(Adds background, details)
* PwC to double African staff in next 5 years
* Africa seen as “increasingly important” market
By Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala
NAIROBI, July 18 (Reuters) - Global accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said on Monday it planned to invest $100 million in Africa over the next three years, a ringing endorsement of the poorest continent’s strong growth prospects.
Dennis Nally, Chairman of PwC International, told a news conference in Kenya that the expansion plan, which will also mean doubling PwC’s nearly 8,000 African staff over five years, was in response to foreign firms demanding more African coverage.
“We are getting a clear signal from our international clients that Africa is an increasingly important market,” he said.
“Africa is an important frontier for economic growth. We believe the regional economy could double by 2020 to nearly $3 trillion.”
Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the world’s fastest-growing regions, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projecting economic expansion of 5.5 percent this year and 5.9 percent next year.
Soaring commodity prices underpin much of that growth, although economists also point to the expansion of technology such as mobile phones and a steady improvement in the region’s political and economic governance.
Foreign firms such as U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart , which bought a controlling stake in South Africa’s Massmart for $2.4 billion last month, are also looking to stake their claim to a continent that will be home to 2 billion people by 2050.
PwC already has a presence in 31 of Africa’s 54 countries, but wants to broaden that into states at the far end of the “frontier market” spectrum, including Ethiopia, Africa’s most populous nation after Nigeria, and South Sudan, which is only one week old.
“We want to deepen our presence in those countries and open additional offices in places that have become conducive to our business,” PwC regional head Philip Kinisu said.
Despite the optimism, Africa remains a difficult place in which to do business, with corruption and bureaucracy creating a major barrier to entry, especially for U.S.-listed companies that have to comply with strict anti-graft regulations back home.
“Good governance and transparency are areas where investors want to see more. Progress has been made, but more progress needs to be made,” Nally said.
PwC said its African operations generated $510 million in revenues in 2010. (Reporting by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala; Writing by Ed Cropley)