THE LAST THREE MONTHS WERE largely dominated with negativity; it started with the conflict in Ukraine that had a cascading impact on food shortage, supply chains, equity markets, commodities and currencies. The vulnerability of the crypto market was exposed as billions of dollars of value disappeared into the abyss of the dark web; a domain of which I only have a peripheral view.
When the world of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), crypto currencies and the ubiquity of the blockchain was becoming fashionable, I nostalgically reflected on my late father’s forlorn look when he struggled with what was the start of the internet era in the late 1990s. He was getting to 70 at that time and right until he passed in 2017, and despite his two engineering degrees and numerous doctorates, he grappled to align his education and experience with the world of internet.
The transition between his generation and mine was relatively gradual. Our generation (Boomers) also grew up using log tables, the slide rule (analog computer) was just getting phased out and calculators had just surfaced. From a consumer perspective, nothing earth-shattering happened between the 1960s and 1980s other than the travel industry that was revolutionized by the commercialization of aircraft and satellite television; so while we could reach places faster and watch color TV at home, we were quite satisfied with the linear pace of life including but not limited to the regular postal service that took 15 days to get a reply to a letter or travelers cheques when we traveled as credit cards didn’t exist.
In comparison, I was in a lift with three other people the other day and each one was frantically messaging as though their life depended on a response that could not wait until after disembarking from the elevator. I find it very difficult to even imagine the world we grew up in.
Perhaps I feel the same way as my father did, as the adaptation of technology and the evolution of consumerism has never been faster than today. As I turn to my son (Gen Y) looking for answers, he sagaciously and patiently explains to me where he sees the world going with blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR). He talked about DALL-E, an AI tool that facilitates the digital visualization of text and the fact that most repetitive tasks currently being performed, including those by accountants and lawyers, will be delivered through AI. But then, with his growing wisdom, he readily admits that the generation (Gen Z) after his has already started talking a language that he will soon too, not understand. He is 34. The irony now is that his one-year-old daughter, in her infancy, somehow knows that the cell phone gets everyone’s attention. I can’t even comprehend what she will be teaching him in 20 years. This rapid evolution is inevitable.
If history be the shepherd of what we witnessed with the internet bubble recovery post-2001 then one can perhaps make an educated guess that the current correction from the crypto bubble of 2022 will result in a more measured world where the learnings will be factored into tangible developments on the web and not just the mindless purchase of digital cartoon characters that were bought and sold for thousands of dollars validating the ‘greater fool theory’. The fools holding the baby will undoubtedly blame everything other than greed and portray themselves as the trailblazers who turned into the proverbial sacrificial lambs. The ‘hindsight 20/20’ pundits have already started talking about dollar cost average and consolidating positions; we have heard this every time the markets have corrected. If we believe in economic cycles, then the carnage of the current correction shall also pass until the next bubble. But the markets are not our pressing issue.
The real issue we continue to deal with is the pressing conflict in Ukraine and the realignment of nations. It will take decades for the world to completely redefine supply chains based on altered geopolitics. In the meantime, the global recession caused by this senseless conflict is imminent. There is a rise in prices of everything and the common man has nowhere to go. Consequently, there are strikes in all parts of the world for wage correction. These matters will be further exacerbated in the winters when there is a shortage of oil and gas supplies to Europe. Thousands have died, millions have been displaced and rendered homeless, billions of dollars of assets have been destroyed and the world has no answers. I continue to question the relevance of the permanent status given by the UN Charter to five sovereign states – China, Russia, USA, UK and France. When those who are custodians of good order perpetuate crimes against humanity (and this is not just Russia); who must call them to order?
This is at the root of the problem and until the Charter is re-written and takes away the veto rights from these five, the world will remain hostage to the whims of these nations; most of whom have lost their high ground to give moral lessons to the rest of the world. What is the pathway to stop
this abuse of dominance while the world watches in shock and despair?
These concerns have been resonated by our business leaders in South Africa, where we are facing challenges of our own. The concerns are at many levels. The first relates to the economic future of the continent, both as an immediate concern on shortages and perhaps a wake-up call for policy-makers to rapidly incentivize indigenization of every industry vertical to achieve self- reliance. It is abundantly clear that Africa’s problems must be solved by its own people, and this will need a concerted effort from governments and business to ensure that we are insulated from global events as much as possible.
The future energy and food security of the continent is an important imperative as these shortages will see prices skyrocket and intensify poverty to painful thresholds that may result in civil unrest. I engaged with several policy- makers and the requirements are very clearly understood; the problem lies in the implementation.
The implementation rests largely with a strong administrative service or bureaucracy. The bureaucracy remains largely ineffective both on account of unqualified people running the departmental functions, too much interference from the politicians on the appointment of senior functionaries, and largely because good people don’t want to serve in a toxic environment and have left the service. The continuity and consistency of policy can only come from a strong bureaucracy. Strengthening this service based on meritocracy is a critical need in most African countries including South Africa.
The other anxiety is regarding the state of political play in South Africa. As the continent’s leading economy, South Africa is undoubtedly heading into a crevasse of political turbulence. Saving a miracle, the (un)surprisingly bankrupt African National Congress (ANC) is likely to drop below 51% leading to an era of fragmented provincial politics, the emergence of new parties and the era of coalition governments. While this will bring uncertainty, it will finally usher the much-needed accountability and a drive towards a path of true service to people. This fate is now accepted by a large number of people in South Africa including staunch ANC stalwarts who believe that the ANC has now outlived its charter and must go through reincarnation with a relevant doctrine to serve its people. This process is inevitable and necessary for South Africa as this is the only way that the country will come out of the downward spiral that it has gone into for the last decade or so. The fragmentation has already started with many political parties emerging and many more on the horizon. Some have a single agenda and that is to topple the ANC at any cost but eventually, the country needs a manifesto beyond superficial differences and move forward on a path to social and economic recovery.
But all has not been doom and gloom in the last few months. The business community in Africa has been vibrant and playing their part in keeping the wheels of prosperity in motion. It was time for us to celebrate African business leadership once again and on June 3 2022, after being subdued for two years (because of Covid), we decided to host the All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLAs) as an in-person event.
After much debate, we decided to organize and celebrate the tenth milestone AABLA event in Sun City (in South Africa’s North West province). Despite a two-hour drive from Johannesburg, and as validated by so many of our distinguished guests, it was a befitting decision. It was a memorable evening celebrating Africa’s most successful business leaders at one of the finest destinations in South Africa. We had some great acceptance speeches from formidable leaders such as Naseem Lahri, Shirley Machaba, Mxolisi Mgojo and Reuel Khoza.
We had another reason to celebrate. On June 1 2022, CNBC Africa completed 15 years of broadcasting. It was a dream that my partner Zafar Siddiqi and I had when we launched this amazing brand in Africa with the vision to change the negative perceptions of the African continent. Fifteen years on, we pride ourselves as being the most comprehensive business news network on the continent. Through all the disruptions and challenges, we have prodded along slowly but surely with some of the most talented members of the ABN family led by Roberta Naicker, Sid Wahi, Godfrey Mutizwa, Jill De Villiers, Renuka Methil, Jean Landsburg, Thameshan Sooriah, Denham Pons and Sue Gounden making a difference to the media landscape through responsible, timely, credible and comprehensive reporting.
This milestone, for me, was perhaps the most nostalgic and valuable toast.
As we start Women’s Month in South Africa, there were many other major milestones that I discovered in the past few weeks. The most satisfying was to see progress in diversity and equality within the business community in South Africa. Noteworthy was the earlier appointment of Nolitha Fakude as the first female President of Minerals Council South Africa in its 131-year history, Dr Nombasa Tsengwa as the first woman CEO to lead Exxaro, Nonkululeko Nyembezi as the first non-executive Chairman of the Standard Bank Group and Shirley Machaba as the first black woman CEO of PwC Southern Africa; these are just a few examples of the recognition of excellence of women in the workplace and to see that despite the many other flaws, South Africa is keeping pace with inclusivity.
In the words of Kofi Annan: “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
Let us celebrate inclusion.