The announcement that the Germany-based sportswear multinational Puma intends to expand its historic association with African football culture by opening retail outlets in the west African nations of Ghana and Senegal has been seen by some as indicative of the mini-renaissance the region is undergoing in terms of attracting foreign investment.

The company intends to open flagship stores in the Ghanaian capital of Accra and Dakar, Senegal’s capital, over the next year, officials say, building on a relationship with Africa that saw Puma serve as the sponsor for the teams of Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Tunisia in the 2006 World Cup. Puma also sponsors Cameroon and Senegal.

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“Africa is a perfect fit for us, because football is not always about winning medals, it’s about passion, elegance and power – something that African football stands for,” says Ulf Santjer, Puma’s head of corporate communications.

Peace dividend

The company’s presence in Africa is a pan-continental one, and has grown as armed conflict has diminished in much of west Africa. Long civil wars in countries such as Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone have largely come to an end, making European companies and others interested in exploring areas that were once largely considered no-go zones for investors.

“As one conflict dies another one tends to bubble to the surface, but at the moment there aren’t too many conflicts in west Africa,” says Hamish McGregor, director-general of the West Africa Business Association (WABA) in London, a group of 350 companies and entrepreneurs currently working in Africa.

“Ghana is probably the easiest place for a newcomer to start with investment, but there’s quite a lot of investment in Sierra Leone, for example. The political, economic and security climate there has virtually stabilised and we’re very happy to see that.”

Sierra Leone, still ranked as one of the poorest countries on earth, is perhaps one of the most striking examples of this turn-around. Its GDP grew a respectable 7.1% last year. Ghana, rich in natural resources, has seen growth in its economy, which is already around twice the size of that of its poorest neighbours. Meanwhile Senegal’s GDP has grown an average 5% annually while inflation has fallen, although a recent energy crisis has resulted in power cuts. Added to this mix is the recent advent of Africa as a potential source for biofuels.

All of which makes officials at Puma, which is currently ranked as the world’s third largest sportswear manufacturer after Nike and Adidas, hope that it is indeed at the forefront of a trend that will see more and more foreign investors returning to the continent’s western shores.

“Puma invested in Africa even before most of the African teams played in the World Cup,“ says Anthony Baffoe, a renowned Ghanaian football star who played for many years for teams in Cologne and Düsseldorf and is currently Puma’s football ambassador. “[Puma] already has a long-term view that Africa’s going to do well in the future, and it is laying the foundations to invest here.”