Twenty years ago, Peter Thoms, founder and portfolio manager of Africa Capital Group, embarked on the journey of a lifetime that took him from Morocco to South Africa.
For several months, he traveled by boat, by train, by bush taxi and he hitchhiked, visiting 25 African countries along the way, including Kenya, which recently issued its first Eurobond.
That deal was 17 years in the making but could not have proved more popular, since Kenya succeeded in raising $2 billion in a hugely oversubscribed issue that the country’s president described as a huge “vote of confidence” for Kenya by the international investment community.
Thoms was recently in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi—which, he said, has changed beyond recognition in the past two decades—and he also visited Rwanda, which issued its debut Eurobond in 2013, one year before marking the 20th anniversary of the horrific genocide that ripped the country apart and claimed close to a million lives. Here’s what Thoms has to report on these two rising African nations:
Kenya Badly Needs Foreign Investment
Many investors who bought the Kenyan bond may have done so because it offers them yield in a world of low interest rates, but the popularity of the bond will no doubt encourage more foreign investment into Kenya—investment, Thoms said, that the country badly needs.
“Kenya has huge infrastructure projects on tap and if it is to continue sustaining a high level of growth, then it must invest heavily in infrastructure,” he said.
Today, Nairobi is a sprawling city that is “groaning under its current infrastructure” because it’s growing at such a rapid rate. The city and the rest of the country badly need to upgrade in all areas, not least the electricity grid, and there are huge plans afoot to move toward geothermal power and away from hydroelectric power.
“For all of this and more the Kenyan government is going to have to continue raising external funds and attracting investment, but the success of the bond bodes well for that,” Thoms said. “And if the Kenyan government wants to keep attracting external funds, then its ability to service its external debt will be important and probably the factor by which foreign investors will judge Kenya’s credibility.”