AMERICAN FIRMS INTERESTED IN AFRICA

AMERICAN FIRMS INTERESTED IN AFRICA

Mima Nedelcovych, the new U.S. executive director to the African Development Bank, is much happier than he was just after he took up his post at the bank's headquarters in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

"I think we're doing all right. We've now broken the ice to have U.S. firms on the short list," he said here this week, while conducting a seminar on procurement opportunities at the bank.Back in November, Mr. Nedelcovych was so frustrated by American companies' disinterest in the bank's opportunities that he was threatening to call off his traveling campaign in the United States.

But in the last few months, about 150 American firms have responded directly to the bank on bidding for contracts, he said. This doesn't mean American companies should relax their efforts, however, he said.

The United States is the largest non-African shareholder in the bank and the second-largest shareholder of all, but U.S. companies still account for only 2.3 percent of the procurement contracts.

"The real reason for this? The European companies are in Africa to stay," Mr. Nedelcovych told a roomful of American entrepreneurs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

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ARE U.S. COMPANIES getting beaten in African contract bids because of price and quality? one entrepreneur asked.

"American firms have been very competitive price-wise," said the bank's vice president of operations, T. Gedamu.

American consulting firms should register with the bank if they want to be considered for contracts. Guidance on how to do this can be obtained from Dick Bell of the U.S. Commerce Department, (202) 377-2460, or Elizabeth Stewart of the Treasury Department, (202) 566-5775.

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ONE AMERICAN entrepreneur and his African partner found a way to solve the problems of transportation, currency inconvertibility and shortage of materials for West Africa's steel industries.

John M. Moore, the French-speaking "president directeur-general" of Societe Togolaise de Siderurgie SA in Lome, Togo, and Alintah Esom, president of the Fortune Group holding company in Lagos, Nigeria, at the end of 1989 outfitted a barge that plies the West African coastline, calling at ports on a fixed schedule to trade steel products.

The "Floating Market," as they call it, is operated by SDS Marche Flottant, based in Lome.

"Call it trade barrier-busting if you wish," said Mr. Esom. "We take all the currencies we are offered."

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THE EVENT THAT brought all these folks together in Washington was the 10- day mission of the African Business Roundtable to promote Africa's business image to the American business community.

The subject of financing was raised repeatedly among Africans and Americans alike. In private conversations, some conceded that the sale of arms, capital flight and the payment of non-African experts residing in African countries are the biggest drains on Africa's much-needed hard currency.

According to Hussein Sabbour, chairman of Sabbour Associates, an engineering consulting firm based in Egypt, there are 70,000 non-African technical experts in Africa who account for $14 billion annually in salaries and benefits paid by African governments.

On capital flight, Mr. Moore suggested creating a mutual fund that would offer a higher rate of return than the Swiss banks where Africans have stashed away billions of dollars.

The fund would be used to finance investments in Africa.