It is an undeniable fact that the private sector definition of Africa, is largely dominated by domestic small and medium scale enterprises operations, because its corporate enterprises are largely non-profit making government agencies, along with a few of its developing banks, and multi-national companies. The above scenario and statement is empirically proven by numerous literature that the SME sector is estimated to hold over 80% of the Africa domestic economy. Thereby, the author does concur with the fact that when the economic health and the fate of the SME sector is in a struggle, so is the state and fate of the African economy. It is now a popularly known issue that in Africa, the rich are all in the political class as in government office, while the poor wallow in economic struggle or poverty, and mostly serving in an economic sector defined in the context of this article as the stagnant private sector.
It is an exceptional case, in which we have about 2-3% of indigenous people in Africa being rich out of the political sphere and serving rather in the private sectors, not ignoring the fact of political supports and connections to such businesses, like the business mogul Aliko Dangote and few others. This was the argument posited in my 2016 academic paper and the second edition of my book Entreprenomics ISBN: 978-613-9-98876-1 by LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing. It is evidenced in performance that in such an environment, most indigenous businesses are established not to solve market problems as expected of entrepreneurs, but rather for self-serving interest and survival economic agenda. As a result, this kind of enterprise setup lacks market-driven vision for a long-term profit sustainability, hence, becomes toxic projects to attract quality investment.
The World Bank Group report of 2019/2020 on easy to do business among the 190 countries of the world, starting from the bottom of such chart begins with an African country, Somalia, all the way to 90th position, having African countries comfortably leading from behind. So it has not been surprised, why the elite on the continent of Africa find politics, and government offices, as lucrative enterprise and see it as a ‘do- and-die’ affairs agenda unlike the European, American or the Asian tigers.
However, the focus of this article is to critically analyse the difficulty in packaging the domestic SMEs to compete for corporate funding and how my institute over the years has strived to resolve this narrative. In this article, the quality of investment will be defined as “a fundamental criterion, which a funding package possesses, as a benefit to an SME, taken into consideration the business category characteristics”. This implies the criteria package for corporate enterprise funding will be a high-cost burden to a small and medium scale enterprise. Yet the profit-driven investment community focuses with less interest in enterprise structure, but with much interest in ventures with the most profit rewarding to their investment commitment. This assertion above does not necessarily conclude we have no profitable SMEs than corporate enterprises in Africa. But the argument is how to empower the vulnerable SMEs market of Africa into a formidable industry to inspire a vibrant economy of the continent of Africa.
In the past two decades, all investment grants were donor-driven and non-profit engineered as a foreign direct investment to capitalized Africa domestic SMEs industry. Hence, the condition of interest on those funds was very mild in terms of the cost of capital, yet most of such fundings were misapplied, meaning (the government sector failed to implement the capital requirement). Today such donor funds are not easily accessible to start-ups and SMEs in other to tap into large scale initiatives.
This means SME owners have no special funding market in favour of their ventures as against corporate enterprises in today’s Africa, and this reality has to be very clear to the emerging entrepreneurs, and the existing ones on the continent. If that is the situation, then it implies the fundamental conceptualization of every start-up business, and its vision should be very grounding as a foundation to enable other business models to build on it. From the above-proposed instance, it is the only reason any venture could attract quality investment and solve the first most important problem of Investment Bankers on SMEs related projects in Africa. It is easily observable that areas, where donor and grant funding are accessible as a credit-support, are no more offered on a mass scale through government but rather in a project-centric nature in other to attract talented youth with specialised skills: for instance the case-study of information technology advancement projects funding.
The next challenge of Investment Bankers serving within the SMEs sector of Africa is to overcome the situation of idea-owners (bearers) seeking to use vain words to describe how they believe and think their ideas are worthy and profitable, without acknowledging the fact that, the value of any idea is measured from its quantifiable risk, excluded from its expected revenue generation, scientifically analysed. And has to be presented in a cogent document, termed us, ‘Bankable Document’.The effort to develop such a document around one’s business project should be viewed as a valid ‘visa’ in securing quality funding and a principle documentation compass of the venture. And its development process is a very cumbersome and complex design for SME projects than corporate enterprise, especially measuring the accuracy of the risk content and mitigation approaches mutually beneficial to the project promoter and the investor. The worst scenario is businesses that have no exiting history of operational performance or having poor audited accounting records as a sole reliable document for investment analysis projections. Without ignoring the business’ strong profit potential based on the venture survey market conditions, which are mostly classified as a quality ‘off-taker’ deals. In such instances, it does not only need a technical expert(s) who knows how to conduct risk analysis using models for investment quantification and viability, but a practitioner who understands the dynamics and evolution of various markets of Africa to pose accurate assumptions governing project risk analysis and profitability, which is in equilibrium to the realities of such a market. In my experience, the most ignored risk study area in business plan conceptualization is the ‘agency cost’ which poses a threat to the output effect of production in developing and underdeveloped economies of this continent. Therefore, the skill to model out the attitudinal effect in labour force contribution to optimum productive expectation is not just a formula work, but involves hardcore thinking, comparative cross-check of data in contextual analysis within a speculative economic environment of Africa. And these are done with a precision of experience.
It is thereby sad to realize that most of the SME owners think the cost of investing in such documentation is very high, thereby seeking not to place premium value to such documents. Ignoring the fact that a potentially profitable business idea with weak documentation will win you no investment, instead, will promote an environment for smart minds to steal the idea and make a profit out of it or such venture project may attract investment support at a high collateral cost and interest rate. Let’s consider the instance, where a business-project is seeking for $10 million hard currency into an economy with soft currency as a transaction location of the venture, with most of such economies having a bad historic records of exchange rate with the US dollar, which in itself possess a high risk to the investment deal. Yet you are required as an SME to search for a collateral double the credit facility with an interest rate above 10% to work with in such a developing or underdeveloped economy. Meanwhile, the interest rate of the US economy is less than 5%. The outcome of such investment relation, easily establishes the potential bankruptcy risk of the business within the enterprise lifespan.
The conclusion is to admonish all entrepreneurs or SMEs owners to place a special value to their ‘Bankable documentation’ for funding opportunities just as a visa is required as an entrance to any country of destination, the document is the only means to attract quality investment, very affordable, and sometimes without rigid capital conditions in favour of the type of business you may be engaged to.
Emmanuel TWENEBOAH SENZU,Ph.D. a Professor of Economics and Finance. Head of Research, Frederic Bastiat Institute Africa.