Africa Is Opening Up and it’s Time for Business


Editorial and photography by Dr Vanessa Champion

Left to right Fola Kudehinbu Hon Commissioner Dahiru Maishanu Monique Butt  at the Friends of Africa conference cocktail receptionSomalilandsun- The night was full of smiles and laughter, hand shakes, business card swaps and an overwhelming feeling of optimism and drive. Being on the “inside” of modern Africa you feel one of the privileged. Privileged in the sense that I know the potential that Africa offers, the truth, the politics, the stability and the gains to be had all round, not just for foreign investment but most importantly for the Africans themselves. I am beginning to build an understanding of just how progressive the continent is, and also how BIG.

There are more than 50 countries in the African continent, each one has its own feel, its own opportunities for business, its own music, art, passions, agriculture, technologies, minerals, retail, construction. No longer should Africa be tarred with a mud hut and machete stereotype. No, Africa is a CONTINENT, not just ONE country with just ONE problem, no like any continent (America, South America, Europe…) it is full of diversity, change, retail, resources and an eagerness to grow.

When I went to Uganda in November this year, it was not what I expected. I’m an academic at heart, I’m also a creative entrepreneur. What I heard, and importantly saw for myself, really has made me think. We in the West, are, as Mark T Jones said in his speech last night, are stuck in a misconception, in a “Band Aid timewarp”. Problems exist of course they do, but they tend to overshadow the whole of Africa to the detriment of REAL SUSTAINABLE development of Africa. There is, as Mark put it, a “Knowledge Deficit” in the west. And we are missing out. Big time.

From all the speakers last night, representatives of countries, High commissions, Associations, Ministers from Africa, the one message was singing loud and clear. Africa is rising, and it is rising fast. The infra-structures are being improved every day, from roads to technologies.

The opening speech from Michael Adekoloye, Director of Lancaster Investments UK Ltd, was energised and passionate. He stressed, and the same message was repeated by speakers throughout the night: “Africa is a face to face society and if you want to invest, you would need to get up and go to places like Abidjan, Accra, Lagos spend time to understand the community and understand the needs of the people.” Lancaster Investments and Conferences host these events to support the dissemination and integration of businesses into Africa (next summits are in Nigeria and Togo in 2013).

We all know that there is a lot of investment from the Chinese, and there is no competition. The Africans want competition. The shift in Africa is indeed seismic. And if you’re an investor, why aren’t you there? Hydrocarbons, oil, minerals, agriculture. Did you know 60% of the world’s available cropland is in Africa, BUT it produces the lowest in the world. There’s opportunity there. The gas fields and oil in Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia… There are improvements in surfaces (retail) and I can’t even begin to outline the potential market there in terms of retail. Did you know that by 2030 the middle class will form the majority in Africa with consumer spending set to soar. Africans are the key to unlocking African business, connecting with responsible brokers who ensure your business interests are met and the people benefit will bring ongoing dividends for you and for them.

Ebele Ogbue, CEO of UBA Capital Europe Ltd (United Bank of Africa, est 1949) said that there are phenomenal steps being made for inclusivity and regional integration across the region, empowering the local people. Again the same message: Local knowledge is key.

Clive Carpenter, said that by 2050, 1 in 4 of the worlds population will be in Africa of working age. What does that mean for us? It means it could point to strong long term business growth. Telecomms are set to grow with annual spend increasing 40% a year. Once again, I heard “Meetings face to face are most important, you need to build relationships over several meetings.” Personal interaction builds up the trust. From a UK point of view, we have a common language, we have historical links, we are liked over in Africa, our education processes are similar. For a UK investor we have advantages, but again I was hearing, we are not making use of them. In Nigeria for instance, the UK is their preferred partner.

When I was in Uganda, I was surprised by the number of people using mobile phones, in the city right into the bush. Base stations are shrinking in size. We’ve all seen those massive constructions blotting the landscape. Now we also have so called “raspberry pies”, if you don’t know what that is, Google it! These are tiny electonic computers which can be made for about £30. Which importantly means people can afford them and these are set to accelerate the opening up of computer and mobile connectivity ALL over Africa. Don Onwunumah whose background is a risk analyst, brokers these into Africa, he is also an advocate that technology is advancing growth. So where are all the UK technology firms? Get in there! Call up Don and see what you can do.

So what’s the advice I would give? Do your research. Start learning about Africa. It’s a huge continent. Stop calling it a country and call it what it is, a rich continent. Find out about the music, the technologies, the resources. Go there. Meet with the people, talk to them, learn from them. You’ll find answers to questions that will blow your preconceptions out of the water. It is important to recognise that aid is good, but sustainable businesses are the way forward to help the people in Africa grow and become long term partners in business, the arts and tourism.

There is also a lot of fabulous energy in Africa. From Nigeria to Mozambique. There is a state in the north-west Nigeria, where The Honorable Malla Dahiru Maishanu told us is a real place of stability and opportunity. Not only in Sokoto is there free education, free health and a stable government, but also there are high quantities of minerals. The Sultanate of Oman have just invested US$200 million to set up processing factories for copper. These partnerships are good. Where are the UK businesses? His state was also recognised last night for the development work for people in Africa.

I accompanied on photographic assignment, the charity “Born to be Beautiful” to Uganda earlier this year, and it is doing what these ministers are saying but in microcosm. Sarah Glover and her team teach the women a vocational skill which means they can then earn money and grow. Each woman was enthused, were full of ambition and entrepreneurial spirit and had a lot of self respect and pride. Education is the way forward. Education, support and communication is the way forward. For them and for us. Go to Africa, chose a country and go. You’ll love your experience, the people and come back excited planning your return visit. And, you know what, your heart will be richer for it too, as the warmth, laughter and love of the people is the one thing that permeates the whole continent.

Lord Hastings (Global Head of Citizenship, KPMG): “The primary purpose of building business is to strengthen communities and their future.” If you have a business, are looking for export partners, wholesale, distributors, are technology brokers, look to Africa. Do your research, talk to people, talk to experts, go there. Not only will you have an amazing time out of the office exploring the beauty that each of the African countries have, but you will also gain a huge advantage in business and know that you are making a difference to people on the ground and on a global scale. Be different. Be part of the African business revolution.