Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
By Clyde Russell
The idea that Australia is a more dangerous place for mining investment than Mali might seem strange to most observers, but that’s exactly the view of the boss of the world’s third-biggest gold producer.
Mark Cutifani, the chief executive officer of AngloGold Ashanti, said last week he was more concerned about government policies toward mining in Australia than about nationalism in Africa.
On the face of it, this is an extraordinary comment that has gone largely unreported by both the Australian and international media.
How can it possibly be that Australia, a stable Western democracy with rule of law, independent courts and a culture of vigorous debate, is a more risky place than countries like Mali, which had a military coup last month and is battling an insurgency by Tuareg separatists?
Of course, it may be that Cutifani, an Australian-born mining engineer who has headed the Johannesburg-based company since October 2007, was ramping up the rhetoric to make a point when he talked to reporters on March 27 in Perth, capital of the resource-rich state of Western Australia.
But this would appear to be at odds with his previous record of speaking sensibly about the gold-mining industry while remaining an advocate of the interests of his global company.
The point Cutifani was probably trying to drive home is that the debate in Australia over its vast mineral resources appears to have veered off-track and descended into political point-scoring.
“The politicians and we as industry leaders are missing each other,” the Australian Associated Press quoted him as saying. “Somehow, we’ve got to land this discussion and stop the class warfare-type conversations and turn the conversations into constructive dialogue about the future of the country and the industry.”
To be fair, Cutifani has also lobbied against proposals for a resource rent tax in South Africa and moves to raise taxes in other African countries where AngloGold operates, such as Ghana and Mali.
But for Australia, the background to his comments is an intensifying war of words between Wayne Swan, the treasurer in the Labor Party-led minority government, and mining magnates over the new Mineral Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) and the carbon tax.
Both these taxes are due to start on July 1 and have raised the ire of many industries and the opposition Liberal Party.
The MRRT will impose a 30 percent levy on so-called super profits of large coal and iron ore, and doesn’t yet include other producers such as gold miners.
The carbon tax will impose a price of A$23 on the emissions of the top 500 polluters, to be phased in, while reducing income taxes for poorer households in order to offset the expected increase in energy costs.
The Labor Party, which has slumped in opinion polls partly over public disquiet over the new taxes and a broken promise not to introduce a carbon tax by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, appears to be following the tactic of stoking the politics of envy as a distraction method.
Since the financial crisis that sparked the global recession in 2008 it has been easy for politicians to attack the rich and blame untrammeled greed for the economic carnage.
In Australia, the target is billionaire mining barons and Swan attacked iron ore magnates Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest as well as coal developer Clive Palmer in an essay published last month.
Interestingly enough, Swan didn’t attack BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, the two global miners that led initial opposition to a stiffer resource tax that was watered down after Gillard deposed former prime minister Kevin Rudd in a party-room coup.
Swan accused the billionaires of trying to use their wealth to “distort public policy,” apparently without any sense of irony, given that he was using his position as the second-most powerful politician in Australia to do the same.
It seems to me that Australia would benefit from a more sensible debate on how to ensure the mineral wealth is developed in a way that rewards the owners of capital that take the risks of developing projects as well the overall economy and citizens in general.
Debate in Australia appears to be driven by short-term political cycles, with federal elections every three years leading politicians to focus more on spin than sound policies.
Is the MRRT the best design that could have been implemented?
Will it raise sufficient revenue without leading to less investment, and will it help ensure the long-term viability of mining?
Should the revenue it raises be used to fund a one percentage point cut in the company tax rate, as Labor proposes, or would it be better put toward building a sovereign wealth fund?
These are all valid points for debate, but aren’t getting a hearing in Australia currently.
Instead, as AngloGold’s Cutifani pointed out, there is an unedifying mud-slinging match that does little to enhance the reputations of either Swan or his targets.
Forget the days when the image of Africa in the developed world was one of rolling vistas of unspoilt safari parks, natural disasters and war.
In the last 10 years, western firms and investors have been showing much greater interest, ploughing increasing investment flows into the continent of 1 billion people.
Some eye-catching numbers from Standard Bank out today on the influence of BRICs countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- on Africa.
First off, the bank says the global recession and its recovery have been nourishing these so-called South-South ties. But it is all now ready to take off. The bank estimates:
Africa is turning into a fashionable post-crisis investment destination as investors regain their confidence and start to focus on the continent’s lack of direct involvement with the global market’s volatility drivers and trouble hotspots. Africa is benefiting not only from a resumption of international debt and equity flows; it is also a beneficiary of international efforts to maintain the flow of trade finance via multilateral guarantee programmes – 45 issuing banks from 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have joined the IFC’s trade finance programme, for example.
At the same time, bilateral and multilateral development agencies are actively investing via an assortment of public and private-sector channels; the international capital markets pipeline is building – sovereign debt offerings on the docket for Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zambia with Libya believed to be looking – while the slew of private equity and hedge funds being raised this year for Africa are seeing healthy interest from public-sector and private LPs.
The first World Cup in Africa also highlights a dramatic change driven by forces more powerful than football.
While the competition may help change Africa’s image in the minds of any outsiders still fixated on cliches of bloodshed and famine, those in the know long ago spotted Africa’s emergence from no-go zone to frontier market and are seeing the returns.
Tom Cargill, Assistant Head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, writes on the West’s relationship with Africa:
French President Nicholas Sarkozy put it best this week, when he spoke of the increasing important of Africa in Global Affairs: “Africa’s formidable demographics and its considerable resources make it the main reservoir for world economic growth in the decades to come.”
South Africa’s place as the sole economic giant in Africa is set to decline in coming decades as its growth is outstripped by countries to the north that have emerged as some of the fastest growing in the world.
As part of a package of Reuters reports on Frontier Markets, my colleague Ed Cropley takes a look at the importance for South Africa’s future of positioning itself as a springboard to the rest of the continent.
“Europe possibly needs an Afribond,” commented one contributor this week on the Thomson Reuters chatroom for fixed income markets in Kenya.
A nice quip from Henry Kirimania of The Cooperative Bank of Kenya and a reminder of just how much better placed Africa is now in terms of its debt burden than it once was and particularly in relation to what might now be regarded as the world’s Heavily Indebted Formerly Rich Countries.
Nigerian, Kenyan and South African banks have been making forays into the rest of the continent in search of growth so it was interesting to see Angola’s biggest bank opening an office in Johannesburg this month.
Banco Africano de Investimentos, Angola’s biggest bank by deposits, sees the office as a launchpad for ventures further afield in the southern African region as well as in business between Angola and South Africa.
Angola’s banking sector has enjoyed huge growth since the country emerged from a three-decade long civil war in 2002 as one of the world’s fastest growing economies thanks to booming oil production and high oil prices.
With global risk aversion decreasing there has been renewed interest in frontier markets.
They don’t come much more frontier than Zimbabwe, which is where Investec Asset Management is looking to make one of its newest investments – buying into a supermarket chain – and then for other potential opportunities.