In 2011 I heard a very able industry colleague, working with one of the Big 5, talk about the Africa opportunity and from that day I was convinced that the continent would provide the “next big opportunity” post 2020.
I was wrong. Africa is happening NOW!! Most countries are at peace, the economy is flourishing, mobile phone penetration is better than most emerging Asian economies, life expectancy has risen by a tenth in the last 5-6 years and most importantly, FDI has tripled. On my trips into several East African capitals in the last 24 months, I see cities with multicultural diaspora, a clearly visible growth in consumer spending, increasing investment(by the Chinese mainly) in creating better infrastructure, skylines dotted with taller buildings and ever present cranes… in essence buzzing metropolises poised on the brink of growth.
In my conversations with my taxi driver, the hotel staff, shopkeepers, people I would classify as the African middle class, I find one common thread -ambition, the desire to learn, great awareness of and adaptability to new technologies. It’s a story very much like India, people driving the change and hence the growth.
Though this transformation in Africa is very welcome and definitely a cause for celebration, it remains incomplete. The state must take up the task of creating better infrastructure, cleaning up corruption and reducing regulation. The only factor that can stymie this growth is the state-as is often said of India, Africa grows not because of the state, but in spite of it. If the state messes up, it will create a dangerous unemployed urban class across the sprawling continent. In fact, if anything, the state must make use of this bulge of labor, driven by growing populations and the increase in life expectancy, take the savings it will produce to drive development.
But all this said, I believe that the African growth story is here to stay and it is definitely time to board that bus!