Ebola a long-term 'blip' for Africa investors

A nurse wears a special uniform to be protected from the Ebola virus at a state hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, in August 2014.
Mohammed Elshamy | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

When Africa investment consultant Melissa Cook landed in Abuja last week, Nigerian airport workers took her temperature for signs of Ebola.

Purell hand sanitizer was ubiquitous around offices in Abuja and Lagos. Some of her international contacts postponed trips to the region; the bar at the Radisson Blu in Lagos' affluent Victoria Island section was mostly empty.

But Cook still had a packed schedule of meetings with local business people and government officials to drive power sector projects forward.

"Clearly people are aware of (the Ebola scare), but it's not something that's slowing anybody down," African Sunrise Partners managing director Cook said. "As far as Nigerians are concerned, business is full steam ahead."

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Like Cook, American investors aren't panicked about the re-emergence of Ebola in Africa, at least in the long term.

The often-fatal disease has caused 1,422 deaths in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone in recent months, according to the World Health Organization as of Aug. 20. Nigeria has also had five deaths from the disease, and a separate strain of Ebola was recently discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The crisis has closed several borders, suspended some international flights and slowed economic activity, especially in the three hardest-hit countries.

But U.S. observers say the crisis will pass eventually and, despite immediate concern, Ebola has done little to change their increasing optimism about investing on the continent.

"We aren't seeing any decline in investor interest, and it has really been a non-issue as most investors are focused on the long term," said Tom Speechley, a New York-based partner at $7.5 billion private equity firm Abraaj Group.