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Africa's time is indeed now

Monday November 25 2013

A maize plant at Talent Farm, Narok. With

A maize plant at Talent Farm, Narok. With investment, Africa can feed the world. PHOTO: Salaton Njau 

BITANGE NDEMO
By BITANGE NDEMO
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I have just read a paper titled Seven Reasons Why Africa’s Time is Now by Jonathan Berman in the Harvard Business Review. It is simply an eye opener, and since most Africans may never get to read it and take advantage of it, let me try to highlight its contents.

The seven reasons are that Africa is 1) a huge market, 2) increasingly stable 3) still not trading with Africa and its Intra-Africa trade is in its infancy 4) soon going to have the world’s largest workforce 5), spending 20 per cent of government budget on education 6) exploding with mobile connectivity and 7) home to most of the world’s uncultivated cropland.

With just about 1 billion people, Africa’s size could be home to more than 60 per cent of the global population. By 2020, 50 per cent Africans will be in the middle income with discretionary incomes and by 2030, more than half of Africa will live in urban areas.

Although conflict and poverty scar Africa, Africans everywhere are investing huge energies in political reforms as well as in search of democratic change and social betterment. This will eventually lead to sustained stability.

Already Berman sees stability that has been elusive for many years paving way for business. More governments have embraced market economy, and as a result inflation is largely tamed and debt reduced.

Although intra-Africa trade stands at 11 per cent, it is growing. Trade blocks are becoming greater regional blocks. The AU is beginning to talk sense and shed the legacy of exporting goods overseas. A new crop of pan African enterprises are emerging.

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It is absurd when Kenya exports coffee to Europe from where it is re-exported to Nigeria at 600 per cent mark-up, or Ghana imports chicken from Brazil while France exports eggs to Gabon. Is it so difficult for us to carry eggs on our heads into Gabon?

Mistakes in China’s population policy will enable Africa become the manufacturing destination of choice. With 25 per cent of the world’s workforce, we shall have the potential to work for the world.

If we properly manage the capacity development of our people, most industries will be located in Africa, creating unprecedented employment opportunities.

To take advantage of this emerging opportunity, we must maintain a sustained investment in education and skills development. Germany evaded the global financial meltdown largely due to its education system that emphasizes skills development.

More than seventy-five per cent of mobile money is transacted in Kenya. The rest of Africa is just beginning to get into digital money. New innovations come out of the many innovation labs that have come up in Kenya.

Mobile penetration is approaching 80 per cent, and the internet too is reaching millions of people in Africa. Africa today is leapfrogging through several technologies. We must ensure the momentum is maintained.

Although Africa faces challenges of food security, it is ironically home to most of the world’s uncultivated cropland.

Compared to other parts of the world, sub Saharan Africa has more than 590 million hectares of uncultivated land, almost twice that of Latin America at 300 million hectares, whereas the rest of the world has a paltry 80 million hectares of uncultivated land. Africa can indeed feed the world.

Berman has simplified where the opportunities lie. It is upon us to convert this information into actionable activities that will translate into wealth. Africa presents the greatest opportunity for investment.

It is a quiet revolution, but most people would be told of the revolution when it has gone beyond us. The time to invest is now.

Unfortunately, we are at most lone rangers. We need to mobilize investment resources through our successful models such as Chama and begin to drive change. We must get to the bottom of the pyramid and begin to help them make simple investments.

Unlike in the formative stages of our nation, we have better means of communication such as vernacular radio to convey the messages of being part of our promising future.

It is not the government or any individual person to bear responsibility of a successful future. It is a collective responsibility that we all must embrace. Until your neighbour has food, shelter and clothing, your security cannot be guaranteed.

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