell their products across the globe. Our investors are both local and foreign investors with Diaspora investment as a key option as we work towards attracting Diaspora funding for local impact businesses.
How can African countries even begin to mitigate the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on their economies?
For me, Covid-19 is a huge opportunity for Africa to get it right and wake up from our slumber. It’s a wakeup call to the fact that we lack the basic infrastructure to drive our various economies. Luckily, the God of the universe has been on our side, as we haven’t seen this pandemic go out of control, yet our facilities have already been stretched. So health-wise, we have to get our health-care services up to standard as a healthy workforce is a wealthy one. On the economy, like I said earlier, Africa has a huge opportunity to start looking inward at this time when the world economies are hit hard by Covid-19 to start looking for import substitution as countries that we import food and some of these finished products are hit hard. Why don’t we take our agriculture more seriously, start producing food that hitherto we used to import. Some African countries and local businesses have really shown that we can get this right. The way they swung into action to start producing PPEs, nose-and-mouth masks, etc that we would have been importing knowing our pedigree, has been impressive. It shows we can really do it and we have to keep marching on in that direction.
Most countries, including the advanced ones, have had their economies battered badly by the ongoing pandemic, and would be needing foreign investments themselves. How do you plan to overcome the inherent challenges offered by this reality and still succeed in linking local businesses to foreign partners?
Granted, there will definitely be a slow-down on foreign investment in Africa but Africa is really where the opportunities are and investors know that. Returns are good and definitely a safe haven at this point in time.
Kindly tell us about yourself?
I am a passionate and result-oriented person with world-class experience in financial and investment solutions, structuring and execution for private and public sector entities. My passion is to support African businesses unleash their potentials on continental and global levels, through unfettered access to financial resources for growth and markets for products at a fair value. At a current span of over 23 years of professional life which has been mostly at managerial levels in banking across West Africa, my core competencies are well formed in treasury and investment portfolio management and optimisation with my role as the then regional treasurer of United Bank for Africa (UBA) for WAMZ Region.
Do you have any final words?
I am really passionate about seeing that Africa really taps into the huge potentials within the continent. We have the resources, the land and the skill sets. What is holding us back is what bugs me every day. Our local businesses struggle every day from lack of support from within. Our FIs should position themselves to support these businesses; they will end up being mere platform providers for African businesses to do banking business as against financing businesses that will impact on the economy. This is because foreign investors are looking for such businesses to invest in directly. With boutique investment advisory outfits like Access View Africa, we are ready to provide them with the financial structures that will give them comfort to invest with these businesses directly if we cannot get our banks to show interest and support them. Banks will turn out to be mere balance sheet managers. Not that they will mind because that is what they are currently doing and they are happy with. Our work in Access View is to awaken that consciousness in them.