Reana RossouwWritten by

Africa starts shaping its own future – and the world is noticing

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We’ve had news to this effect from various fronts, but we now have good reason to believe that 2018 – and beyond – will be Africa’s time.

Globally, the disruptions, challenges and tensions of the past few years will continue, but there is hope for better economic growth worldwide. Even more so in Africa, where exponential growth is expected in most economies this year – an increase of 0,6% from last year in general and a whopping 5% for a third of the countries.

There are various well-founded reasons for this expectation, but one can say that in general it is the result of Africa starting to look after itself in a unique African way. People are coming together, dictating their own reality, shaping their own future, making change happen for themselves – and the world is taking note.

In a very tangible way, we see an increasingly strong pan-African identity developing, with African fashion, décor, music, films and food entering new and prominent world markets with confidence and success. Africa is stepping into its power, showing that she knows what’s best for her, what’s important to her, that she doesn’t need to be shown the way, and can realise positive growth and change herself, while influencing the world around her as well.

Africa speaks for itself

Recent years have seen African leaders increasingly voicing their dismay with systems, services and leaders, but also sharing their successes freely and with confidence with the rest of the world. Social media and ongoing news coverage on various mediums have been playing in Africa’s hand in distributing information.

Internally, we see that in positive political changes due to pressure by the people – three long-serving presidents (Angola, Zimbabwe and Gambia) exited last year; and locally Jacob Zuma left the building. Externally, Africa is taking on global companies and governments that invest heavily in Africa, but take even more, such as global shell companies in the gas, oil and mining sectors, sheltering billions from some of the poorest countries every year. Africa’s discontent with these practices has manifested in international policy changes.

Give Africa what it really needs

Africa is demanding that the world listens to the continent and understands its needs and address those, without dictating what it should do.

Likewise, the development community of Africa increasingly demands a say in what happens to money coming to Africa as social investments, aid, funding and suchlike. While Africa has been receiving aid adding up to billions of dollars, and still needs all the help it can get, the continent is showing the world that we can look after our own in unique, efficient and sustainable ways, and will continue to do so. The general trend even suggests a steady decline in aid dependency.

There are many success stories in Africa’s social development arena of new social enterprises that deliver value for money, high impact and ROI. Social media enabled them to easily share their impact stories and insights with the rest of the world, showing that social innovation and social entrepreneurship across Africa are alive and thriving. Applying indigenous knowledge through local networks in innovative and resilient ways have been recognised outside Africa for worldclass and effective development practices. The mantra “For Africa by Africa” or #FABA is sweeping the continent and it’s inspiring the world, providing knowledge on future development practice.

Yes, Africa can lead in sustainable development, and has many aspects working in its favour to create and offer huge investment opportunities – social and otherwise:

  • Africa has a proven track record of reinventing and creating innovative solutions. We have the ability to often achieve a lot with little resources under difficult circumstances. Africa has a resilience that is hard to find outside the continent.
  • It embraces new technology and explores every possible way the various technological solutions – especially mobile – can integrate in and improve lives, work and the environment.
  • Africa can develop flexible fuel solutions that generate power with a mix of wind, solar, hydro and bio energy, alongside conventional fuels such as oil and gas, which are also abundant. This creates several opportunities for investors – social, impact and otherwise. Although about half of Africa’s population still don’t have access to electricity, the energy sector is thriving with renewables that are already attracting large investments, bringing more power to more people than ever before.
  • Nowhere on earth is there as much unused or poorly used arable land. No wonder then that agriculture – the industry roughly two-thirds of Africans depend on for their bread and butter – is set to boom beyond our wildest dreams – and the world wants more and more to explore these opportunities and cash in on it. African governments are investing in revolutionising the agricultural sector, probably the biggest source of optimism in the African economy. Africa is blessed with many natural advantages and rising market opportunities that could be leveraged for agricultural transformation and with a youthful workforce and tech-savvy agricultural entrepreneurs, things can only improve.

On the point of technology: with about 1 billion mobile subscribers (Africa’s population stands at almost 1,3 billion), internet users are around 460 million, which is about 11% of the world’s internet users. Africans are transforming the way they live and work, utilising mobile solutions, and international funders are creating shared capital at the same time, e.g. in:

  • Farming: International agri-business Olam has used mobile to reach out to new African suppliers and farmers with positive impact.
  • Banking: Mobile payment networks, like those pioneered in East Africa, opened the wired, global economy to poor, unbanked city and rural dwellers, giving them access to money and financial services without having to have a bank account.
  • Living: Immediate access to information mainly through mobile apps, access to more services, as well as connecting with new markets to offset their products and services.
  • Health: The Novartis Foundation uses mobile healthcare technology, sometimes called mHealth, to change the way doctors and patients interact. Medical education apps give patients access to information to diagnose their problem even before they consult a doctor.
  • Education: We’ve seen a growth in e-learning technology adoption at unprecedented rates and it is set to increase dramatically. Various e-learning platforms all work towards using e-learning to promote the development of the continent’s education infrastructure. Nigerian startup Sterio.me does not even require internet access and can be accessed through any basic phone.
  • Insurance: Applications of connected devices across the insurance industry are extensive and have the potential to revolutionise claims processing, product pricing and fraud detection. Besides, people expect to find information on the internet and interact with their insurance company online. Insurance companies just have to adapt.

Mobile is the area where Africa has pushed beyond the boundaries in the developed world. No wonder then that Africa wants social and impact investors, funders and grantmakers to trust the local development community with their investments without prescribing how and where it should be spent. Western, Eastern, European and American ways are not the African way and shouldn’t be forced on Africa. We have our own, indigenous development models based on culture, development priorities and needs, and a top-down approach from investors from the West and East, will not work. It never really has.

Tap into local knowledge and collaborate

So many projects of international companies have failed in the past because they’ve ignored local input, cooperation, collaboration and knowledge before implementing. Some programmes are receiving billions of dollars from outside investors that simply go to waste as there are no local consultation and involvement.

The Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline to the Atlantic Ocean, a World Bank investment of $4,2 billion, comes to mind. It was funded on condition that the money be spent with international supervision to develop Chad. However, the country’s laws changed, which saw the money being used for other purposes.

Another is the Lake Turkana fish processing plant in Kenya, a Norwegian government development donation of $22 million. The project was designed to provide jobs to the Turkana people through fishing and fish processing for export. However, the Turkana are nomads with no history of fishing or eating fish. The plant was completed, but was quickly shut down as operating costs to run the freezers and the demand for clean water in the desert were too high.

These and other case studies are testament to the notion that without close consultation and participation of the local community, a development project that is supposed to benefit the locals can end up achieving the opposite, wasting huge amounts of aid. As seen in the examples above, those involved with development work often venture into indigenous communities with a know-it-all approach, hoping to create positive change. Despite their good intentions, their initiatives often fail because there is no consultation or engagement with the locals, no attempts to determine their needs, to understand cultural beliefs and gender norms, taking local knowledge into account and involving the community in creating, running and maintaining the programme.

For a development project or programme to work in Africa, a bottom-up approach that emphasises community involvement in key decision-making and project-implementation steps is necessary. Aid and/or investment in whatever form needs to help create inclusion, encouraging partnerships and collaborations on both an international and national level between all stakeholders in the development sector – local communities, companies and entities, but also governments.

Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and Rwanda are shining examples of the power of collaboration for the greater good beyond borders. It is time for investors to break the silo mentality in development, to go across geographical borders and work together with stakeholders in innovative and impactful ways to leverage the energy of all Africans to become more resilient and shape the continent’s future for the better.

Made in Africa for Africa – Africa’s time has come, presenting a myriad of social and other investment opportunities, the success of which is dependent on working with Africa and being guided by Africa.

Next Generation’s Reana Rossouw presents practical, useful, interactive master classes on
(1) Stakeholder engagement and management, (2) Human rights management, (3) Strategic social investment and (4) Monitoring, evaluation, impact and return on investment assessment. See the full brochure (including dates and booking details).

Author Reana Rossouw is one of Africa’s leading experts on social innovation, sustainable development, shared value and inclusive business strategies. As director of Next Generation Consultants, a specialised management consultancy, she believes strongly in contributing to the development and capacity-building of the sector.

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