African investments abroad: the 5 leading countries, according to UNCTAD

African investments abroad: the 5 leading countries, according to UNCTAD
African investments abroad: the 5 leading countries, according to UNCTAD

African countries are not just passive recipients of foreign direct investment (FDI). On the contrary, companies and businessmen from these countries are economic players in their own right, investing increasingly abroad. This dynamic of African direct investment abroad (AfDI) reflects the rise of African multinationals and their desire to expand their activities beyond national borders.

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According to the latest UNCTAD report, IDAs cover a wide range of sectors, from mining and manufacturing to financial services, from telecommunications to real estate, agribusiness and information technology. These investments are motivated by a variety of reasons, including seeking new markets, accessing natural resources, strengthening competitiveness and acquiring new technologies.

From 2018 to 2023, the ranking of African foreign direct investment (AfDI) has undergone notable changes, reflecting the economic dynamics underway on the continent. According to UNCTAD data, Morocco rose to first place with $836 million invested by its companies abroad in 2023, followed by Kenya ($588 million), Egypt ($390 million), Nigeria ($256 million) and DR Congo ($235 million).

Morocco, leading African investor abroad in 2023

Morocco ranks first in this ranking, after a 3rd place in 2021 and a 4th place in 2022. According to the report of the Foreign Exchange Office on the country’s external position, “its investments are concentrated in the manufacturing, financial, extractive industries and real estate sectors, mainly in West Africa and Europe.”

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Morocco’s breakthrough as the leading African investor abroad in 2023 is a testament to the success of the Kingdom’s economic diversification and regional positioning strategy in recent years. Several factors contributed to this performance, including the fact that leading companies such as OCP, Attijariwafa Bank, Addoha, Managem and BCP were actively supported in their international expansion projects, benefiting from support and committed economic diplomacy.

Morocco also relies on a diversified range of internationally successful sectors such as manufacturing, finance, real estate and extractive industries. This diversification reduces dependence on hydrocarbons while enhancing national competitive advantages.

By establishing itself massively in West Africa, a region in full economic growth, Morocco is strengthening its influence and positioning itself as a gateway for investments to and from Africa. This influence also extends to Europe.

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Business facilitation reforms, political stability and economic openness have helped attract and sustainably anchor major Moroccan investors abroad. By investing in higher value-added sectors such as finance, services and industry, Morocco is expanding its presence beyond traditional extractive activities.

However, some challenges remain to be addressed to sustain this leadership: training more local skills, or tackling the financing of exporting SMEs. Increased diversification of target markets beyond West Africa will also be crucial.

Kenya, second largest African investor abroad

Kenya ranks second in the ranking of African foreign direct investment (IDAE), confirming its economic dynamism and its ability to project its companies beyond its borders. It should be recalled that in 2021 and 2022, the country was respectively 1st and 3rd in this ranking. This performance is based in particular on the solidity of its financial sector, largely internationalized, which includes major players such as Equity Bank, Kenya Commercial Bank and Cooperative Bank. These institutions have been able to take advantage of regional integration in East Africa to expand their presence in neighboring countries.

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At the same time, Kenya has been able to capitalize on its comparative advantage in information and communication technologies (ICT). Companies such as Safaricom, a pioneer in mobile money, or Wananchi Group in cable and internet, have managed to expand in East Africa and even beyond. This influence is based on the dynamic ecosystem of Kenyan start-ups, a real breeding ground for technological innovations.

Finally, the Kenyan agri-food sector, driven by groups such as Bidco and Mavunio EPZ, has been able to capitalise on local expertise in agricultural products to develop outside the country. This internationalisation benefits from the competitiveness of Kenyan products in terms of costs and quality.

For its part, Egypt continues its rise in the IDAE ranking, driven by diversified industrial conglomerates such as OCI and Qalaa Holdings. The latter are accelerating their regional expansion, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, by leveraging their expertise in key sectors such as fertilizers, extractive industries and infrastructure.

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Relegated to 4th and 5th place, Nigerian (Dangote, BUA, Globacom, etc.) and Congolese multinationals nevertheless maintain their footprint, focusing on hydrocarbons, mines and finance.

South Africa falls in ranking

Between 2018 and 2023, the IDAE ranking has changed a lot, and South Africa is no exception. First in this ranking in 2018 and 2019, the southern African country has seen its foreign direct investments fall in recent years due to the combined effect of the economic slowdown, restructuring movements of its large groups and regulatory instability.

South African companies remain very present in Africa, particularly in finance, telecoms and distribution, but are struggling to renew their expansion model in the face of a more complex and competitive globalised environment. Some are now focusing their investments on promising niches such as infrastructure, energy and mining.

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Beyond the rankings, the evolution of the places in the top 5 reflects a welcome diversification of African investors in a difficult global context. They also reflect the challenges to be met by the countries of the continent, faced with a tightening of financing conditions that slows down infrastructure projects in key sectors such as sustainable energy.

Better channeling local savings, increasing the facilitation of business and investment through digital technology, developing integrated financial markets: these are some of the priority projects to support the rise of new generation pan-African investors.

Relatively modest investments

It is important to note that FDI flows remain modest compared to inward FDI in Africa, reflecting persistent challenges related to financing, business facilitation and regional integration. To change this, African governments have a crucial role to play in creating an enabling environment for pan-African investment, by improving governance, strengthening infrastructure and promoting genuine market integration.

Read also: How Egypt is consolidating its position as a gateway for FDI in Africa

Moreover, according to UNCTAD, IDAEs would benefit from being “oriented towards sustainable projects, respectful of environmental and social standards, and contributing to the economic and social development of local communities. Particular attention should be paid to promising sectors such as renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and green technologies.”

Top 5 African Foreign Direct Investments 2023 (in millions of dollars)

Pays Investment volume Rang
Morocco 836 1er
Kenya 588 2nd
Egypt 390 3rd
Nigeria 256 4th
RDC 235 5th
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