Posts Tagged ‘africa’

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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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.

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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.

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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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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?

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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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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.

More on Serving the BoP

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

wafricacrop

Here’s an interesting piece in Time (July 31, 2008), The Creative Capitalism Roundtable, featuring a conversation with Bill Gates, CK Prahalad and others sharing their views on creative capitalism and the Bottom of the Pyramid.  Their conversation led to a discussion of the telecom industry at the BoP:

 Stengel [Managing Editor - Time]: C.K., I know that Bill was influenced by, by your work, and one of the questions I have, and I guess it’s a question both about creative capitalism and how you see it, is that, when it comes to cell phones for Kenyan farmers for example, isn’t this just good old fashion capitalism in the sense that it’s a recognition of a market that people hadn’t figured out how to profit from, and now, and now they are.

Prahalad: I think it is, but there’s a twist to it, and I think it’s an important twist. If you look at traditionally how we have looked at all this product and services especially high-tech products like cell phones, we would never have gone to the poor. But, I think that growth opportunity is there, as the cell phones have demonstrated. Also, it is changing the asymmetry of information, be it the farmer, who can now get prices, weather conditions, or someone who can make small transactions with SMS messaging, suddenly the asymmetry of information which is the essence of poverty — that is why people are poor, they don’t have access to information — that is changing very, very dramatically. What is happening in the cell phone industry, three billion people are connected for the first time in human history, I think it will be four billion soon. That I think gives me tremendous confidence that we can really take Bill’s idea and see it through to its logical conclusion, which, for me, is how to democratize commerce.

Food for thought…

Africa and beyond

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Our company made a commitment in 2005 to transferring business skills and innovative practices, along with new technologies, to emerging markets. Our associates share a passion for this effort. But, frankly, we don’t say much about it in our communiqués, and we’re likely missing opportunities to marshal more support and gather additional resources. We know that we need to change that in the coming months.

Throughout Africa, business knowledge is crucial to economies at every stage of development. It enables companies to establish more effective capabilities necessary for developing thriving businesses. Knowledge transfer between companies makes sense. Well-structured collaborations are thriving and the benefits flow in both directions.

Efforts are mounting to raise awareness. In 2007, an unprecedented string of high profile events placed this agenda on the radar screen. After the Davos symposium and the much lauded TED events in both Monterrey and Arusha, Tanzania, African entrepreneurial successes are getting lots of attention.

In a more modest French conference hosted by Insead last April, “Nurturing Business Education in Africa,” a diverse group of educators focused on practical steps for transferring knowledge. “We will be looking for practical ways that business schools and their professors can strengthen the capability of African schools to train the continent’s future managers.”

A recent CNN Int’l article notes, “Africa is in desperate need of qualified and talented management to help its economies, not only running companies but helping entrepreneurs and ensuring more effective corporate and legislative governance policy”.

The publicity that Africa is getting seems mostly helpful and is growing more so as it attracts not just luminaries, but pragmatic entrepreneurs whose early forays are informing the business community about the region’s market potential. But, a looming concern is this becoming a flavor of the day movement.

Like all trends, it runs the risk of being discarded, supplanted by the next, new shiny idea. Another issue is the process being co-opted by global companies seeking to enhance their images. This may dampen the aspirations of those who genuinely want to make things happen.

This project isn’t for short term thinkers. Gains typically come through successive approximations. It takes patience and perseverance to develop opportunities across cultural divides. But, we’re finding that it’s worth the effort.