All across the continent, citizens in their respective countries have an increased confidence in the future of Africa. With the growing Ebola outbreak, and recent insecurity in countries like Nigeria and Kenya, the continent is (as usual) in the international news more for negative reasons than positive. Despite numerous challenges, the continent is on an upward trajectory as robust growth and rising incomes lead to the development of new internal markets for consumer goods while increasingly attracting foreign investment.
Africa is a young continent with a rapidly growing population. Each one of these individuals has basic needs for food, shelter, health and even leisure that must be fulfilled regardless of security challenges. There is also a great need for investment in power and infrastructure which will further transform the face of the continent. Investors who do well in Africa understand that business geared towards meeting needs of the masses offers the best returns. Most importantly they understand the kinds of consumers their businesses serve and are prepared to roll out sales and distribution programs optimized for infrastructure poor environments.
As the continent’s economic outlook improves, so too does governance. Over the last fifteen years, numerous countries have held relatively peaceful democratic elections that have seen increasing voter participation. The continent still has a long way to go, but as more people grow in their understandings of the democratic process, elected leaders will necessarily have to pay greater attention to the desires of the electorate. In addition, an emerging younger generation of internationally connected leaders who wish for Africa to play a larger role in global events are increasingly driving the conversation at home and abroad. Informed, vocal and experts with new technologies these young leaders are circumventing traditional political infrastructures to bring messages of accountability, transparency and change directly to their fellow citizens.
Africa’s time is now. The continent is changing day by day as it experiences the same growth that Asia enjoyed during the 20th century. Though still heavily dependent on resource extraction for economic growth, increasing stability, incomes, and investment flows are changing the nature of business done on the continent, and ensuring that this growth is sustainable.
The recent U.S. Africa Leaders Summit is an indication that African countries must be taken seriously as economic partners especially in this post financial crisis environment where growth in more industrialized countries has slowed. American companies only stand to loose by not exploring the immense opportunities offered by a transforming continent and its people. However it is also important that African countries demand respect and equal treatment from the international business community. The days where foreign companies can demand outrageous concessions or subvert legal processes in the name of profit through bribery and other inducements are over. Today’s Africa must engage the world from a position of strength that indicates its growing relevance on the world stage.
Iweala is CEO and editor-in-chief of Ventures Africa Magazine.