Africa – the continent with ample unlocked opportunity
Those are the views of experts who formed part of a panel discussion hosted by USB to unpack the perspective of African frontiers.
The panel consisted of Paul Feenen, Strategic Partnership Director for JUMO in Africa, Max Pichulik, Partner at Impact Amplifier, Dr Sola Oduwole, Multi-Sectoral Strategist and Morne Edas, Executive Director at Sade Capital. The panel discussion was moderated by Nthabiseng Moleko, lecturer in Managerial Economics and Statistics at USB.
“While challenges facing the continent such as the lack of infrastructure development cannot be overlooked, Africa has massive potential, which if explored, will expedite the continent’s economic growth.”
The stories of Africa’s potential for success are often overlooked, with attention mainly being given to the trials and tribulations of the continent. While challenges facing the continent such as the lack of infrastructure development, technological innovation at a larger scale, education and other macro-economic challenges cannot be overlooked, Africa has massive potential, which if explored, will expedite the continent’s economic growth. According to Pichulik, Africa’s commercial agricultural potential has not been fully explored and he cited as an example, the use of indigenous plants for pharmaceutical opportunities. Edas concurred with this observation adding that the prospects of successfully conducting business in Africa is promising but requires patience due to the diverse culture of the continent’s population. While Dr Oduwole certainly acknowledges the existing opportunities, the continent has to offer, such as richness in mineral resources, he believes that the continent is not yet fully prepared to compete at a global level due to an inadequate level of skills.
“A current trend is for educated young Africans to immigrate to the developed world while investors are moving to Africa, in the realisation of the continent’s untapped potential.”
The panel members agreed that the long-term solutions to the continent’s challenges can be addressed through a deep focus on education on all levels. A current trend is for educated young Africans to immigrate to the developed world while investors are moving to Africa, in the realisation of the continent’s untapped potential. Another interconnected factor is the lack of beneficiation, in particular increasing manufacturing value add which needs to be backed by a strong political will. The continent is equally perceived to be plagued by high levels of corruption, and the publicizing of many of these cases scare prospective investors away. The panel’s response to the question whether autocracy, or democracy, plays a role in developing the continent, shows that there is doubt whether democracy is an absolute requirement for growth, because it appears that “that votes do not count, but it is the counting of votes that counts”, hence the need to employ good corporate governance and best practice to boost investor confidence.
There is light at the end of the tunnel as the continent continues to observe great technological transformation, especially in the financial sector where mobile money services have emerged and are growing exponentially, a phenomenon that has not been experienced anywhere in the world before. This type of innovation, according to Feenan, is an indication that “economic growth in Africa is inevitable and that for investors looking to invest in successful, Africa is the right place right now”.
The discussion concluded with the firm call to cement dialogue between the private and public sectors in solving the social challenges facing the African continent, to ensure improved economic growth for the benefit of its citizens.
*This article was written by MBA students as part of a group assignment for the module Perspectives on African Frontiers. They are J Erasmus, G Frey, B Kafu, C Stadler, J Adenigba, and L Amutenya.