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The future of Africa

I promise to shut up about African developments after this post, for a while anyway, but there’s a definite feeling that Africa may set the standards for a cheaper, easier financial system in the future, as blogged last week.  In fact, when I was asked about Africa as a continent in Kenya, I said that it felt a bit like China in 1995.  A transformational 25 years are ahead and may fundamentally change the continent (if they can overcome the distrust between nations).  To corroborate this, some friends of mine at SAMI (Strategic Analysis and Management Insights) ran a recent future vision program on Africa, and came up with some views that support mine.  Here’s a copy of their blog from last year that summarises this:

This may be the half-century where Africa comes into its own.

Many in the North dismiss Africa as the land of entrenched dysfunction: too much corruption, too little infrastructure and education, and ineradicable intertribal conflict. The riches of Africa are recognized – well recognized, with visible proof in the number of both nations and multi-nationals scouring the continent for access to those riches. But payments for extracting that wealth seems to enter the country and leave the country in the same breath. In the Harvard Business Review essay, “Will Africa’s Growth Help Africa’s People?”, Kanayo F. Nwanze (President, United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development) makes the point that while every news report seems to underline the dysfunction, hot spots of economic dynamism and growth are expanding on the African continent.

“Every day, we see images of what would appear to be a continent racked by conflict and poverty, and people risking – often losing – their lives in an attempt to flee. Yet Africa has 11 of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world. Africa has enormous resources, and almost half of the world’s uncultivated land that is suitable for growing food crops.” [1]

He acknowledges that the wealth generated often benefits only a few, with more than $69 billion in illicit outflows in 2014 alone. And his argument is that abundant resources by themselves do not generate widespread wealth. Wealth generation requires intangible resources: leadership, good governance, accountability, commitment to the rule of law, and an environment that attracts investors – along with the “social responsibility to pay fair wages, create decent employment, and pay taxes.” Recent developments point to the accelerating emergence of those intangible resources.

Both creativity and entrepreneurial spirit are flourishing in Africa. Mfonobong Nsehe, writing in Forbes,[2] notes that Africa’s new generation of innovators are creating new products and services “with global appeal and commercial viability in any part of the world.” Examples include:

Mubser, invented by Khaled Shady at Menoufia University, Egypt, is a wearable navigational aid that helps visually impaired people safely and comfortably make their way around unfamiliar surroundings. (http://www.risingafrica.org/success-stories/business/young-ceo-22yrs-from-egypt-invents-navigational-technology-for-the-blind/ )

Mellowcabs, developed by South African entrepreneur Neil du Preez, are high-tech electric pedicabs manufactured from recycled materials. (www.mellowcabs.com)

Saphon Energy, where Tunisian founders Hassine Labaied and Anis Aouini are developing the Saphonian wind turbine. The Saphonian is a blade-less, rotation-less turbine that uses a sail-like design for highly-efficient conversion of wind energy into hydraulic pressure. (www.saphonenergy.com)

Cardiopad, developed by Cameroonian researcher Arthur Zang, enables heart tests like ECGs to be transmitted wirelessly back to doctors in Douala or Yaounde – or even to specialists in Europe – using a basic touchscreen tablet. http://learningenglish.voanews.com/content/cameroon-engineer-invent-cardiopad/2462021.html

Kadi Energy of Ghana was founded by Paul-Miki Akpablie, who invented a long-lasting, portable energy storage battery that can be charged with solar power – with the goal of bringing electricity to the 86% of people in Ghana who lack access to it. (www.kadi-energy.com)

But it’s not just engineering and design know-how and creativity – Africa’s entrepreneurs are also exemplars of leadership and social innovation. One example is Global Minimum, Inc, founded by David Moinina Sengeh of Sierra Leone to engage his country’s children in Innovation Labs (www.gmin.org).[3]

She Leads Africa, co-founded by Yasmin Belo-Osagie of Lagos, identifies and grooms women business leaders who are capable of creating thriving businesses that will increase employment in their communities. (www.sheleadsafrica.org)

The Tunisian Centre for Social Enterprise was started by Asma Mansour as a counter to brain drain and to engage talented young people in social entrepreneurship focussed on local job creation. (www.facebook.com/TnCSE)

Saisai Wireless was co-founded by then 22-year-old Takunda Chingonzo of Zimbabwe, to bring free internet to the public – because he sees it as the one key tool for lowering the cost of doing any business, and magnifies innovation within a community as well. (www.saisai.co)

What sort of future might all this invention and entrepreneurialism create for Africa? As part of its anniversary year, the Industrial Research Institute engaged in scenario building for the future of research, development, and innovation – the IRI 2038 Futures Study. Of the four scenarios generated from a process that combined futures wheels, systems mapping, and narrative construction, one in particular focussed on Africa:

Africa Leapfrogs Developed Markets

In this scenario rising environmental values push recognition of the rights of the natural environment under national law in much of the developed world. This hobbles any new projects that might exploit land for mining, farming, or manufacturing. Zero-waste and cradle-to-grave economic patterns combined with 3D printing and ‘de-printing’ – the disassembly of 3D printed commodities and re-use of their constituent materials in the next print run – to create an economy of ‘hyper-competitive churn.’ In this hyper-competitive space, big data and ethnographic customer analytics allow rapid fine-tuning and production of commodities to suit society’s rapidly changing tastes and desires, with customers quickly growing addicted to novelty.

Where use of natural resources in the developed economies is increasingly constrained, Africa’s relatively underleveraged resource wealth becomes a critical resource – a resource that African countries begin to re-nationalize.

“Unsaddled by legacy power grids and factories, Africa leapfrogs the west in the development of the new economy. Massively Open Online Courseware (MOOCs), allows African students to excel in the sciences by having access to the best educators in the world at virtually zero cost. A new generation of highly educated Africans self-organizes in Accra, Ghana and by 2038 the network of skilled labor, money from natural resources, and companies unencumbered by high manufacturing assets has created the equivalent of Silicon Valley, but moving at twice the speed. African companies compete with lower costs, higher transformative innovation from younger engineers and scientists, and the ability to sell innovations from Africa to increasingly poorer developed economies. The center of gravity for innovation moves to Africa, where funds and tolerance for big transformative innovation grow, as opposed to the developed economies’ rapid churn of incremental innovation.”

So take a closer look at Africa – not for its material wealth, but for its human wealth. What you see may surprise you.

[1] Harvard Business Review online, https://hbr.org/2015/07/will-africas-growth-help-africas-people , accessed 16 July 2015.

[2] Forbes online, http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2014/02/13/seven-innovative-products-from-africa-you-should-know/ , accessed 16 July 2015.

[3] Huffington Post The Blog, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-moinina-sengeh/four-young-african-innova_b_7243534.html accessed 16 July 2015.

If you enjoyed this blog, sign up for SAMI’s monthly newsletter at eSAMIsignup@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse their website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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