This is another of our Alumni contributed articles. Hope you enjoy it.
Background (1960 – 1989)
The African continent has been stuck in a period of economic stagnation and decay since the late 1960’s and 1970’s. As the winds of political change started sweeping through much of Africa during this period, political and liberation priorities overtook most other priorities – including sustaining economic development. The beginning of this period of political freedom for Africa coincided with a protracted but near-silent ideological war in the northern hemisphere – the Cold War!
Africa being a large provider of resources to the world became a playground for this ‘silent’ war. Many African political leaders simply became pawns of either the capitalist West or Soviet-linked powers. The priority on economic development unfortunately took a back-seat between the late 1960’s (as most of Africa started gaining independence) and a very notable year – 1989!
AFRICA since 1989:
This investment story in Africa arguably begins as the Cold War ends in 1989 – as the Iron Curtain falls ! It comes along positive developments in the end of civil wars and the beginning of the end for most military dictatorships, and notably the beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa. The fall of apartheid brought about the ending of civil wars in the neighboring countries of Mozambique and Angola.
Since 1990 the African continent has been engaged in a process of economic rehabilitation which I expect will one day be told like the emergence of the Asian Tigers or China in its earlier decades of economic growth.
A little over two decades hence, I write about a frontier investment story that is showing the most positive signs of future growth. This growth story involves a billion people (growing faster than most parts of the world), an increasing youth population and workforce and the continued entrenchment of democracy in Africa.
(1) Population growth, which was once inhibited by war, famine and disease now outpaces most parts of the world,
(2) the Youth population continues to rise and gain a stronger voice ( as we’ve seen during this so-termed ‘Arab Spring’ in North Africa).
(3) the end of dictatorships has brought about a slow but progressive move into democracy. Even the most hardened of dictators is today either reforming or being ‘over-thrown’ by his own people – with recent examples in Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia. In the West African state of Cote d’Ivoire we saw the correction of a political situation that might have prevailed in pre-1989 Africa where ‘leaders’ refused to accept the will of the people!
(4) Democratisation emerges strongly: Ghana remains the shinning light in free and fair elections and democracy but much still needs to be done to improve their political environment. In 2011, Nigeria elected President Jonathan in what most consider to be the most democratic election since the end of the military dictatorships.
SO THE POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT IS IMPROVING….. WHAT OF ECONOMIC INDICATORS? Where should you be looking to invest in Africa?
Given all that’s happening and the positive changes, I highlight the 6 key areas we think investors should look at in making investment decisions:
1. Consumer and Retail
2. Financial Services
3. Telecommunications (esp. around increasing Data Penetration and ‘mobile’ banking)
4. Mining and resources
5. Power and electricity generation
6. Social entrepreneurship – incl. Education, health and social development
SO HOW DO YOU ACCESS THESE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES?
Areas of investment are so vast that one can invest in various forms. Here I have to stress that your ‘investment’ in Africa does not necessarily have to be in monetary terms. This is how i think you should invest in Africa:
(a) Money and/or financial resources,
(a) Money or Financial resources
This is the most straight-forward and perhaps the expected way to get access to economic opportunities in Africa. The media often sell us the idea of exploiting Africa’s resources with large financial benefits for the investor. I have to say that although this is an important part of investing directly in Africa, it is still a limiting factor to actually realizing the potential of Africa and its people.
The second line of investment is your Time! Invest your time in thinking and acting for Africa. Invest you time in assisting fellow Africans in building our continent. We tend to underestimate the value of ‘time’ so start with dedicating your time to July 18th – Mandela Day and help your communities, as an example. Invest your time in helping and uplifting the communities you come from and many others that desperately need your help and ability.
Invest your technical and ‘softer’ knowledge and learn more about the countries and people of Africa. As we all know “knowledge is a valuable currency’ – so do what you can to build your knowledge of Africa’s history, present and possible future scenarios. Once you know, you know! It’s a bit like emptying your purse into your head! So know Africa and it’s people well and this will pay huge dividends in future.
If you ever get an opportunity to work elsewhere on the continent – take it with open arms! When you get there, embrace it with open arms even-though your environment might be tougher and unfamiliar. Investing your career in Africa means we need to see you young black South African engineers, doctors and physicians, accountants, architects, bankers, etc. finding jobs in other parts of Africa. In addition we should be open to welcoming fellow Africans to take up skilled positions in South Africa. We need their help and should stop thinking our brothers and sisters don’t have a place in our country – remember after-all that the United States and much of North America was built by emigrants!
When you choose to travel, make African destinations one of your top choices. Travel the continent in your own time – get in your car and drive to Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, etc. Fly further north to other African destinations – go and see the pyramids of Giza instead of going to London or New York. We need to improve intra-Africa travel. Visit your neighbours. Go and have tea in Morocco if you get the opportunity, a warm Tusker beer in Kenya… and a 2M or Laurentina on the beach in Mozambique. These are the travels you’ll probably find quite memorable and eye-opening!
Investing in Africa is not just about money and financial rewards! It’s about knowing and embracing the cities, town and villages of Africa. It’s about embracing the people of Africa in their shapes, form and mannerisms. So let’s build our continent together and share our resources – remembering that the borders of today’s Africa were never our invention!
By Thabo Ncalo (Tsogo 1997)
02 October 2011