While recent events in Gabon and Zimbabwe have once again painted the African continent in a negative light, there is plenty of good news on the continent … and South Africa is getting left behind by its compatriots.
This was the overarching message from the first Intra-Africa trade workshop hosted by the SME Movement at Workshop 17 in Sandton recently which was addressed by South African author Victor Kgomoeswana and mining consultant Rhulani Maluleke from mining consultancy HAPE.
“For people who point to the recent events in Zimbabwe and Gabon as an indication of what is happening on the continent, I’ll point to developments in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana who are all attracting foreign investment, skills and building critical infrastructure,” says Kgomoeswana.
This view was echoed by Maluleke who focused on the opportunities in the mining sector: “In South Africa, the mining sector is a hot topic politically and this has impacted investment but we are rolling out projects across the continent and I can tell you now that there is huge investment taking place beyond the South African borders.”
Both speakers however cautioned that it was no longer a case of “If” South Africa was being left behind but “How far” the country was falling behind its regional peers.
“Try and book a business class ticket to Ghana and I can guarantee you will find Afrikaans farmers regularly filling the seats on that route trying to find meaningful new business. You want to fly on a world-class airline? You book yourself on Ethiopia Airlines which is one of the best in the world,” says Kgomoeswana
For Maluleke, there is an under-appreciation in South Africa of just how important on-going infrastructure investment is: “We as a business work out of Johannesburg – which positions itself as a world-class African city – and yet I now get faster internet in Kenya. Similarly we point to the Gautrain [which took its first passengers in 2010] as an example of an infrastructure project and while it’s great initiative, Senegal has just rolled out its high-speed train – where is our ongoing investment?”
The panel also pointed to the 2018 announcement by technology entrepreneur Jack Ma from Alibaba who selected Kenya over South Africa for the home base for their “Netpreneurs” investment.
Both speakers were unanimous that while the African continent goes through teething pains, it remains alive with a variety of opportunities for entrepreneurs who are prepared to take time to explore and understand what is happening on the ground in these high-growth regions.
“I think this is where we see ourselves playing a critical role,” says event organizer York Zucchi representing the SME Movement. “When we asked the audience today how many of them had actually traveled into the rest of Africa to pursue either business or tourism opportunities, only a handful of hands went up because they don’t know how to make connections in new regions – our Intra-Africa trade portal intends filling this gap and stimulating investment on the continent.”