While Africa is on the move, most of the world slumbers. Why do I say this? In Charlotte, North Carolina, a “new” market for promoting business in Africa, I had the great opportunity to speak about the business potential in Africa on a local radio talk show with Vince Coakley. But I was shocked that the majority of people, who called in, were harsh in their perspectives on Africa, particularly South Africa. This woke me up to how much the world still needed to be awakened to business in the New Africa.
The callers saw no hope or light. They were mostly truthful about what they had to say about crime, corruption, and security in what they understood. They weren’t vicious, but you could tell they actually believed or felt what they were saying.
I reminded the audience that US history wasn’t so great for human rights and politics in the 1800s. We had one of the bloodiest civil wars in history almost a hundred years into our history. And even though we are supposed to be a beacon for human rights today, we have a lot of problems here in the US.
African democracies are at most 60 years old and places like DR Congo less than ten years. Countries in this stage of development will not have the institutional strength, or strong rule of law in general, as mature democracies yet they grow fast and provide opportunities unmatched elsewhere.
The final point I made was that every country has its problems, but also has opportunities. It’s important to find what works for you in business and be open to possibilities.
This experience re-affirms my opening statement. There is a New Africa, but most of the world is unaware and little is being done to wake them up to the full reality of the Africa of today and of the future.
You probably think that this article is about the callers and people like them, but it’s not. It’s about the millions of people who know something about the New Africa, but remain silent, passive, or accepting of what is said and propagated. Everyone should have a right to speak and to his or her opinion, but those opinions do not have to go unchallenged or probed.
We who know should be sharing about the things in Africa that do work and how it is progressing. While admitting that Africa has the highest rate of poverty and HIV/AIDs in the world, we should be pointing out that the rate of poverty has slowed and the number of new HIV/AIDS cases is slowing compared to the growth of the continent’s population.
In business, we should be sharing about the low debt levels in many of the countries compared to the West and how investment risk in the West is rising. Also, we should be sharing about the impact African innovation is having on the mobile sector around the world. While this is “old” news to many of us, it is “new” news to most of the world.
It is not about create platforms to change the perception of Africa, even though more are needed. It is about individuals and organizations embedding Africa into normal, everyday, mainstream conversation. If people are talking about interesting news, share a comparative or insightful perspective on what is happening in Africa.
If you are focusing on business and investment in Africa, here are a few tips I gave on “pitching” Africa when I spoke last year at the launch of one of our books at the World Bank:
- Let Africa sell itself.
- Watch the terms you use, e.g., wealth creation versus poverty reduction.
- Be authentic – share realities, successes, and potential.
- Place Africa in context of what is happening in other global regions.
- Focus on Africa as an upcoming, emerging region, which already has close to 20 emerging economies.
- Don’t sell Africa at the exclusion of other global regions, but as part of a global strategy – one of several regions a global business strategy should touch.
- Explain how Africa can be used to expand markets and extend globally.
- Show people who have a passion to make a difference in Africa how they can achieve this by supporting for-profit ventures, or market-based social enterprises, which are more sustainable.
We also need to broaden our engagement. We need to move beyond circles that are familiar with Africa and get into mainstream business and social groups and share about the continent. Go and plant seeds where conversation about Africa in terms of business and investment would be new.
One caller shared his experience about being in Cote d’Ivoire. He found the people to warm, welcoming, and hard-working. He said Cote d’Ivoirien pineapples were much better than Hawaiian, and if he had the money he would invest there.
This caller represents to me an untapped, deep spring of people that I know exists. We just need to reach them.
And concerning the rest of the world, it’s not up to the world to change its perception of Africa. It’s up to us to create a new perception of Africa.