By Richard Attias, The Huffington Post, March 11, 2013
It’s no secret that Africa has become a major success story. In 2012, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa, and this trend shows no signs of slowing. In 2012, growth hit 5.3 percent and it is predicted to increase this year. Meanwhile technology is transforming the continent. With 650 million subscribers, Africa’s mobile phone market now exceeds that of the U.S. or EU — a development that is changing lives. In addition to these startling figures, there is Africa’s young population, which, according to projections, will double over the next four decades.
These findings are a source of enormous excitement but they also require thoughtful consideration. I suggest that in looking to Africa’s future, six principles should govern decision-making in business and policy: independence, investment, incubation, innovation, infrastructure and inspiration — the six ‘I’s.
It is my firm belief that action on the issues that matter for Africa must emerge from within Africa itself. This does not imply insularity, but rather that the impetus should spring from African executives, companies and nations. Members of the diaspora community should play a part, too, by responding to the opportunities arising in their home countries. Africa should take its destiny into its own hands and support the creation of a new generation of political leaders. Such a process has already commenced and it comes with the hope and promise of attracting more foreign investment.
The scale and nature of the investments that are being made in Africa today will be fundamental in determining the course of African economies in coming decades. Foreign direct investment has shot up by an astonishing 50 percent since 2005, and going forward investments will not only occur in the continent’s traditional wealth of natural resources but also in the realms of agriculture and manufacturing. If properly managed, these funds could help to pay for much needed improvements in technology, science, natural resource management and infrastructure.
Inadequate infrastructure remains a major constraint across much of Africa, reducing economic growth and lowering productivity, sometimes by as much as 40 percent. To remove this obstacle to prosperity, African governments must identify the infrastructure needs that are most urgent in their countries and invest in those sectors. The United States and Europe could and should play a larger role and support a strategy of public-private partnerships and innovative business models.
The vital spark required to foster continued growth is innovation — in technology, services and energy. Already, Africans have led the way globally in adopting mobile methods of banking, and a recent World Bank report found that technology has the potential to transform businesses and governments. The stage must be set to facilitate a culture of entrepreneurial creativity and incubation.
For African societies, no issue looms larger than employment. Only vibrant entrepreneurship and thriving small businesses can hope to provide the millions of jobs that are needed. Africa has no lack of entrepreneurial talent — but policy-makers must lay the groundwork to ensure that this talent is able to flourish. The next big challenge is to see more and more “made in Africa” products and start-ups that will inspire future generations of leaders.
Without the driving force of inspiration — through the arts, through sports and through visionary leadership — many schemes and projects are likely to founder. Inspiration, in its rich variety, must be present in any discussion about Africa. We need role models — they are essential to the advancement of our society.
At the New York Forum Africa, which will take place in Gabon’s capital of Libreville this June, we aspire to make the opportunities open to Africans into tangible realities. The six ‘I’s I have outlined here will be the backbone of our summit. We will work to forge a roadmap for this great continent’s future and to build a unique platform for partnerships and collaboration.