Archive for the ‘West Africa ’ 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Coming Full Circle. The First Family Visits Ghana

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Cape Coast Castle copy

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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.

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International Rules of Engagement

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

paris

Paris Urban Pattern

I’ve recently noticed a subtle but perceptible attitude shift among Americans working in foreign markets. My overseas colleagues are noticing, too. American business people, they say, are displaying more thoughtfulness than usual. U.S. companies operating overseas seem less inclined to approach global business as though its epicenter is in New York or Palo Alto.

It’s too soon to call this a new Zeitgeist, but change is in the air. The global economic crisis, which has its roots in the U.S., may be partially responsible. I think the new vibe is also influenced by Washington’s new tone in its approach to global  affairs.  As an American doing business abroad, this is promising.

Historically, many American firms have approached business from a decidedly ethnocentric perspective–more so than many of our European rivals.  U.S. companies have missed opportunities as a result.

Things seem to be moving in a better direction now.

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Mobile Growth Benefits Emerging Regions

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

emerging-regions

Today, there are more than 3.3 billion mobile-phone subscriptions worldwide, which means that there are at least three billion people who don’t own cell phones, the bulk… found in Africa and Asia.                                                                                                                                                                                                  –-Sara Corbett, author “Can the Cell Phone Help End Global Poverty?” (NYT)

I’ve been optimistic about the continued growth of mobile services in emerging regions, even through this downturn. If that happens, it’s good news for those who appreciate what connectivity is doing for new subscribers in the developing world. The nascent mobile sector is an enabling engine for other industries in the developing world notably health care, agriculture, banking, and goverment services.

We see continued growth in emerging markets where there are few fixed line communications, low mobile penetration rates, and the arrival of new, highly motivated operators. Look for continued double digit growth (CAGR). Revenue growth (ARPU) will likely lag subscriber growth as companies add more lower-income users. Despite a crowding market, prospects for for growth by incumbent and new operators remains strong so long as they manage their growth with an eye to the future.

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Celebrating Our African Adventure

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

osprey_africa1

Ex Africa semper aliquid novi — Out of Africa always something new. ~Pliny the Elder

This week marks my company’s 3rd anniversary of working in Africa within our emerging markets service practice. Helping companies in the region to understand and serve the needs of their customers has been enriching on a personal level.  I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the growth of the sub-Sahara’s nascent service industry and I marvel at its favorable impact on a growing number of people in the region.

The ascendant mobile industry illustrates the point.  On a continent where few people have landlines due to the high cost of installing cabling, cell phones are bridging the communications gap. In many sub-Saharan markets, like Ghana where we work, mobile growth rates have been approaching 50% annually. While less than 20% have mobile phones now, hundreds of millions of Africans are expected to get handsets in the next few years. Keep in mind that this is a continent of almost a billion people. That’s a lot of potential new subscribers.

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Ghana in the “R=G World”

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Having just returned from Ghana, I was keenly interested Roger Cohen’s NYT piece today. He says,

In my lifetime, conditions have grown immeasurably better, freer and more prosperous for a majority of humanity, yet hand-wringing about the miserable remains the reflex mode for most coverage of planet earth.

Nowhere more so than in Africa, from which I’d just returned when the e-mail landed. During a short stay in Ghana, which will hold free elections in December, Vodafone had bought a majority stake in Ghana Telecom for $900 million (entering a fiercely competitive mobile-phone market) and I’d heard much about 6 percent annual growth, spreading broadband and new high-end cacao ventures.

Accra, the capital, is buzzing. Russian hedge funds are investing. New construction abounds. Technology enables people in the capital to text money transfers via mobile phone to poor relatives in the bush.

I think most of Cohen’s points are well taken. He doesn’t mention the discovery of oil off Ghana’s coast and the country’s fiber projects or the investments being made by multinationals in the country’s business infrastructure.  The business climate in the region is improving, albeit in successive approximations.  The country’s services sector — chiefly teleco and financial services — are contributing to Ghana’s high annual growth rate.  Inflation is a growing concern, but so far it’s been manageable.  The process leading up to this December’s election should be interesting.  So far so good.

It’s also true that Africa’s success stories aren’t newsworthy to many news consumers.  We mostly hear about war, corruption, disease and rampant poverty.  On this point, I recommend Charlayne Hunter Gault’s New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance,” — it’s  chiefly about South Africa, but pertinent to the problem of media coverage across the continent.

If Ghana’s political environment remains stable and forward-looking, the country will be in a position to contribute even more of its stalwart intellectual capital to a “globalized” resource (R=G) community in the coming years.  So, even if the global media is fixated on the region’s challenges, the numbers will support a different story.  So look for Ghana and other gazelle nations of the sub-Sahara to lead the way.