Dev Chamroo had, without a doubt, a fruitful career spanning more than 40 years in various key positions. In this interview to Investor’s Mag, he provides some insightful thoughts about the growth prospects for Africa and the ambitions of Mauritius to tap opportunities on the continent.
Can you share your journey with us, Dev Chamroo?
After the initial days of struggles and hardship common to all families of modest backgrounds in Mauritius, I was fortunate to be fully sponsored for my tertiary studies in India by my uncle and late aunty, who lived in England. After completing my post-graduate degree (M.A Hons) from the Honours School of Economics, Punjab University, I worked as a teacher for five years in Zimbabwe and two years at the Imperial College, Curepipe, before joining the, then Mauritius Export Development and Investment Authority (MEDIA). During my 12 years spell at MEDIA, I served as its representative in Taiwan, Republic of China, for 2 years and in Germany for 5 years, promoting exports from and investment into Mauritius. In 2001, at its creation, I joined the Board of Investment (BOI), as the Director of Investment Promotion.
Later on, I was also entrusted with the responsibility of Investment Facilitation, and Policy Advocacy. After ten years at BOI, I moved on to Enterprise Mauritius (EM) as Chief Executive Officer, and from which post I was ceremoniously dismissed in 2015. I then joined my wife’s consultancy firm as Senior Consultant. Thereafter, we have been actively engaged in several short and medium terms consultancy assignments stretching from the USA to the Philippines, with a larger footprint in Africa (24 out of 54 countries). We are a boutique consultancy firm specializing in policy advocacy in the fields of trade, investment and business climate. Our main clients are the EU, World Bank Group, African Development Bank, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the International Trade Centre, SADC Secretariat, the Gatsby Foundation, USAID, as well as several Ministries of various countries. During my service years, I also studied for an MBA at the University of Mauritius.
What has been the most memorable experience of your career thus far?
My professional career of 41 years, of which I have served my country for 25 years in different capacities, has been very fulfilling in every sense of the word. I have thoroughly enjoyed my innings with the public sector. One cannot ask for more or anything better. I had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the finest professionals and patriots, to name a few, Chand Badhain, Sattar Abubakar, late Prem Nababsing, and late Germain Commarmond. I have learned a lot from these mentors and wish to duly acknowledge their contributions to my life. While at MEDIA, I benefitted from extensive advanced training in Australia, Singapore, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, India, and Malaysia. Furthermore, my term in office at MEDIA, BOI and EM enabled me to travel the world.
However, I recall my teaching life with nostalgia, both at the higher secondary level as well as part-time lecturing at the University of Mauritius.
As regards memorable moments in my professional career, I would like to highlight the following milestones:
- My collaboration with the President’s Office “Cellule Climat des Affaires” of Togo to improve Togo’s ranking in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report by an unprecedented 40 positions in one year (2020 Report);
- My Chairing the SADC Investment Committee to draft and finalize the SADC Finance and Investment Protocol;
- The number of Investment Schemes that I helped draft and implement in Mauritius, Cape Verde, Togo and Bhutan;
- The number of National Exports and Investment Strategies for several African States;
My participation in the Mauritius Negotiating Team on negotiating Trade and Investment Agreements;
- My contributions as Team Leader for the localization of Examinations in Zimbabwe from Cambridge University and the development of local curriculum and contents;
It is heart-warming to see my former colleagues in key positions locally and internationally;
On a personal level, it is most gratifying to have received the following international Awards and recognitions:
- African Business Leadership Award: Industry Personality of the Year 2016, Dubai by the African Leadership Magazine. The 2023 edition of the Awards will be held in Mauritius.
- Global HR Excellence Award 2011-2012, Mumbai, India.
- Nomination for “Batisseur de l’Afrique” in Cote D’Ivoire, 2013.
Tell us about the prospects of the continent of Africa. Which countries are expected to perform well economically, according to you?
Africa is a land of paradox and has proven to be very elusive. The last decade was to be the time for Africa. The decade has come and gone, and the status quo still prevails. Africa’s contributions to global economy remain dismal, accounting for 3% to global GDP, 3% of global trade, and 5.2% of global FDI inflows. Despite the disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the protracted Russia-Ukraine war, the prospects for growth in Africa remain positive at +4% growth in GDP, of which over a dozen African countries are growing faster than 5% in terms of GDP.
However, Africa is a skewed continent, with only four of the 54 countries, namely: Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa collectively, accounting for 52% of Africa’s GDP in 2021. The World Bank, in its Global Economic Prospect report for 2023, predicts the following 10 countries with the highest economic prospect for 2023: Senegal, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin, Togo, Uganda, Mauritius and Ethiopia. I wish to add Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria to this list.
Do you believe Mauritius is living up to its ambition to serve as a regional hub for investment?
I believe this is a legitimate ambition. Mauritius is a frontrunner in this space and we have acquired, over the last three decades, sufficient breadth, depth and dimension in the financial services sector. However, we are operating in a dynamic world, and we face competition from established financial centres in Africa, namely, Morocco, South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya. More importantly, we should be wary of emerging centres, more particularly from Egypt, Algeria, Rwanda, Botswana, Uganda, Côte D’Ivoire, and Ghana, to mention just a few. They all have the same ambition to become Africa’s financial and business hub. In the new setting of a pan-African context, Mauritius becoming ‘’the heart of Africa’’ to facilitate international investment and cross-border transactions will be an overrated ambition. We should aim for the niche rather than the mass. The visibility of Mauritius as a business and financial hub in the West, Central and North Africa is low. Difficult air connectivity, limited economic diplomacy (only 5 diplomatic missions in Africa), lack of economic intelligence, and ad-hoc and uncoordinated destination promotion are serious impediments to achieving our ambition.
The two channels for investments to flow into Africa from Mauritius are (i) Mauritius as a conduit for investment using our financial services platform and (ii) Mauritian companies expanding their businesses in Africa.
While we are doing OK on structuring investments in Africa through Mauritius, I see limitations to its future scope because of existing and emerging competition. Mauritius is no longer the most beautiful girl in town. The situation is further compounded as African countries are unenthusiastic to sign IPPAs and DTAAs with Mauritius, and a few are requesting for renegotiation of their treaties. Add to this, we have the issue of the Global Minimum Tax Rate spearheaded by the OECD to discourage MNCs from shifting profits and tax revenues to low-tax countries and to which 136 countries have signed a deal aimed at ensuring companies pay a minimum tax rate of 15%.
More importantly, the assumption that Chinese, Indian, and South African companies will continue using Mauritius as a base for investment cannot hold for long. We are seeing huge direct investments from these countries in Africa using the strengths of their own economic diplomacy and aggressive promotion. There is, thus, an urgent need to revisit our strategy on Africa.
“While we are doing OK on structuring investments in Africa through Mauritius, I see limitations to its future scope because of existing and emerging competition…”
Dev Chamroo | Senior Investment & Trade Consultant | CITC
However, I believe that Mauritius can further improve its footprint in Africa by encouraging Mauritian companies to expand their operations on the continent. Some of our local conglomerates are already successfully doing business in Africa in different sectors, including agriculture, financial services, ICT, energy, health, tourism and hospitality, distribution and logistics, and professional services. Their balance sheets show the contribution of such investments.
The opportunities of investments are abundant in Africa, and I believe Mauritian entrepreneurs can get easy mileage by entering through Mergers & Acquisitions and joint venture partnerships to start with. In the second phase, they can look at greenfield projects. We should capitalise on our deep industry experience and know-how and our networks in Europe, India, and China to invest in traditional as well as emerging transformational industries in Africa.
There is, thus, an urgent need to set up a Special Cell to guide and assist Mauritian entrepreneurs to invest in Africa, in selected countries and sectors. I recall that the ex-BOI had such a dedicated service, namely, the Africa Center of Excellence (ACE), which provided information and intelligence for investing in Africa. I understand that this Unit has now been dissolved. Going forward, such a Unit can either be set up by the Government or by the private sector. Business Mauritius can provide such a service for a fee. The CEO of Business Mauritius knows very well the modus operandi of the service from his time at ex-BOI.
There is also an urgency to revisit the concept of the Mauritius Africa Fund, which can be an important instrument to help Mauritian companies soft land in Africa. However, the transparency and accountability of the Fund must be secured and strengthened.
What are the important facts about investing in Africa?
The most important issues for investing in Africa are:
- Access to updated information and intelligence on the selected country or countries. One must know what’s ahead before one takes the leap forward. The legal, regulatory and administrative frameworks in Africa remain dynamic as countries keep changing their attitudes and laws on the entry, operationalization, expansion, and diversification of FDI. We are witnessing more and more African countries now introducing FDI restrictive measures in the form of:
- negative list for FDI,
- ceilings on foreign ownership,
- citizen empowerment policies,
- local contents provisions,
- new norms on responsible business conduct,
- restrictions on commercial presence,
- management and operational restrictions with constraints on foreign personnel and expatriate workers, provisions to have nationals in Management and on the Board, stricter foreign exchange regulations, more specifically, repatriation of profits, dividends, and capital appreciation :
- Security of investment and the investor, his/her family, and personnel. It is advisable to know the place, the people, and the business to invest;
- Careful selection of local partner(s) in your business. There is need to do complete due diligence on the investor and his/her business;
- Avoid using illegal and corrupt means to enter any country. It is strongly advised to always use the appropriate institutional framework for doing business in any country.