How the world has started to realize Africa’s potential

By: C. Gopinath
Appearing in: Business Line

After being ignored for many decades as a lost continent, perhaps what woke up Africa is digital connectivity with the rest of the world.

The meeting of the African Academy of Management, hosted in January by Lagos Business School, displayed research into many areas of progress across the continent. I joined my colleagues on a field trip to an ultra-modern factory, a joint venture between the Tolaram Group and US food giant Kellogg in Lagos, Nigeria. Unfortunately, the factory was not functioning, as the required imported inputs had been held up due to congestion at the local Apapa port. Earlier that week, I had seen the backdraft of the port’s problems — a very long line of trucks parked on the Third Mainland bridge awaiting entry into the port. Hurt by the constraints of the port’s capacity, the same Tolaram Group sensed an opportunity. It is now engaged in a new multi-billion-dollar deep-sea port project that will increase capacity and modernise port operations.

This captures the Africa mood today – opportunities that can be extracted from the challenges faced on a daily basis. The continent, comprising 54 countries and about 1.2 billion people, promises to be the next growth region. Many countries already record a GDP growth rate of 6 per cent and more and, combined with healthy demographic growth rates and rapid urbanisation, promise sustained growth. After being ignored for many decades as a lost continent, perhaps what woke up Africa is digital connectivity with the rest of the world, which awakened aspirations. My Uber driver in Johannesburg listens to American rap on the radio because he likes their message, compared with the love themes of the local bands.

Private capital flows are now said to exceed aid flows into Africa. Many countries are rolling out their welcome mat. There is a race to improve ‘ease of doing business’ rankings. Rwanda, which climbed from 150 in 2008 to 32 in 2014, has a ‘One Stop Center’ to help investors go through all the regulatory requirements.

Joel Kotkin, in his 1992 book Tribes, identified Indians as one group which has spread far and wide. A number of Indians, like the Tolaram Group, have made deep inroads into Africa. For many, the growth was organic, starting as individual traders and then slowly bringing along their family and friends. More recent arrivals are the Chinese, another of Kotkin’s global tribes, although their presence has come with the powerful political and financial backing of the Chinese state, and the are mostly engaged in large-scale mining and infrastructure projects across the continent. In Zambia, many Chinese have married locally and are raising families; they are now referred to as the ‘Zambinese’!

Read the rest of the OpEd at Business Line