Over the past few years there have been growing articles chronicling the change in fortunes of one of the poorest places in the world, Africa. With the stagnation of the western economies, a lot of investors have turned to Africa for salvation. Why Africa, would be one of top destination of direct investment shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone considering that Africa has got most of the natural resources the whole world need.
The middle class has grown by almost double over the years in most countries, and so has been the demand of luxury goods and technology. Leading technologies companies like Samsung have even developed smart phones that specifically target the Africans. Leading fashion companies have also designed lines of fashion that are specific to the continent. Google, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM have all opened an office in Africa. It seems almost big western companies are somewhat developing their African strategies.
This growing interest in Africa has also sparked debates on how to really improve the standards of ordinary Africans. The level of poverty has significantly been reduced over time, but still Africa has got one of the worst poverty levels. The number of students graduating from the universities has skyrocketed. Governments are continuously creating new universities, colleges and schools. In some circumstances the government has offered free education to everyone. But again this background Africa has experienced an increase in unemployment on its graduate. In other words no meaningful employment has been really created despite an estimate whooping $ US46 billion mostly on mining.
The number of African billionaires has grown according to Forbes, estimated to be around 20, with the richest African having an estimated $US16.1 billion. Almost most of their wealth is resource based. Some of them are close relatives of the ruling elite, which somehow support the point that most of this investment will benefit only the elite.
The growing increase in a number of university graduates has given Africa the opportunity move away to having to rely heavily on natural resources which are usually volatile and also fetch low prices on the market. If Africa can add value to natural resources, it might get more value for its resources.
The growing middle class has also created a market for services. This is an area which Africa can exploit considering that very little is required to set up most service business like consulting which has really helped countries like India to grow. However this will require Africa to support the young entrepreneurs by providing them with funds to start, mentoring and taking the risk in hiring them.
More importantly technology is the sector which could be a game changer. Africa is truly endowed with innovators and scientists. These African minds are full of ideas and inventions but most of these ideas are abandoned after being usually ostracized by the African society. In order for Africa to really move forward Africa, Africa must give its sons and daughters the freedom to dream. By freedom to dream, I mean Africans must learn to support the most audacious ideas and projects. Also Africa must also learn to support projects which might not be so perfect. What is important is to create a culture of innovation where inventions and ideas are improved and embraced.
Over the past few years I have been impressed by initiatives to support African entrepreneurs like Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) that has groomed many Ghana graduates that include the founders of Dropifi, which recently became the first African startup to be backed by Dave McClure’s 500 startups.
iHub in Kenya has also been actively working hard to foster the culture of creativity and invention in Africa. New smart phones designed by Africans have also been introduced to the market. A movie streaming startup created to distribute African movies online has raised millions in funding.
Obviously something is happening to Africa and with required support; I believe African youths can take it to the dreamland. But this will need a change in attitude towards creativity and inventions. Quoting from Will Smith, “Being Realistic is the Most Commonly Traveled Road to Mediocrity.” Africa’s rich also need to take initiative in supporting the youth. Some ideas require a couple of thousands of dollars to take off, yet there about 20 billionaires and I don’t know how many millionaires. In that case, why should Africa wait for western investment, when it has citizens quite capable of investing?