During a panel discussion on ‘Navigating the African trade opportunities and challenges’ organized by the MCB, local conglomerate actors gathered at St Jean during trade week in June. Among the participants, Jacques d’Unienville, the CEO of Omnicane, shared his insights and experiences of investing in Africa. He highlighted two key aspects of Omnicane’s involvement in the continent. Firstly, the company recently embarked on importing sugar from Brazil and India, refining it in Mauritius, and re-exporting it to Africa while adhering to the rules of origin of SADC. This approach ensures that 35% value addition is done in Mauritius, contributing significantly to Omnicane’s growth. Additionally, Omnicane is actively engaged in electricity production in Rwanda, further expanding its presence in Africa.
When addressing the challenges faced in Africa, Jacques explains, “One of the problems we encounter relates to agreements based on quotas, tariffs, and other factors. Although things usually run smoothly, we sometimes encounter non-tariff barriers that can arise unexpectedly. These barriers may demand phytosanitary requirements, which can vary based on election cycles. It presents an additional challenge to trade flows. However, we continue to adapt and navigate through these challenges.”
Regarding infrastructure development in Africa, Jacques emphasizes, “It’s been a tough experience. I think we’ve learned a lot about it.” He explains that the initial hurdle lies in establishing the necessary infrastructure to commence construction. Additionally, financing projects in Africa pose a significant challenge. Despite signing contracts with governments, ensuring bankability can be arduous. Time becomes a critical factor as project completion must align with contractual obligations. Furthermore, after completing projects and eliminating further risks, securing additional funding becomes challenging. Development finance institutions often respond by saying, “But we have no money. This is no development, development has already been done now. So you guys handle it yourself.” Therefore, meticulous preparation, selecting reliable partners, and conducting thorough due diligence are crucial in Africa.
The CEO of Omnicane Group expresses his belief that despite the challenges, Africa represents a “fantastic market” with ample growth opportunities. “In Rwanda, they are taking a lot of inspiration from Mauritius regarding what is done here in terms of governance and framework to set up their financial services. It’s very positive to see this energy, how they really want to do it, and sometimes they are boxing above their weight. And if I may come back to that, I think that in Mauritius, we are obviously part of Africa, but sometimes we lack visibility. Visibility is very important. We should aim to organize big events, have the world looking at us, and really be the financial center for Africa. I mean, Mauritius can be the Luxembourg, Monaco, or Switzerland of Africa. It’s here. So let’s provide all these services. We’ve got the ideal platform to do that, and obviously the right governance framework here. It can be a good inspiration for African countries. And obviously, the collaboration between the public sectors of, let’s say, Mauritius and, for example, Rwanda, flows. I think it’s easier than probably European countries coming over and trying to set up some sectors. So I think we’ve got a good role to play in this.”