The conversation about Africa is shifting from one of “deficits” and “gaps” to one about opportunities, prospects, ventures and creativity. That’s not news to companies that have paid close attention to the continent and invested there. The fast growing youth population, the urbanization expected to drive over 50% of Africans to cities by 2050, and Africa’s formalizing economy are all well known. These trends and other developments have driven a half century or more of growth in Africa, and will continue to do so.
During a session at last week’s World Economic Forum on Africa, held in Cape Town, experts discussed how Africa can tap into local innovation to launch globally recognised brands. Here are the highlights from the session.
Brand Africa has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, said Xavier-Luc Duval, vice-prime minister and minister of finance and economic development of Mauritius. The transformation, he added, has not been as superficial as the word “brand” might imply.
“Over the years, Mauritius has been consistent in achieving political stability, consistent in the rule of law, consistent in educating our people, consistent in easing the cost of doing business,” he said, highlighting that a country’s brand is what it does and not what says it is.
Somalis living in Somaliland are rightly proud of their track record on democracy over the last couple of decades. This last week has seen yet another significant milestone, with local elections passing off peacefully and with a high turnout. International observers, including representatives from Progressio (http://www.progressio.org.uk/content/somaliland ) and Somaliland Focus (http://www.somalilandfocus.org.uk/ ) have been favourably impressed by the degree of democratic engagement and minimal irregularities. Somaliland’s continuing spirit of calm, is just one of a number of reasons why economic activity has increased apace in recent years. The country’s strategic location coupled a general improvement in the international climate locally has helped foster a greater appreciation of Somaliland’s potential. Diaspora communities in the UK, USA, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, as well as Australia and New Zealand have maintained strong ties and there is increasing evidence of Somalis being eager to return to play a constructive role. Private enterprise is fast proving to be the dynamo of the economy. Mahamed Liban, the founder of Guul Group (http://www.guulgroup.com/) is typical of the bright, articulate members of the Somali Diaspora who are returning in droves, eager to share their knowledge and skills. Liban, one of an increasing number of British Somali entrepreneurs, is upbeat about the prospects for his Hargeisa-based company; “We have already been approached by a number of foreign investors, namely from Australia and the UK and Guul Group is well placed to facilitate commercial activity by drawing up on market insight, local knowledge and contacts. The company provides investment opportunities with the aim of attracting and working with foreign investors and strategic alliance partners on projects in Somaliland and potentially other Horn of Africa markets.” In common with other returning members of the Diaspora he recognizes that even as a Somali there is need for considerable readjustment; “Culture is enormously significant and so for someone who has been away for two decades, much will seem alien and so a measured approach is best.”. Liban is candid when talking about the challenges new businesses face; “…many returnees and foreigners have a distinct lack of local knowledge and market insight. It is important to remember that what might work or sell in Europe or the US will not necessarily work or sell here.” The fact that Somalis are happy to embrace new technology is an added draw and this will be further encouraged by the fact that the country is currently being connected to fibre optic cables. Economic development is well under way and there is increasing body of evidence to suggest that many foreign, Diaspora and local investors are going to achieve that thing they are all seeking, namely ‘Guul’ (meaning ‘success’ in Somali).