Two of the largest banking and financial services institutions in the world, HSBC and UBS, have recently closed their local representative offices in Nigeria.
There’s also trouble brewing elsewhere in Nigeria’s business world that’s prompted fears about the climate for foreign direct investment in the country. Foreign direct investment is an investment made by a firm or individual in one country into business interests located in another country.
For instance, Nigeria’s government in September accused HSBC of money laundering after an analyst working for the lender said a second term for President Muhammadu Buhari may stall economic recovery in Africa’s biggest oil producer.
There are also tensions between Nigeria’s central bank and the South African telecom company MTN. In 2015, MTN was fined about $5bn for failing to cut off unregistered SIM cards. This was later reduced to $1.7 billion after a long legal dispute and the intervention of South Africa’s then President Jacob Zuma.
Recently, the central bank has ordered MTN to repatriate $8 billion it said has been taken out of the country illegally.
Analysts are concerned that the Nigerian government’s attitude towards MTN and the two banks may erode the confidence of foreign direct investors. Their fears seem to be well founded: foreign direct investment in Nigeria fell to $1 billion in the first half of 2018, from $1.48 billion in the first half of 2017.
Foreign direct investment is crucial for any economy. So how can Nigeria attract and keep the right kind of investment from global companies? Compromise will be key, both for the government and foreign firms.
Why foreign direct investment?
Foreign direct investment is often preferred to exporting. That’s because while exports merely involve moving goods from one country to another, foreign direct investment actually involves an investor establishing foreign business operations or acquiring foreign business assets.
This often includes establishing ownership or controlling interest in a foreign country (for instance an American business establishing a physical business presence in Nigeria). Many emerging economies like China, Brazil, Vietnam and India have built their growth on FDI flows.
The trick is to attract “quality foreign direct investment” that links foreign investors into the local host country economy. The International Growth Centre, a British-funded research centre that aims to promote sustainable growth in developing countries, characterises “quality” here as contributing to:
decent and value-adding jobs and enhancing the skill base of host economies;
transfer of technology, knowledge and know-how;
boosting competitiveness of domestic firms and enabling their access to markets.
What Nigeria can do
There are a few things Nigeria can do to boost foreign direct investment. For starters, it must play fair. Foreign and domestic businesses should be treated equally. They should be open, transparent and dependable conditions for all kinds of firms.
Another area that needs attention is infrastructure. Businesses need easy access to ports, an adequate and reliable supply of energy and relative certainty that the country will be good to invest in. Good institutions also promote FDI.
The government should encourage partnerships between foreign and local businesses. Foreign firms might be familiar with global good business practices, but local firms will be more familiar with the indigenous context. This synergy could be very beneficial.
It’s also critical that Nigeria gets its regional governments involved: there are many regions in Nigeria, and these regions all have unique opportunities and challenges. Our latest research shows that when the central government of Nigeria ran out of ideas and foreigners wanted to exit the agricultural sector, the regional government of Kwara state stepped in to create a positive business climate based on the cooperation of local banks, community members, and the foreigners themselves culminating in the Shonga farms public-private venture.
This has kept the firm in Nigeria. It’s also brought private investors to the table, bolstering the firm and the local economy.
Nigeria should also tap into its huge diaspora. There are many Nigerians living outside the country who understand its challenges. They should be encouraged to help, or asked to work with their networks to invest in the country.
What foreign firms can do
Foreign firms also have a role to play. They can enhance their success in Nigeria (and elsewhere on the African continent) in several ways.
First, they need a long term strategic plan. This means thinking carefully about what sectors or activities to target. Many foreign firms come to developing countries when things are rosy but leave when conditions change. They don’t properly consider that solving such problems will gain them a competitive advantage in the long run.
If they stay and follow a learning curve, foreign firms will better understand the local business context. They’ll also gain credibility among ordinary people and possibly get more customers and support that way.
In the same vein, foreign businesses should create local solutions that meet ordinary people’s needs. The banks leaving Nigeria have been accused of only catering to the needs of wealthy Nigerians, who are perceived as corrupt. A more diverse portfolio that catered to the needs of ordinary Nigerians would have nullified this claim.
Foreign firms must also work closely with credible and strategic local firms, and be willing to enter into dialogue with the Nigerian government where necessary. This is crucial especially as administrations may change or government policy may evolve. Dialogue could ensure that all parties are on the same page.
Act local, think global
It’s unfortunate that these banking institutions have decided to leave Nigeria. Hopefully both the Nigerian government and other foreign investors can learn from this.
The main takeaway for both foreign investors and governments involved in foreign direct investment is that it would be prudent for all parties to act locally but think globally.
Rosewood is the generic name for several dark-red hardwood species found in tropical regions across the globe. It fetches very high prices because it’s strong, heavy, has a beautiful red hue and takes polish very well – and because the trees are becoming increasingly scarce.
On the Chinese market in 2014, for example, prices were in excess of USD$17,000 per ton. That’s ten times higher than the price of more standard tropical hardwood.
There’s a huge demand in China for rosewood logs to make hongmu – antique furniture. Hongmu was used historically by the imperial elite and is now coveted by China’s rising middle class. Supplies of the wood from markets in Latin America and South-East Asia have dwindled in recent years, so Africa has become a key source. Within Africa, Zambia has become one of China’s main rosewood exporters in the past decade.
But the harvesting of rosewood is often not done sustainably. Several African species have already received protection under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species.
We researched the rosewood trade between China and Zambia in 2016 and 2017. We wanted to study the relationship between global and local sources of capital, rural development and environmental impacts. We also wanted to see whether regulations, adopted to preserve natural resources like rosewood, provide the right set of incentives and disincentives for business to be sustainable.
The most common name used to identify rosewood in Zambia is mukula. But because several different species are categorised as mukula, and because comprehensive inventories are lacking, current rosewood stocks are not known. Legal uncertainties and corruption mean that laws, regulations, or sustainable forest management plans, related to rosewood, are rarely implemented and monitored.
This means that Zambia doesn’t benefit much from rosewood trade. Its forests are being decimated, causing serious environmental degradation. And though rural Zambians and their families do profit, this is short-lived. We also found that because the trade isn’t being effectively monitored or taxed, the government loses about USD$ 3.2 million in potential revenue every year.
A couple of big factors have allowed this situation to thrive.
The first is that mukula was only recently added to Zambia’s list of official commercial species. It was previously recorded under the general term “other”, so its trade wasn’t properly recorded or taxed appropriately. In addition, even though there’s an export ban on mukula leaving in log form, it has been allowed to leave the country almost exclusively in log form. Aside from legal considerations, this defies the purpose of the ban, which is to boost local processing and job creation in Zambia.
The second is that the government has been issuing and lifting various regulations in rapid sequence over the years, which have left enforcement agencies on the ground unclear about what rules applied where and when. This has boosted corruption, which means many officials have no incentive to ensure the trade is well regulated. About US$1.7 million is paid in rosewood-linked bribes each year. Most of which are collected along Zambian roads where trucks must make payments to proceed towards the points of export.
The results of these legal uncertainties can be seen in the graph below which shows log exports, as recorded by Zambian authorities through the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, and log imports as recorded by Chinese authorities.
The discrepancies, in volume and value, between the declarations are huge. For example, in 2016, Zambia declared exports for about 3,000 cubic metres at an approximate value of USD$900,000. China, meanwhile, declared imports of about 61,000 cubic metres for an approximate value of USD$87 million. Because Chinese customs do not recognise mukula as rosewood, we cannot determine the amount, but because Zambia exports only a few species whose volumes haven’t changed much over the years, we are sure that mukula represents the vast majority of those volumes.
It’s clear that a series of measures, in particular log-export and production bans adopted over the years, don’t work. Bans only make sense when coupled with other measures, like effective enforcement or a system of incentives. In fact, bans have contributed to keep the rosewood market underground without really affecting harvest and trade. But solutions are possible.
Our research suggests that four points need immediate attention.
The strategy of continuously adopting and lifting production and export bans is not working and should be abandoned. If a ban is deemed necessary, a coherent enforcement strategy must be adopted, enforced and monitored. If not, The Zambian Forestry Department should propose a revision of the legal framework and ensure logs for export are appropriately taxed.
The Zambian government must support the Forests Act of 2015. This aims to protect the country’s forests and people’s long-term livelihoods by implementing innovative management and monitoring measures, including community, joint and private forest management approaches.
The governments of Zambia and China need to engage in discussions with their respective CITES management and scientific authorities and list mukula as a species that may be threatened with extinction, should the trade not be closely controlled. This would hopefully limit international demand.
Countries in sub-Saharan Africa should learn from each other’s environmental challenges and work better together. While Zambian forests were emptied of rosewood – and the government was deliberating potential countermeasures – buyers and traders had already moved into Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. While trying to perfect domestic laws, the precious resource will already be gone.
By working together, the battle to save these fragile forests could be won.
Valued contributions to the research leading to this article were also made by: Xiaoxue Weng, George Schoneveld, Kaala Moombe, Nils Bourland, and Robert Nasi.
Paolo Omar Cerutti, Senior Scientist Centre for International Forestry Research, Centre for International Forestry Research and Davison Gumbo, Scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research, Centre for International Forestry Research