North Africa continues to horrify and intrigue in equal measure. Horrify because of the atrocities that are still occurring in countries such as Libya. Intrigue because there is so little that most of us understand about the dynamics of region, especially the investment opportunities the region presents.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing of these countries is Algeria, where investment opportunities are vast but which remain nearly impossible to access by most companies. Perhaps that is because the layers of bureaucracy are immense, the dominance of the government sector is seemingly all-prevailing, and the level of dedication required by companies to establish relationships with counterparts time consuming. Yet, like the entire Middle East and north Africa (MENA) region, investing time to establish strong, long-lasting relationships is time consuming but can be very rewarding.
Out of all the countries in the Maghreb, Algeria is politically the one of the most stable as well as being the largest country. The Algerian British Business Council (ABBC) is one organisation that is working hard to encourage UK companies to invest in Algeria. Supported by companies such as pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca, defence company Agusta Westland, Rolls Royce Energy and Hertz Energy UK, all are finding ways to enter and/or strengthen their ties in the country. In this respect, UK companies are lagging those from other European countries such as Italy and France, which have managed to gain a much stronger foothold there.
Companies from the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) are also becoming increasingly interested in investment opportunities in Algeria, as demonstrated by the fact that a greater number are participating in conferences on the subject.
Opportunities abound in all sectors, including healthcare – where facilities have been described as 'appalling', even in high-class hospitals and private clinics; education, which reportedly remains 'very low grade'; and affordable housing. Soviet-style apartment blocks, built by the Chinese, now need revisiting as a result of a massive population explosion and the need for more 'humanising' accommodation.
But companies wanting to do business in Algeria must have a high level of tolerance because there is a lack of business framework. For example, if a company wishes to enter into a public tender it must be prepared to deal with a 'mafia-style' system where decisions are made before tenders are announced. However, as one person commented: “At least in Algeria you know you get paid – even it is very bureaucratic.”
Lucia Dore is the head of GCC and Middle East at mergermarket, part of The Financial Times Group. E-mail: email@example.com