Global Trade interview: Africa as one of the last frontiers of industrialization
Please provide our readership with an approximate timeline for the launch of Petronia City?
Azad Cola: Petronia City is presently in development in a series of phases, with the launch of its industrial platform serving as the preliminary and anchor initiative. The awarding of Free Trade Zone-status to Petronia was truly the driver of this launch, an unprecedented milestone which will commercially prompt further foreign direct investment (FDI) interest in integrating and setting up on the continent of Africa.
There are significant tax benefits and incentives to do so. Imports to Ghana via Petronia are automatically duty-free; there are substantial tax holidays, and further tax-centric incentives, for example, reduced taxation if one will be exporting at least 70 percent of what they will be manufacturing locally. This is a huge competitive advantage and one in which we have first-mover status. In order to start the process of launching Petronia City, the Free Trade Zone was a key element.
Nana Kwame Bediako: We are very excited to formally announce Petronia as open for investment in the ECOWAS and certainly replicable far beyond. It falls upon Azad and I now to ensure Petronia takes its rightful place as a dynamic hub for industrialization and serves as a benchmark for West Africa, emanating across the continent and international community.
This project will fundamentally reshape pan-African industrialization-as-usual; it will serve as a model for controlled, in-country procurement, manufacturing and distribution, offering a supply channel not simply to the ECOWAS but indeed serving as a West African thruway for the continent. In the lead up to our Launch Announcement, taking place around March or April of 2019, we are meeting with fellow, like-minded industrialists from around the world; those that actively take note of a vision realized.
What drew you both to this specific region of West Africa?
NKB: Before I stewarded my multinational enterprise, I had no choice but to make the best out of Africa’s West. In doing so, I understood that West Africa plays host to an abundance of human capital, with Ghana specifically offering the peace, strategically complimentary locale and geo-commercial stability which correlates to a tremendously conducive investment climate.
With a present economic dependency, in the eyes of most Ghanaians, nearing 95 percent, the limitations to Petronia’s export-driven offering are endless.
My dream is no doubt to create in Ghana not merely the city of the future, but an industrial Canaan, Africa’s promised land. I encourage the international investment community to walk with us on this journey of the undiscovered and share in the multifaceted benefits of which we have strived for the past decade, diligently, to accomplish.
AC: In 2010, you couldn’t pick up a publication in any part of the world without downloading the common theme of ‘Africa Rising’. We all are aware that during that time, the world was undergoing one of the biggest commodity super-cycles on record, in-part due to the insatiable appetite of China for raw materials. Most of the economies in sub-Saharan Africa are commodity rich, therefore the China Safari not only befitted Sino-African relations, but served as a warning flag for the West; an impetus to effectively compete. Understanding the opportunity ahead of us, I ran reconnaissance in nations such as Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, the DRC and Brazzaville, all considered as hubs for our investment, however, the place that really stood out for me was Ghana.
AC: The people, for one. Ghana offers a safe, welcoming environment and an ease of doing business, given that it is an Anglophone country, with a familiar legal system based on Britain’s, particularly with regard to all-important property rights. Couple that with its rich, democratic history and Ghana really was an obvious choice. With critical positioning and outwardly facing the 550 million-strong ECOWAS population, starting in this hub offers no limit to our forward trajectory. It’s not just where you are, it’s where you can expand towards.
What are the sectoral priorities for foreign investment at the opening juncture?
AC: Once one phase reaches critical mass, the next, by way of osmosis, develops. Certainly O&G positioning and procurement and manufacturing remain top priorities; engaging multi-national corporations (MNCs) which champion these sectors is understandably where our attention lies.
NKB: You can’t build industrial platforms in Africa without considering the necessary energy stations which will allow those platforms to meet the ever rising and dynamic demands of production. Following the set-up of our industrial platform, we will execute the development of Petronia’s Energy City, to assist in the continued manufacturing of natural resources such as cocoa, oil and gas and yes, precious minerals and natural resources, such as gold, bauxite, steel and rubber.
Petronia will be a hub for contemporary commodity intra-trade, a one-stop destination for integration, incentivizing our present and future partners from the Middle East, the Asian Tiger Markets, Eurasia, indeed pan-Africa and beyond, recognized as a hub of ECOWAS opportunity made entirely possible if all stakeholders come to the table with honesty and goodwill.
Tell us more about Petronia’s potential as a Silicon Valley for Africa.
NKB: This is indeed yet another phase, as we would not be able to have all of these industrial platforms and manufacturing hubs sustainably in position and smoothly operating without applying the benefits of next-generation technology. Beyond Petronia, Africa on the whole has the opportunity to leapfrog the west in technological scalability. I strongly believe in the merits of the 4th Industrial Revolution—that technology will give Africa the chance to connect to the globalizing marketplace and effectively compete.
The world began with farming, then industrialization married with farming, and technology has now intertwined with both. No matter the enterprise, evolving trends in tech will play a fundamental role. I reside part-time in California, and I do so not just for the state’s beauty. I see a strong economy, emboldened by industry and a Silicon Valley wholly establishable in Africa. This can be a reality if, as I mentioned, there is both public and private sector goodwill, coupled with receptiveness by local communities and international investors alike, a receptiveness which we aim to forge in Ghana, indeed in Petronia.
AC: Creating a Silicon Valley in Petronia means attracting the leading technology companies in and well beyond Africa to the opportunity at hand. This ‘Energy City’ will feed the industrial platform, the Silicon Valley will offer that platform and the region high-skill education and employment, transferable skills remaining a responsible investment in and for localized communities and a necessary consideration, one often neglected in emerging market integration. Petronia is not just a for-profit endeavor. We believe it is in our hands to create lasting change.
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