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James Duddridge: Why I'm investing in 12 companies across Africa

James DuddridgeJames Duddridge is the Member of Parliament for Rochford and Southend East.

I have just invested £1,000 in an African business.

It may prove to be a mistake, but I genuinely doubt it. So much so, I’m prepared to do it again, and again, and again.

And no, I haven’t been hooked by a phishing scam. Nor have I donated money to charity.

I intend to make twelve investments in twelve different African companies, in twelve countries, in twelve sectors by investing in shares listed on one of the fourteen African stock exchanges.

I believe Africa is a place of opportunity, not a place of wasted aid.  Africa is a continent where I have seen numerous businesses thrive and grow. Of course, there are difficulties, risks and issues to manage - but there is also an honest profit to be made. 

I know this because, prior to becoming an MP, I lived and ran local banks in three different African countries. Now, as a Member of Parliament who still actively follows the issues on the continent, I was recently appointed to chair the All Party Africa Group and am also a trustee of the Grow Movement, a charity which helps to empower African entrepreneurs.  

All this is set against the frustrating received wisdom that Africa is a never-ending problem for the others to bail out. It is regarded as a place perennially looking for a solution. 

In a bid to shake this erroneous view of Africa, I have decided to demonstrate that Africa is a land of legitimate plenty, by putting my money where my mouth is.  I have started investing in Africa.

If you are investing in a UK share you can set up an account online and buy shares in less than an hour. Currently, it is not as easy to do the same thing in with African shares, but I am sure there is a market for a firm to link the exchanges together, making it every bit as easy to invest in Africa as it is to buy shares in a FTSE 100 company.

Botswana is the first country I targeted for investment.  I know it well, as I worked there in 2001/2002 for Barclays Bank. Since then, Gaborone and Botswana have boomed.  The world centre for the sorting and selling of diamonds is now Gaborone, rather than London, Amsterdam or New York.  This, and the comparative economic and political stability of the country, will see growth continue.  I selected Wilderness, a tourism firm which runs around sixty safari camps and employs 2,600 people, to invest in.  I know the company from personal experience, having been a customer. Wilderness is well placed well placed to benefit from further increases in tourism to Southern Africa, particularly the higher spending tourists who tend to visit Botswana.

 If Zimbabwe gets itself sorted after the elections, there will be a big increase in regional tourism, particularly with high-spending Americans wanting to see both the Zimbabwean and Zambian side of Victoria Falls.  Customers paying in dollars will also mean investors reduce their exposure to the local Botswana currency.

A number of emails and calls to old friends and colleagues resulted in finding a broker willing to take on my £1,000 investment, normally they would only act for much larger sums. Following a relatively simple process, I am now the proud owner of a share in an eco-friendly tourism firm.

Next month I’m putting £1,000 into Nigeria. What could possibly go wrong?


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