A new generation of African entrepreneurs and businesses is emerging. They are challenging the old way of doing business and driving cross-border growth.
Kenya’s ICT companies are investing in Rwanda and are now looking to enter Nigeria, while United Bank for Africa and other Nigerian banks are rapidly expanding into Africa. In 2009, South Africa invested $1.6 billion (FDI outflows) into other African countries. MTN, a South African mobile giant, operates in 21 African countries; and Glo, a Nigerian mobile operator, operates in the Republic of Benin, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.
Africa’s statistics speak of tremendous potential: the continent is the size of China, Mexico, Europe, India, the States and Japan combined. The population will soon surpass China, with a middle class as big as India’s. Africa has enjoyed more than a decade of sustained GDP growth, which has often outstripped many other parts of the world.
There is frustration in that Africans are not reaping the rewards of the current global investor confidence. The mass export of commodities doesn’t see wealth trickle down.
Home-grown investments, focused on value-adding industries, are the key to changing this dynamic.
Africans still seem to choose products and investments from outside the continent. They prefer to export outside Africa rather than to trade, manufacture and add value within. Many African countries continue to trade raw materials but they don’t have the capability to refine or process, so they import the finished products from outside of Africa.
We need to understand what is preventing Africa from being home to value-adding and value-creating businesses. Why, for example, is Africa’s agricultural richness not generating an integrated growing and processing industry as it has done in Brazil?
Africa requires an environment that facilitates investment and greater market integration. The current weaknesses—corruption, high start-up costs, poor infrastructure—are well-known. But our study will also shed light on the legal, social and cultural differences within Africa that restrict cross-border investments.
There need to be integrated regional production chains within Africa, where Africa’s raw materials are processed into finished goods to be traded. Regional trading blocs— including the Tripartite Free Trade Area, which encompasses the East African Community, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the Southern African Development Community—would thus thrive, paving the way for a Continental Free Trade Area, that would produce and trade high value-added goods internally.
Greater market integration in Africa will lead to a significant reduction in the cost of doing business and alleviate some of the problems associated with securing work permits and labor mobility.
Over the long-term, Africa’s competitiveness will hinge to a great degree on how well we educate our young people. Often, the most talented Africans have sought educational advancement and careers overseas, but a combination of transformational educational technology, growing opportunities at home and the poor global economic climate could see this brain drain becoming a brain gain. Retaining talent, home-grown or otherwise, is critical. Policy that enables skilled Africans to work across our borders more easily will help achieve this goal.
Never have circumstances been more propitious for African business. A rise in disposable incomes, high rates of urbanization and a fast-growing working-age population speak of an emerging class of purchasers of consumer goods, financial services and infrastructure, as well as a potential source of manpower for industrialization and agricultural development.
Africans must explore ways to move beyond regional differences and competition to build Africa together from within, so that Africans at all levels become the primary beneficiaries of the continent’s growth.