Africa: A Continent of Opportunities

Published on 23rd March 2012

I am told there is a strong relationship between business and politics. They say businesses need people to buy their products and services while politicians need people for votes! But whatever the difference, the bottom line is that the people are our business!! People’s interests are naturally of concern to both politicians and business people.

I wish to say from the outset that I am here to present an honest story of the huge potential of Africa, without necessarily whitewashing the challenges that have hindered and slowed down growth in the last few years. Developments in Africa confirm the star status of this continent as a natural destination for investment as characterized by the high growth rates; its abundant skills and a hospitable people that yearn for the best for itself and future generations.

The Arab Spring revolutions may have been the story of our continent in 2011, but the new boom of investment and the projection of $150 billion of FDI in Africa by 2015 shows a continent of great hope. The continent is where the next bubble is going to be and therefore a natural destination of choice for capital.

Remember I am coming from Zimbabwe, where an uneasy coalition has shown what bad politics can do to prospects of investment and prosperity. But I still carry great hopes, both for my country and the African continent.

Africa’s story almost makes sad reading. We are aware of history and the challenges that the post-liberation generation has posed to our potential due to their unmitigated greed, refusal to cede power, archaic economic policies, corruption and their brazen denial to embrace the culture of the brave 21st century. I say this because it is important to appreciate how our bad politics has sometimes clouded our sunshine status and the vast opportunities for growth and development that lie on this great continent.

While we have raised our own sovereign flags after independence, the new leadership in Africa has betrayed the continent’s collective struggle and inherited the same traits and culture of impunity, corruption, repression, mis-governance and personal aggrandisement. This has greatly affected our collective investment potential, soiled our image and created a huge challenge for us as the new crop of African leaders.
We have had to wage a new struggle for democracy against the former nationalists who have perfected the same repression that so many sons and daughters of this continent fought against for almost a century. This is because the new governments after independence have refused to accept that this is the brave 21st century; indeed the new and modern era underpinned by a new culture of multi-party democracy, tolerance, peace, stability and economic development.

Africa’s political story and its quest for investment and growth are closely interwoven. We have struggled on this continent to accept diversity, to be tolerant to divergent views and to create institutions that broaden rather than diminish the people’s basic rights and freedoms. All these things are important if we are to create opportunities of investment and growth so that we can improve the lives of the people, create jobs and trade with others as equal partners.

Some of our leaders have helped confirm the negative stereotype of a continent of political violence, conflict, disease, hunger and war. Somalia, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Madagascar have indeed dented our collective image and this explains why some of us in Zimbabwe are engaged in this democratic struggle in order to poise our country for growth and to set the correct image not only of our individual countries, but for Africa as a whole.

It is true that Africa is a country where different realities exist side by side, but it is also true that we remain a continent of hope both in terms of growth and investment, given our unique endowments. African economies are consistently growing faster than those of any other region of the world. Investment returns are unparalleled, with Zimbabwe ranked in the top 3 FDI destinations with the highest returns according to the Economist. Statistics show that the economies of at least 12 African countries have grown by more than 6% a year in the last few years. The World Bank reports that nine of the 15 countries in the world with the highest rate of recorded 5-year economic growths are in Africa.

A few years ago, Ethiopia was the bad story of Africa due to conflict, hunger and famine, but the same country is expected to grow by 7.5% this year, without a drop of oil to export. Once a by-word for famine, Ethiopia is now the world’s tenth-largest producer of livestock.

Personally, I see signs of hope for Africa; signs of a continent rising to the challenge and beginning to assert itself; a continent beginning to assert not only its political and economic rights, but its rightful tag as the destination of mutually beneficial investment.

Our negative history as a continent and as individual countries has not blighted us to new opportunities and the prospect of a new era for our people.

There has been massive economic revival in Rwanda despite its tortuous and painful national story while the big economies of South Africa and Nigeria continue to inspire the rest of the continent. There is renewed hope following the new government of South Sudan, there are encouraging signs of stability in the Ivory Coast and a post-conflict Libya could soon settle down after several months of internal conflict. So I am positive about this continent and its political and economic prospects.

I have often said that Africa is the opportunity continent because of its vast resources and its hospitable and hard-working people. We must be the new place to do business, not as junior partners, but in mutually beneficial partnerships that benefit the people of this great continent. Our problem has been that of big conglomerates, from both the East and the West, cutting deals with corrupt governments and carting away profits and unprocessed raw materials to the detriment of our countries and our people’s quest for jobs and a decent life. Indeed no country in history has made the transition to a developed state based on the export of unprocessed raw materials. This explains my shame at the fact that despite our vast riches as a continent, our leaders under the auspices of the AU recently met at a new headquarters built for them by foreigners as a “donation.”

While we are aware of our challenges, we are also aware of what we need to do in order to set and project our individual countries and our continent for growth and investment. True, the risks in Africa are generally high, but the high risks are aptly compensated by equally high returns.

While ICTs are the biggest growing sector in Africa, from 2 per cent in 2002 to 51 percent in 2010, the challenge for Africa in general, and Zimbabwe in particular, remains poor infrastructure such as road networks, mixed messages over indeginization and  nationalization laws that now cut across the whole of Africa as well as poor liquidity and limited fiscal space.

Most African countries are engaging in various programmes to address these set-backs so that they can compete favorably as the best investment destinations.

In the case of Zimbabwe, we have many opportunities in mining, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing and our quest to attract investment has been marred by our bad politics and a poorly crafted empowerment law which has largely scared away investors. We have successfully managed to mitigate the excesses of this law because we are an uneasy coalition, but the ultimate answer will lie in a free and fair election as a precondition for a legitimate government in Zimbabwe. My vision for Zimbabwe is a place where a credible and legitimate government would be able to address the issues of enablers such as ICTs, energy, road, rail and air transport systems.

We will have to build a strong economy, use market principles with safety nets and targeted policies in the context of a developmental State to promote economic and social justice and to provide jobs and uplift the people. My experience as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe is that peace is a key factor for investment. That is why policy consistency, stability and policy predictability are the key ingredients of luring investment. That is why I urge all of you to support the call for a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. Only a legitimately elected government, and not an uneasy coalition, can develop and implement a common vision and programmes that will deal with the massive unemployment and poverty that Zimbabwe currently faces.

Our country requires a break from the past; coupled with a clear programme underpinned by political and economic reforms, a commitment to the rule of law, defense of property rights and reward of individual effort. The immediate challenge for any new government in Zimbabwe would be creating peace and stability and embarking on an aggressive programme of infrastructure rehabilitation, resuscitation of our manufacturing potential and increasing our mining and agricultural productivity.

That challenge for us as the new crop of African leaders is to consign repression and misgovernance to the dustbins and creating a new society with a new ethos and new values that poise us for peace, stability, investment and growth. This is important because our toxic politics in Africa in general, and Zimbabwe in particular, have been the Achilles heel in our quest for investment and growth.

Some of us represent a new generation whose focus is mainly on building strong economies, creating jobs and developing a qualitative and affordable social delivery system especially in the fields of health and education.

It is commendable that Africa has embraced ICTs to become part of the global village. ICTs are a critical enabler for investment and development. They will enable us to realise our full potential and to bring all citizens to the same level in terms of economic development and access to information.

Our challenge is to differ from the old generation of African leaders which has pilfered national resources, pickpocketed the collective people’s struggle and shut their ears to the loud national demand for democracy and good governance.  They have personalised national institutions, perfected the art of political patronage and bastardised their own legacy all to the detriment of prosperity, investment and economic growth. A small elite in many African governments has benefitted from the national cake while the ordinary African survives on less than US$1 day. It is the same culture that brought about the spring revolutions when nations and their people became impatient with repressive leaders.

In conclusion, Africa is a continent of opportunity and growth but this must be done through clean investments which benefit the ordinary African citizen. From the point of view of economies of scale, Africa is no different from China. With its huge population of over one billion people, Africa can indeed marshal its huge market and its young population for greater economic benefit to its people.

While HIV/Aids remains a threat, it has not been as rampant as previously imagined on this continent. With more regional integration and resource mobilisation we can be able to determine the price of our primary products, to improve on beneficiation and to emphasise more on economic development than politics. Today’s generation is more concerned about economic welfare as the bottom-line issue than the toxic politics that has stood in the way of development in our countries.

In this regard, Zimbabwe is poised to be an engine for growth on the continent because of its geographical position which makes it an important hub in the movement of goods and services in Africa. The past decade has seen Africa slowly moving from conflict, stagnation, and dictatorships of the past and replacing them with steady economic growth, deepening democracy, improved governance, and decreased poverty. We are slowly seeing the emergence of:

(1) more democratic and accountable governments;
(2) more sensible economic policies;
(3) the end of the debt crisis and changing relationships with development partners;
(4) the spread of new technologies; and
(5) the emergence of a new generation of policymakers, activists, and business leaders.

The last factor is particularly important because it places a major responsibility on our shoulders and infuses hope that our generation will give Africa the boom that it requires to benefit from its resources and more importantly; to prosper its people. I am convinced that as a generation, we will not fail the people of Africa.

By Morgan Tsvangirai.

Rt. Hon. Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and President of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Excerpted from his keynote address at The Times CEO Summit Africa in London. Courtesy: Movement for Democratic Change.

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