Africa ‘should be selective’ in seeing Macau as gateway to China

African countries ought to be selective in viewing Macau as a gateway to China.

That’s according to Kebour Ghenna, the executive director of the Pan-African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who will make a presentation today at the Fisherman’s Wharf on the general business environment across parts of Africa.

In an interview with the Times yesterday, Ghenna said he planned to discuss the growth of the middle class in parts of Africa and how that would support long-term investment, as well as the impact of continent-wide developments, such as the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement, signed in March by 44 African heads of state.

Ghenna suggested that Macau, home to some of the largest casino operators in the world, could have very specific investment interests in the continent of more than 1.2 billion people. However, he cautioned that not all of that commerce has to involve Macau, even when considering the lusophone parts of Africa.

“Right now, I see Macau as a bridge between China and parts of Africa,” he said, “and I think Macau can play a role in convincing bigger Chinese investors to look at the continent [for opportunities].”

However, “I’m not saying that everything has to pass via Macau. […] We have to find a niche for Macau. We have to be very selective when looking at Macau as a gateway to China.”

“We can go to Hong Kong and do more or less the same thing, but maybe on a different scale. Perhaps Hong Kong will be the place to look for financial [activities] and maybe Macau is better for tourism infrastructure.”

A growing casino industry in the countries of southern Africa could be a promising start. South Africa, the second-largest country in the continent by gross domestic product, is home to the most robust gaming industry, with approximately three dozen casinos in operation.

Macau investment in similar, fledging industries – such as those in Botswana, Swaziland or Namibia – could be both lucrative for investors and yield long-term benefits for those countries in terms of bringing employment and improving infrastructure.

“We need to look at what the casinos can do to create employment, contribute taxes to government and develop the cities’ other businesses,” said Ghenna, reflecting on the two-decade rise of the MSAR. “And this is what we hope to learn from Macau.”

But the gaming industry represents a mere sliver of Africa’s economic growth potential. Of particular interest to onlookers is the tourism potential of the continent.

“I think the potential for the tourism industry [in Africa] is huge. You can start [with the history] from Egypt and go down to Zimbabwe and South Africa; in between you have Kenya and Tanzania for wild game tourism. On the west [of Africa], you can start with Senegal and go down to see the sights about slavery. And there are beautiful beaches on both sides of the [continent].”

This is another sector where investment from Macau could make sense, said Ghenna, and not just within the scope of Lusophone countries. Thanks to the Belt and Road Initiative, a number of countries along the East coast of Africa might be brought within range of Chinese investment.

“When you look at the continent itself, it is well positioned to attract tourists from North American and Latin American from the West, and then from the north you have Europe and then the middle east from the east,” he said, adding that all of this “needs to start with infrastructure; power, roads, and even improved hotels.”

“If we are looking at [the potential of] Africa in 20 or 30 years, then the opportunity really starts today,” he added.

The Pan-African Chamber of Commerce and Industry was established in 2009 by a group of 35 African countries with the aim of serving the African trade and commerce interests. Much of the institution’s work is intra-African, lobbying for greater commerce and trade within the continent. A secondary goal is to promote external investment.

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