Several recent articles in these pages have highlighted the scope of opportunity that exists in Africa. Normally, we refer to this opportunity in the way that makes the most sense for our clients – as a management services and market entry firm we want companies to hire us to help do more and better business in Africa. Earlier this month we talked about supermarkets as a potential growth area, underlining the profit opportunities in that space. In March of this year, we asked readers about innovation in Africa and suggested that companies consider looking at Africa as a giant petri dish for the development and testing of new technologies and new ideas.
We have separately enthused on Twitter and Facebook and in these pages about just how much there is to be done (read ‘how much money there is to be made’) by getting involved now in Africa’s growing and dynamic markets. We have invited guest columnists and interviewees to present their approaches to the continent, and to explain how the most benefit can be created.
One thing that we feel may be underrepresented in what we publish is how much we care. Africa is not just a continent. It is not one country. Africa is now more than one billion people, perhaps 400,000,000 (yes, four hundred million, greater than the population of the United States or Western Europe) of them under fifteen years of age. Yes, these are consumers-in-waiting. For humanitarian organizations, there are crises waiting to happen, vaccines to be given and mouths to be fed. But on a purely human level Africa is now represented in more than one-sixth of us; close to twenty percent of earth’s citizens if we count the descendants of those forcibly removed from the continent in recent history.
Despite all the warning bells that may go off when we read and hear this kind of statistic, we should also take a moment to think about what can be positive about this progression. Africa, unlike any other continent on this planet, has an imminent opportunity to develop in a way that does not view sustainability and development as diametrically opposed metrics. Today, the recognition that development and sustainability go hand in hand is increasingly accepted as a truth. And Africa, with limited infrastructure and few entrenched “bad development” habits, can use its clean slate to do everything right from the start.
We should be encouraged by the efforts of Gabonese President Bongo, who has followed in his father’s conservation footsteps by continuing to preserve Gabon’s natural rainforest resources at the same time the country pursues aggressive human development goals. We should take strength in watching cell phones light up the continent’s communication infrastructure, completely bypassing the pole and wire structure that most westerners grew up with. We should encourage the spread of solar panels, geothermal, wind, and hydro energy solutions as the primary rather than last-resort solutions to questions of energy grids for all. We should push for African leaders’ rights to protect their people and their economies as they look for paths forward, and help them to do so in a way that avoids the mistakes that western countries have made.
Africa has many positives to share. As global citizens we must all work together to ensure that the world shares its past lessons with Africa. Moving forward, it is time to look at this beautiful continent not as a resource to exploit but as an opportunity for this world to learn how to develop in a way that is respectful and protecting of the people it harbors.