BY DELIA DE VILLIERS
For years Africa has been shrouded in controversy when it comes to its future potential. The optimists talk about Africa as the next economic frontier, while the sceptics point to a low growth rate, poverty and conflict as key challenges standing in the way of notable development.
Yet, the continent has grown its economy by around 5 percent a year over the past decade, is as urbanised as China and has as many cities as Europe with a population of more than one million, according to Future Agenda.
The World Bank reports that sub-Saharan Africa is “home to more than 1 billion people, half of whom will be under 25 years old by 2050”, suggesting that the workforce of the future is based here. They go on to say that Africa is a “diverse continent offering human and natural resources that have the potential to yield inclusive growth and eradicate poverty”.
While potential is not a measure of performance, what is productive is to consider the motivations of businesses opting either to enter the African market or expand operations on the continent. And that’s notwithstanding the challenges, or as Shaw Mabuto, partner at private equity firm Spear Capital, puts it: “While there are undoubtedly risks in Africa, they are well known and understood. Investors can mitigate for them.”
Spear Capital is particularly excited about the opportunities in the ESG (environmental, social, governance) space in Africa. “There are many businesses that have been able to thrive in spite of the prevailing environment and lack of government support. With the right backing, companies across the continent can grow successfully while at the same time making the world a better place and providing returns to their investors,” Mabuto says.
Google’s recent announcement of plans to invest $1 billion (R15.6bn) to support digital transformation in Africa is another very positive indicator of the potential of the continent. The investment, which was announced in October 2021, will be used to enable affordable internet access and building helpful products, for investments in entrepreneurship and technology, as well as to empower businesses as they continue or embark on their digital transformation.
This positive sentiment about Africa’s potential is echoed by a number of businesses who have chosen to expand their operations on the continent.
Picking your next market is key
When SweepSouth decided to scale their business across the African continent in 2020, they chose Kenya as the first territory to launch their on-demand home services model outside of South Africa’s borders. Three months ago they started operations in Nigeria, and plans are now afoot to expand further into Africa.
“There are so many factors that go into choosing a new market, so we decided to look at countries where people experience the same sort of home-care needs South Africans required when SweepSouth was started,” says Aisha Pandor, SweepSouth chief executive.
Kenya and Nigeria were obvious choices, representing big-market regions with a high growth opportunity, ever-increasing internet penetration and digital literacy, and the potential for positive impact on employment, education and economic growth via smart, scalable technology solutions.
“Kenya appealed to us because it felt like an in-between in terms of culture, market segment and dynamics, and also smartphone and internet penetration when compared with West Africa. And Nigeria is a really exciting new venture that we hope will serve as a base for further expansion into the West African region,” says Pandor.
West Africa, too, is increasingly recognised as an area of economic and growth interest for businesses looking to get a foothold on the continent.
Integrated PR and marketing agency Irvine Partners recently opened an office in Ghana in response to an increasing number of their global clients needing support there. The agency already has wholly owned offices in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, and has realised the potential of this West African country.
“Most of our clients’ interest in the region stems from Ghana’s position as a tech hub within sub-Saharan Africa and its growing financial services industry, but we’re also seeing many other industries looking to invest in and expand into the country. Strategically, it makes a lot of sense for us to have a presence in the country and we’re optimistic about its potential,” says managing director Hayley van der Woude.
Beyond the obvious
Importantly, the interest in Africa extends beyond the traditionally popular economic areas such as Lagos, Nairobi and Accra, with Mauritius serving as a prime example of potential beyond the obvious. It is currently the top-ranked economy in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Index and is recognised for offering a sound political and economic environment that strongly encourages investment thanks to a sophisticated banking system, a favourable tax regime and low inflation.
These are among the main reasons.
The Business Exchange (TBE), a South African-launched serviced office offering, not only expanded operations to Mauritius but also designed an investment opportunity for others with their sectional title shared office investment that offers a safe and affordable way to get into this bustling market.
“Mauritius, in our view, is fast becoming one of the hottest investment hubs on the continent. Major international brands, including Samsung, Broll, Expedia and NBA (North America’s National Basketball Association), are based at our serviced office space there, which speaks to the interest in the location and offers an indication of its dynamism as a business destination,” says David Seinker, the founder and chief executive of TBE.
Lastly, but certainly very significantly, when it comes to businesses where customer-centricity is key, such as banking and telecoms, African players compete more effectively than their international counterparts, according to a finding in the Boston Consulting Group’s digital maturity index.
“It’s also hardly surprising that these are two sectors where Africa has led the world when it comes to technology-led innovation,” says Ngadi Job Goshi, the general manager at Liferay Africa. “Ultimately, while Africa may be less digitally mature than other markets, there can be no doubt that businesses on the continent are unafraid to embrace technology and innovation. And, in the customer-centric ways in which they’ve done so, despite facing adversity and strong headwinds, there are lessons for the rest of the world in the tenacity and ingenuity birthed and nurtured in the African soil.”
Delia de Villiers is the senior account manager, Irvine Partners.