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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 June 2006, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
'Is Africa open for business?'
Viewpoint
Luyton Driman
South African trading specialist

African trading specialist, Luyton Driman
Luyton has been involved in African business for more than two decades

The World Economic Forum on Africa opened proceedings in Cape Town, South Africa under the banner "Going for Growth". Unfortunately it kicked off with a whimper instead of the aplomb that the organisers had in mind.

The reasons are numerous and various.

But when one gets to grip with the degrees of apathy and malaise the international community has regarding investment and trading in Africa, for all the age-old reasons of corruption, nepotism, dictatorial regimes and the on-going undercurrent of debt relief, one can see why proceedings have not come up to par with expectations.

Clearly the developed world sees Africa as one, with no inherent borders, therefore all the countries collectively are tarred with the same negative points as afore mentioned.

World players

However, this is a gross misconception because Africa is most definitely 54 separate countries, which are as diverse in all respects, as they are similar.

Miners working in a South African gold mine
Gold is South Africa's main export

In order for any of these countries to lose this "drag-net" effect, one needs to recognise those countries that are purposefully driving themselves to become players on the world stage, especially with regards to trade; some examples are Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Angola, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco.

Many other countries have other opportunities on offer - agriculturally, logistically or geographically.

It is also very interesting to note that the continent offers nine of the most highly sought after minerals and agricultural products on the planet; some of these include oil, diamonds, gold, platinum, exotic woods, cocoa and coffee.

Quadrants

Somebody once asked me: "What is the African way of doing business?"

My response was: "How much time have you got?"

One must understand that the continent is basically divided into quadrants and to walk you through my logic of how things hang together, consider that the roots of colonisation had plenty to do with the way entrepreneurs have had to go about performing their tasks in Africa today.

  • The northern countries of the continent are basically Arabic in all aspects, with heavy influences from the French (Morocco and Algeria), the Italians (Libya and Tunisia) and the British (Egypt)

  • The eastern side of the continent was mostly influenced by the Italians (Ethiopia and Eritrea) the British (Kenya and Uganda) and the Germans (Tanzania)

  • The southern side of the continent was weighted to the British and the Dutch (South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), whereas the central section was Belgian (DR Congo and Rwanda) and let's not overlook the Portuguese who left a legacy in Mozambique and Angola

  • The western side of the continent was driven by a large French influence and still is, this includes countries like Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Gabon and Cameroon. The exceptions are English-speaking countries like Nigeria and Ghana. One of the most oil rich areas in the world are around the tiny islands of Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe which were at one stage controlled by the Spanish and Portuguese respectively.

Objectives

Projects and organisations like the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), the United Nations, the World Bank and numerous non-government organisations (NGOs) are doing sterling work to promote, build, grow and develop business in many African countries.

Traders display their goods and wait for people to buy telephones at the computer village market in Lagos, Nigeria
The telecommunications sector is booming across Africa

The objectives here are obvious - sustainable development, employment and the gradual positive growth of the per capita income of the populations on this continent.

A net return for international investors would also be forthcoming in this situation.

In conjunction with these organisational inputs, there is a huge opportunity in the world of skills training and development in many African markets and countries as many individuals find out that there is fast becoming a demand for skilled people like computer technicians, telecoms technicians and motor mechanics.

The rub off to like-minded companies and organisations wanting to enter into any of these markets, offering any of these skills is obvious.

'Bring back'

An interesting point to note is that approximately 37% of Africa's wealth is in fact invested out of the continent and Gerald Meyerman of the World Bank has challenged, "Africans to bring back their investments from London and the USA to Africa."

Clearly a sure sign that the road to investor confidence is on the rise, albeit for selected regions on the continent.

The inherent lack of understanding by the international community by and large concerning the many diverse cultures, steeped traditions and historical issues concerning tribalism/nepotism which in some instances tend to lean heavily into the camp of self-empowerment for any given political party, government or individual, will not just cease; it will take time.

People who want to trade in Africa have to learn how to deal with its peoples, the same way as people have to learn how to deal with the anomalies on any other continent.


Do you agree with Luyton Driman's views? What do you think about the continent's economic prospects? To have your say on this opinion piece and send us your views please click on the link below.

Luyton's book which covers these issues is called Going the extra mile - a guide to trading in Africa.


SEE ALSO:
Ask an African business expert
09 Feb 06 |  Africa


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