I’m American with a growing retirement account who sees a bright future for Africa. I’d like to invest there, but I don’t see any good option for doing so. I’m also not the right person to create that option- but I think one of you might be.
What I want: a US exchange-traded fund (ETF) that invests in companies across Africa, diversified across all sectors EXCEPT mineral extraction.
Why is this EA: promote economic growth in Africa by lowering the cost of capital for African entrepreneurs
Why existing ETFs don’t work: There are currently 4 US ETFs focused on Africa. 3 are country-specific funds that focus on Egypt, South Africa, and Nigeria respectively. But I’d like to diversify across countries, and to bet on poorer countries rising to middle-income status. Currently the only US ETF that is diversified across Africa is AFK: VanEck Vectors Africa Index. But while AFK is diversified across countries, it is heavily concentrated in one sector: mineral extraction. This is a big problem from both my selfish and altruistic points of view.
From the altruistic point of view: mineral extraction can lead to the resource curse, which may be a major factor undermining democracy and prosperity in Africa. It also tends to be one of the worst industries for the environment.
From the selfish point of view: the concentration of the fund in any single sector makes it riskier (AFK is also concentrated in relatively few countries- South Africa and Morocco alone make up half its holdings). Minerals in particular seem likely to be a bigger part of Africa’s past than its future- my bet is that rising human capital, disease eradication, and improving economic policies will lead the African manufacturing and service sectors to prosper while minerals stagnate. Finally, AFK simply hasn’t performed well in the past- its price is down substantially from its inception in 2008, a period where both African GDP and global markets grew substantially. AFK currently has $55 million under management, which is small as ETFs go. I think an ETF that excludes minerals and markets itself as environmentally sustainable could attract greater inflows by attracting people to “feel good about investing in Africa”- and likely by beating AFK’s returns as well.
Who should build it: I’d like to invest in this fund but I don’t think I could build it myself- while I have an economics PhD, I’ve never worked in finance or set foot in Africa. This would work best as a project for someone who is already at one of the companies offering emerging markets or ESG ETFs, like Vanguard or iShares. But someone with a finance background and the right connections and drive might be able to pull it off independently