TrustMedia (London)

Africa: Growing Nigeria Must Trade More With Africa, Experts

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By comparison South Africa, Nigeria's main rival for the spot of Africa's leading economy, scores 63.3 percent, indicating greater economic links on both the regional and global level.

Nigeria's status must change for the country to truly lead, and benefit from, Africa's economic resurgence.

“The size and influence of Nigeria in Africa cannot be overstated,” said the Visa report. “While the country's levels of regional and global integration are still relatively low, Nigeria is likely to be one of the key drivers of integration in Africa and one of the primary forces of African integration with the rest of the world.”

Individual businessmen like Alhaji Aliko Dangote, who has cement interests in 13 African countries, and Michael Adenuga, whose telecommunications company Globacom claims significant market share in Benin Republic and Ghana, have made substantial investments on the continent, but as a country Nigeria has overlooked the benefits of economic integration, even as its growing market matures and modernizes, and the movement of goods and services, capital, information and people increases.

While Nigeria's trade with other African countries, especially its West African neighbours, has increased over the past three years, it remains dismal in the key areas that drive growth - including trade, capital investments, information exchange and movement of people, according to the report.

Its dominance of the continent's cultural market, with the popularity of Nollywood movies (reported to rake in up to $ 200 million a year in revenues) and musical exports like P-Square (virtually a household name), has reaped minimal economic dividends.

With Ghana, its Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) neighbour, there is evidence of growing investment in the banking sector with Nigeria's Zenith Bank, Access Bank, First Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank and United Bank for Africa (UBA), owning stakes or subsidiaries in the country. But the rest is petty retail trading - dogged by the complications of border crossing in the region.

“We both [countries] just don't do business,” said a Ghanaian business journalist at a training workshop organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Addis Ababa recently.

Further afield in Eastern Africa, an emerging economic bloc that also includes Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, a few pockets of Nigerian investments can be found.

In Uganda, significant investments have been made in the financial sector, including IGI's 51% stake in National Insurance Company (NIC), a former state enterprise that is listed on the country's stock exchange, and its 49% stake in Global Trust Bank; and a UBA subsidiary. NIC itself owns 60% of GTB.

In southern African countries like Zimbabwe, Nigerians are mostly engaged in small-scale retail and the sale of Nollywood films - mostly pirated - on the streets.

By contrast, South Africa's footprint covers most countries on the continent, notably through telecom giant MTN, Standard Bank (as Stanbic) and retail giants like Shoprite.

Part of Nigeria's problem has been the failure to diversify from oil, which has seen other pillars of commerce weaken.

“It has “struggled to advance industrial complexity,” says Prof. Adrian Saville, Chief Investment Officer, Cannon Asset Managers and co-author of the Visa Africa Integration Index 2013 report.

“75.0% of Nigeria's exports in 2010 were made up of crude oil and 4.7% of refined petroleum, whilst 18.0% of imports in 2010 were made up of refined petroleum and another 1.0% were made up of petroleum coke and petroleum jelly,” he furthers.

According to him, “Nigeria [must start] increasingly refining and processing crude exports into more complex products - such as refined petroleum or petroleum jelly to replace imports with domestic production and, in a fuller state of economic development, start to sell refined products into export markets.”

The Visa report argues that Nigeria will be the main beneficiary; “Nigeria will benefit enormously from greater integration, as its growing market matures and modernises, and the demand for capital and a diversity of trade partners rises to address the needs of increasing industrialisation, a rising appetite for production and services and growing sophistication in lifestyles.”

This development will also inform the economic decisions of policy makers and business leaders in the country as it seeks to cement its position in Africa.

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