Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|September 29, 2022|8 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

The cool banker with $8 billion in Africa.

The genial, erudite, Admassu Tadesse looks very cool and collected for a man who has $8 billion sunk into Africa in the midst of pain and pandemic.  The head of the Eastern and Southern Africa Trade and Development Bank talks of investment in the continent, lighting fires,  and what happens when bad news hits the TV screen.

Admassu Tadesse is the sort of banker you want to meet in these troubled times. Calm, down-to-earth, with a steady eye on the future.Even the pandemic didn’t worry him too much; on the contrary, he feels it lit a fire under the behind of African business.

“I think the pandemic is global, and a lot is out of our control… we do have some things under control but I think before the pandemic is the one thing …understanding the value of time,”  he says.

“People need to be much more switched on. Understanding the value of time and be switched on to quicker turnaround periods…turnaround times to move with more urgency, responsiveness, and basic efficiency. Responsiveness and getting that dynamism to come through. People tend to be a bit too relaxed on this beloved continent. We just need to keep the fires burning under everybody, so everybody realizes that time is a resource and we can’t afford to just move at a comfortable pace.”

Right now, that investor’s eye, looks east towards a new electrical standard gauge railway (SGR) the first stage of which will forge 205 kilometres across the continent from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro. Tests have begun on the SGR,that will be the first electrified line in east Africa, following the construction of a transmission line; trains could roll by the end of the year.

“We continue to see infrastructure projects, energy in particular but also rail moving along nicely. Tanzania has been very aggressive in a good way with rolling out this SGR network that will be a huge game-changer for that part of East Africa. We have invested in that together with other partners. We have seen the Ugandans together with their investors and partners continue to move on the oil refinery project- it is still very much alive and moving forward,” says Tadesse on the side lines of the Global Business Forum Africa in Dubai.

“It is a key transport corridor that is going to be created all the way from the coast to the hinterland. It will interconnect the ports of Tanzania in a very efficiently and speedy manner. To not just the Hinterland but also Uganda, Rwanda, Eastern DRC, and also Burundi.”

The going has not been so smooth in Mozambique where the bank has invested in the Coral South LNG project off the coast. The gas boom of Mozambique has been more than a decade in the making and has yet to reap large rewards; it was joltedby the armed insurgency in the north.

“There have been shocks along the way, we know what has happened in Mozambique in terms of the events in the north but prior to that the microeconomic issues the debt issues .When you look at it in context all of these things don’t take away from the value proposition that is always excited everybody about Mozambique,” says Tadesse.

I think the pandemic is global, and a lot is out of our control... we do have some things under control but I think before the pandemic is the one thing understanding the value of time,

“These things when they come on the big screen everybody obviously gets surprised and sensationalism going on…We all know bad news travels and excites people in a certain way. But the bottom line is these are passing events and they are shocks and they can be dangerous events, they could actually disrupt an opportunity, but it has to get to a serious level to get to that.People have to take the punches as they go along  and adjust and protect the opportunity.”

Despite these setbacks, Tadesse is upbeat about the future of African and investment.

“We do short-term business, but we see the medium to long-term business to be very interesting There are always downside risks on every scenario but the huge opportunity here is the demographics. And the way the world is reordering itself. Big economies like China have begun to shift as well. Europe, of course, is looking for opportunities and of course, so is the Gulf region. The one frontier unlocked is the African continent whether you look at gold or platinum or cobalt; even copper prices are high. There are just so many opportunities even oil and gas it is not a sexy sector to be talking much about now in the climate change world.Just a lot of optimism, the resources have always been there in Africa but now we are looking at real economies are picking up left-right, and centre and that also spells a lot of promise because we know that real development is not just about the industry, but building the infrastructure for the industry to produce jobs.”

Overall, Tadesse sees a strong future for Africa – stronger if countries achieve good governance.

“Development happens on a platform of institutional frameworks and stability and good governance. There is a lot more attention and commitment now to those enabling aspects around economic development in Africa and understanding that the private sector has to be respected and facilitated and enabled so they can generate economic activity and get jobs moving  I think it is a much deeper commitment to the economy and to the private sector and what that does is just the mind-set around many of the countries.People understand how value is created, how wealth is created and you have to protect the (golden) goose.”

Cold reality from a cool head.