Archive for the ‘Sub-Sahara Region ’ Category

A President’s Business Trip to Africa

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Cape Town on the Ground cx1The U.S. president and first lady on the ground in Cape Town

President Obama’s second trip to Africa signals the administration’s renewed commitment to the Sub-Sahara. At stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania this week the president is expected to highlight, as he has before, his over-arching focus on food security and global heath. He’s also expected to present new programs aimed at strengthening commercial ties with African countries, particularly democracies like the nations on his itinerary.

The administration wants to make it possible for the US private sector to play a more vital role in Africa at a time when other countries — notably China, Malaysia, India and Brazil — are stepping up their investments across the continent. Joining the president along the way will be some 500 US business leaders, sending a message to both African and American audiences that the US is hereby rolling up its sleeves.  The critical question about the president’s trip is whether the US is serious and, if so, what substantive policies will follow the anticipated rhetoric.

(more…)

Africa: The Best Guess

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Sometimes a thesis comes along that’s so incisive, it upends the orthodoxy. Morten Jerven’s proposition is capable of that. His book, Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled By African Development Statistics and What To Do About It, presents an eye-opening case for changing how Africa’s economies are measured and understood.

Measuring the economy’s performance, particularly gross domestic product (GDP), is critical to African governments and the donors that provide them with financial aid. Jerven shows that econometric models used to inform critical decisions about African countries are based on irreconcilably faulty data.

(more…)

Africa — Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Bend of the Nile, Khartoum

This month (September, 2012) marks the 25th anniversary of my first trip to Africa. Wandering the souqs and dusty streets of Khartoum, I discovered that Africa was too complex and beguiling to fit the labels often used to describe it.

Struck by its diversity and fierce beauty, I’ve been in Africa’s thrall ever since. Writer Richard Dowden warns, “Africa can be addictive.” The French have a term for people who become mad about the place: fous’ d’Afrique. At times, I’ve wondered if that term applies to me.

(more…)

The Revolution Is Being Televised

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Africa has arrived

Have you noticed the recent uptick in media coverage on “Africa Rising”? It seems like every week, another column is published mentioning that six of the ten fastest growing economies are in the Sub-Sahara. And, thanks to The AtlanticThe Economist, and BBC specials, Africa’s mobile revolution is now an icebreaker at cocktail receptions; Africa has arrived.

Despite how fashionable Africa has become in some circles, misconceptions abut the Sub-Sahara abound. The degree to which well-traveled Westerners underestimate Africa’s ethnic, cultural and topographic diversity is stunning.

(more…)

Ghana’s Unremarkable Transfer of Power

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Smooth and swift 

President John Atta Mills of Ghana, 68, died unexpectedly of throat cancer yesterday in the capital, Accra. His vice president, John Dramani Mahama, 53, was sworn in as his successor within hours of the president’s dying.

What’s remarkable about these events is Ghana’s unremarkable transfer of power. The country has become a paragon of good governance in a region where democratic institutions are in short supply. There’s no telling what might have transpired had an event like this occurred elsewhere in West Africa or in Ghana only twenty years ago.

(more…)

A New World Bank Leader for a New Era?

Friday, April 13th, 2012

A gentleman’s agreement

Since its inception in 1946, the World Bank has had 12 presidents, each of them an American. The practice of choosing an American for the job has gone unopposed given that the U.S. has been the world’s biggest donor nation. Similarly, the Europeans traditionally pick one of their own to run the IMF. This arrangement is known as a “gentleman’s agreement”.

But this year there’s a wrinkle in the World Bank process. A battle is underway among three candidates vying to succeed the incumbent president, Robert Zoellick, whose term ends in June.

(more…)

Africa’s Great Boom

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

City Bowl – Cape Town, South Africa

Cause for hope

Another sanguine feature story came out about Africa’s economic growth. The Economist ran a cover story in 2000 headlined, “The Hopeless Continent”, reversed course in December 2011, dubbing Africa, “The Hopeful Continent”. A new African narrative is emerging, finally.

In the last decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest growing nations have been in the Sub-Sahara, and that trend is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. The continent rebounded quickly from the global recession reaching 6% growth last year, surpassing East Asia.

Africa is too vast and diverse to be handled in a broad brush treatment. Each of its economies is affected by a unique and dynamic set of drivers.

However, on the whole, the Sub-Sahara is being shaped by converging forces: global demand for resources, burgeoning consumer markets and government reforms are placing the continent on a path toward sustainable growth. Regional trade and foreign investment are increasingly important. There’s cause for optimism and for a closer look at Africa’s Great Boom.

(more…)

Kenya Delivers Open Government

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Leader of the pack

Last July, Kenya became the first sub-Saharan country to launch an open data government site, enabling its citizens to gain access to vital information. After only six months, the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) is still a work in progress, but it’s already reshaped Kenya’s culture of government.

When KODI was launched, Kenya was only the 22nd country with an open government portal. Today, 30 countries have live, open government sites, though dozens of other countries are in some stage of developing their own. Kenya’s early adoption is due in large part to the efforts of open data advocates both within Kenya’s government and among its influential technology community.

(more…)

Blazing Trails in Africa

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Accra, Ghana

In reflecting on the year ending, my thoughts turn again to Africa, home of six of the world’s top 10 fastest growing economies. Africa’s mobile revolution is spawning exciting, new opportunities for entrepreneurs and engineers. For practitioners eager to experience the impact of their work, there’s no more dynamic and interesting place to be than Africa today.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three short but inspiring talks given in 2011 by three of Africa’s best and brightest pioneers. These trailblazers all began their careers in technology, but now they’re developing “platforms” in the broader sense, enabling a new generation of Africans to reshape their future.

Each speaker offers their unique perspective, but a common theme from all of the talks is that Africa is rising rapidly. Through their courage and determination, Africa’s trailblazers can inspire us all to persevere, whether we work on the continent or not.

(more…)

The Disruptor: Dr. Ngozi Oknjo-Iweala

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

An African Narrative

The misdeeds of Africa’s despots get plenty of media attention because they fit a Western “plug-n-play” narrative about the region. Conversely, the work of Africa’s exemplary leaders is often overlooked.

I’d offer the story of an extraordinary African leader determined to improve the quality of life in her nation. She’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was recently appointed Nigeria’s Finance Minister.

In her previous stint in that role, she compiled a stunning record of economic reform. She was the first woman to serve as her country’s Finance Minister and as its Foreign Minister.

Okonjo-Iweala is an inveterate disruptor of the status quo who is guided by her vision for what’s possible and a zeal for instigating change.

Stories like hers give rise to an emergent narrative that’s being written by Africans. As she puts it, “This is the Africa of opportunity. This is the Africa where people want to take charge of their own futures and their own destinies.”

(more…)

Song of Africa

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Mapping the Fiber Revolution 

Most everyone interested in Africa’s connectivity revolution has seen the handiwork of Steve Song, a South African social entrepreneur who wants to make telecommunications accessible to more Africans. His iconic map of Africa’s undersea fiber optic cables is a visual narrative of the continent coming “on-line”.

When Song began the mapping exercise three years ago, his intent was to document the continent’s two or three existing cables in order to aid his work. Since then, the number of new undersea cables encircling Africa has burgeoned, and Song has faithfully revised his map.

(more…)

Ingenuity Born of Necessity in Kenya

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Nairobi Skyline

“This is the future of African technology, and if you blink, you’ll miss it.”  ~Erik Hersman

On the ‘Silicon Savanna’

Last month in Nairobi, Kenya, a conference called Pivot25 connected 25 promising mobile app developers from East Africa with investors and venture capitalists. Events like this one, based on the Y Combinator model, give aspiring developers a rare chance to pitch their ideas for possible seed capital.

What’s intriguing about Pivot25 is the attention that it drew from outside the region. TIME Magazine ran a piece about the conference from the standpoint of Nairobi’s contribution to global technology. CNN’s Global Public Square covered the event, too. Why so much attention?

(more…)

Lessons From Emerging Markets

Sunday, December 19th, 2010


Turning the page

Another interesting year is rapidly winding down. This year, I had the chance to work with many gifted business and tech leaders, but it was particularly satisfying collaborating with innovators in developing regions — the Sub-Sahara, the Middle East and South Asia.

It’s time for Western multinational companies — especially those in the customer-facing sectors — to enter developing markets where consumer-led growth is robust but capital and resources are in short supply.

(more…)

Africa’s Latest Asian Wave

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

India’s top mobile carrier, Bharti Airtel, is bringing its ultra low-cost services to the sub-Sahara. Can it adapt its managed services model to penetrate  Africa’s under-served, low-income markets? What are the implications?

Out of the East

Asia’s growing influence in Africa is receiving worldwide attention. China’s investment in Africa will top $100 billion dollars this year making it the continent’s biggest trading partner. There are 800 Chinese companies with over 4 million Chinese people living and working there. China’s impact on Africa, as author Richard Dowden observed, is the biggest economic shift of the twenty-first century.

Now, the story of Asia’s push into Africa is being revised to highlight players from India. In June, Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile carrier – the 5th largest telecom in the world – bought Kuwait-based Zain’s operations in 16 African countries for $10.7 billion in cash.

Bharti has been eager to grab a piece of Africa’s growing mobile market for some time. In 2009, it tried to buy MTN, Africa’s largest carrier, but the deal failed due to regulatory roadblocks. Undeterred, Bharti pivoted quickly setting its sights on Zain.  By June, Bharti bagged its African trophy, though some analysts thought it paid too much for Zain’s assets.

(more…)

In Praise of Impalas

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

The swift and agile

A recent Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation study revived the term “gazelle companies” to describe the young, rapidly-growing U.S.firms that are producing the majority of new jobs in the U.S.  The report recommends that policy-makers nurture Gazelles to stimulate job growth at a time when unemployment is high.

I’m interested in another class of companies—agile, well-run firms in emerging regions like the sub-Sahara. Like their Western counterparts, they’re creating a disproportionate number of jobs. But these young African companies are playing a more crucial role than gazelles do in driving market growth.

To belabor the metaphor, I call them Impalas, after the lean, swift gazelles indigenous to Africa. Impalas provide technology-enabled and outsourcing services to a growing number of multinational (MNC) service providers – mobiles, airlines and banks – in Johannesburg, Accra, and Nairobi, etc.  They share many of the characteristics of gazelles, but there are some notable differences.

(more…)

Africa: Sharp Contrasts Amid Diversity

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

FIFA image

The World Comes to Africa

As the World Cup gets underway this week in South Africa—the first ever to be held on the African continent—the world media is turning its attention there.

Typically, coverage of Africa by the international media is limited to stories about intractable problems—disease, war, famine, and corruption. Many of the World Cup stories are taking a similar tact. Stories about the South Africa’s five new stadiums underscore the nation’s mounting debt while other pieces highlight its security concerns.

A lot of the coverage reflects the world media’s skewed view of Africa as a monolithic place that’s plagued with tragedy. Severe challenges do exist, but many African societies are quietly building their institutions and infrastructures.  It’s time the outside world views Africa through a broader, more accurate lens. (more…)

Dispatch from West Africa

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

iStock_000000384450Small

Downtown Cape Coast, Ghana

Pulsating business scene

I spent the last couple weeks on assignment in Accra, Ghana. On this trip, I’ve seen more growth than any time since my company started working there in ’07. This is a period of unprecedented business activity and promising new projects within and beyond the mobile sector.  Meanwhile, new competitors from around the world are streaming in. This corner of Africa’s business scene is pulsating.

Astute businesses here are taking steps to preserve their client base and deepen relationships with their customers. We’re privileged to work with a new generation of African business leaders with the courage and determination to transform their offerings to meet the needs of an emerging class of consumers.

(more…)

A Distant, Quiet Mobile Revolution

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

sunset over cape point, south africa

Evening at Cape Point on the tip of South Africa

While the business world is preoccupied with the global economic recovery, a mobile revolution is quietly reshaping the marketplace in the developing world. In Africa, mobile phones are providing access to communications for millions of people who’ve never had fixed communications let alone cell phones. I’ve written before about the impact that such ‘leapfrogging’ is having on African business.  Now, we’re beginning to see exciting and substantial commercial projects taking shape, particularly in the service sector.

(more…)

“Get a Load of Our Stuff!”

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

The Wall Street Journal/MIT Sloan Management Review published a disturbing paper on why Western companies are failing to transform the Bottom of the Pyramid into a booming consumer market.  The author argues that the base of the world’s economic pyramid – where people live on $2 a day or less – isn’t panning out as a market because potential consumers “haven’t been conditioned to think that the products being offered are something one would even buy.”

To support his argument, he cites the case of PUR, a low-cost water purification system developed by Procter & Gamble. The product provides the obvious benefit of affordable clean water where the risks of drinking contaminated water are high. But curiously, PUR* achieved low market penetration rates in test markets.

Why would consumers reject a product as salient as PUR? The author contends that Western companies simply haven’t created demand among low income consumers. “Companies must create markets—new lifestyles—among poor consumers,” he insists. His prescription is that Western businesses need to do a better job “conditioning” low-income  people to be better consumers.  Really?

(more…)

Coming Full Circle. The First Family Visits Ghana

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Cape Coast Castle copy

.

Over the coarse of the eighteenth century, the Gold Coast produced more than a million slaves, about 15 percent of the total shipped from West Africa… ~Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship

The first African-American President of the U.S. landed in Accra, Ghana last evening. His first trip to the Sub-Sahara has symbolic significance for many reasons. Many Africans believe that Barack Obama represents the ascendancy of Africa on a global stage, reversing the despair and hardship that’s plagued the continent during the post-colonial era.  They hope that his visit will call attention to the steep challenges and promising opportunities the continent faces.

(more…)