Africa: A Continent with Immense Potential and Opportunities

Published on 18th December 2018

Africa had incredible potential. That potential is not just in sports. Africa today has enormous potential in agriculture, with 65% of the arable land left to feed the world by 2050. That means what Africa does with agriculture will determine the future of food, not just in Africa, but also in the world. Africa has some of the largest deposits of oil, minerals and metals. While potential is important, that’s not enough. Nobody eats potential. What is critical therefore, at the core of the agenda in Africa is how to unlock Africa’s immense potential.

Some ask the question whether the Africa rising story is over. Well, I don’t think Africa was ever down. The continent is not different from other parts of the world that pass through episodes of growth spurts and dips. The narrative on Africa should not be determined outside of Africa. Africa must control its own narrative.

The facts speak for themselves. GDP growth rates rose from 2.2% in 2016 to 3.5% in 2017, which is 3 times the projected average growth rate of 1.2% for Latin America and the Caribbean). Growth is expected to rise to 4% in 2019. At the African Development Bank, we estimate that 17 African countries are projected to grow in 2018 at above 5%, while 21 countries are estimated to grow at 3-5%, all of them above global growth average.

Africa’s population will rise to over 2 billion people by 2050, which will be the size of China and India taken together today! The continent at that time will have the highest number of youths in the world – all brimming with ideas, creativity and skills, which will make the continent the workshop of choice in the world.

Consumer spending will reach $2.5 trillion by 2030, while business-to-business investments will reach over $3.5 trillion in the same period. With rising middle class and rapid urbanization, consumer demand will lift the continent to a prime market that cannot be ignored.

Today, Africa is home to five of the world’s fastest growing economies. Things are looking even much better in 2019 and beyond. Only 4 countries will record negative growth in 2018, compared to 8 in previous years. FDI inflows which rose from $10 million in 2010, reaching $73 billion in 2013, before declining to $42 billion in 2017, is projected to recover to $50 billion in 2018.

Africa is leading globally on mobile banking. With over 770 million mobile phone users, including 244 million with smart phones, the continent is witnessing a digital revolution that could thrust it forward, faster, in e-commerce.

Africa offers huge opportunities for investments in energy, especially renewable energy. Today, there are over 600 million people in Africa without access to electricity. To tackle that the African development bank is investing $12 billion in energy over the next five years, and we hope to leverage $45-50 billion. That’s a huge investment opportunity for energy companies in Italy, especially for distributed energy for off-grids and mini-grids.

We have launched our boldest effort yet on renewable energy, the Desert to Power Initiative, to help provide electricity for 250 million persons across the Sahel, using solar to develop 10,000 MW of electricity. This will be the largest solar power zone in the world. This is a huge opportunity for energy companies.

There is a linkage between lack of electricity and migration. Many migrate out of Africa, especially in places lacking electricity, to Europe, in search of a better life. To address migration crisis in Europe, Italy and Europe should help Africa have access to electricity. With access to electricity across Africa, economic opportunities will expand, especially for the youth, industries will run, and quality jobs will be created.

I do not believe that the future of Africa’s youth lies in Europe. It also does not lie at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Their future lies in an Africa that is growing well, with inclusive growth and able to create quality jobs.

To help address the jobs crisis for the youth in Africa, where 10 million youth enter the labour market each year without getting jobs, the African development bank has launched a massive initiative: Jobs for Youth in Africa. Our goal is bold, timely and transformative: to help African countries to create 25 million jobs over a ten-year period. We are focusing on agriculture as a business, ICT and small and medium sized businesses. The youth are Africa’s greatest assets. What we do for the youth today will determine the future of Africa.

We are also investing heavily in women. No bird can fly with one wing. Africa will develop faster when it fully harnesses the full potential of its women. Equality for women in Africa will assure Africa’s greater economic future. To achieve this, we must ensure that women businesses all across Africa have access to finance. We know that women pay back their loans and are indeed better than men in this aspect. However, there are inherent and systemic biases against women in many of the financial institutions. The Bank is determined to help turn this around.

That’s why the Bank launched the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) to help de-risk lending to women by banks and finance institutions in Africa. The Bank plans to develop a rating index that will rate and rank all financial institutions on the continent based on their lending to women. Our goal is to leverage $3 billion for women over five years and tilt the entire financial system in Africa in favor of women. We would like Italy to help champion AFAWA and together, we can finally create a level financial playing field for women in Africa.

Between 2010-2017, the Bank delivered the following to Africans: 27 million gained access to new or improved electricity connections; 49 million people benefitted from improvements in agriculture; 899,000 small businesses benefitted from financial services; 78 million people benefitted from improved access to transport; 35 million people benefitted from better access to water and sanitation. The Bank is also working in fragile states and helping such countries to address the fundamental root causes of fragility and to move into more resilient economies.  

Africa leads the world in terms of the total number of business and regulatory reforms - two years in a row since 2016. The G20 Compact with Africa is showing results. Of the 101 policy, business and investment regulatory commitments made, 98 are on track. As a result of these reforms compact countries are attracting significantly increased levels of investments.

That’s why the African Development Bank launched the Africa Investment Forum. The Africa Investment Forum, which held its inaugural event on 7-9 November in Johannesburg, South Africa, was a tremendous success. We had over 2000 participants and 350 investors, including pension funds and sovereign wealth funds, from 53 countries across the world. And within 72 hours project investment deals worth $38.7 billion were signed.   To put this in context that's 97% of the total Foreign Direct Investments of Africa last year. 

That’s the Africa I am talking about: the land of opportunities. It is critical to change the lenses with which we look at Africa, away from the lenses of development, to lenses of investments.

The Continental Free Trade Area for Africa (CFTA) will become the largest free trade zone in the world since World Trade Organization was established since 1948. The CFTA is projected to expand intra-Africa trade by about $35 billion per year.The African development bank is financing hard infrastructure in the form of ports, railways, roads, airports, power, ICT and water and sanitation. The Bank’s lending is between US$8-10 billion annually, of which approximately 50% goes into infrastructure.

Welcome to a new Africa where much is being done to unlock the continent’s incredible potential. Welcome to a new Africa where massive investment opportunities exist. Welcome to a new Africa that is open for business to the rest of the world.

U.S. Senator Chris Coons in announcing the recent establishment of the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation said "We always asked what's the next China after China? Well, appropriately, China figured it out. It's Africa." German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "In the past we have looked towards Asia. In the future we should look more to Africa." That future, ladies and gentlemen, is now. And Africa knows it! 

An Italian saying calls us to action: “Il tempo è prezioso” - “time is precious.” Let’s urgently take actions, together, to create the better economic opportunities in Africa. A prosperous Africa is the antidote to the migration crisis in Europe. The time for that is now – and the African Development Bank is your strategic partner. Together, let us join hands to unlock Africa’s huge

By Akinwumi A. Adesina

President, African Development Bank. 

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