OPINION: Why Africa is a continent of hope and opportunity – 2

Thursday April 25 2019

Professor Zulfiqarali Premji

Professor Zulfiqarali Premji 

Africa is also home to a growing group of innovative industries, from car making to chemicals that meld the latest technologies with the continent’s labour force advantages to meet both local and global demand.

A good example is the automotive industry of Morocco where the French automakers Renault and Peugeot have invested more than $ 2 billion to create assembly capacity of over half a million cars.

This is possible because Africa’s labour force is expanding fast. By 2034 it will surpass China’s and India’s and by 2050 the continent’s working age population will exceed 1.5 billion.

Labour costs in Africa are a one-third of those in even the lowest-cost European countries.

4. It is estimated that 11 per cent of the global population (more than 800 million) are affected by hunger. Of these, about 250 million are in Africa.


The UN has set a goal of banishing hunger by 2030. To achieve that, the agricultural sector will need to step up innovations in technology and management to improve yields. Africa is home to exciting innovations in all these arenas.

A social enterprise creating a network of farm smallholders providing them with training, credit, agro-inputs, marketing support are key innovations that are being implemented. An example is Babban Gona in Nigeria (founded by Kola Masha) that has membership of a million farmers providing livelihoods for 5 million people.

Other similar startups are providing farming advice, weather forecasts, financial tips, soil analysis, fertiliser and irrigation possibilities. All these are transforming subsistence farming to modern farming with higher yields.

5. Affordable, accessible consumer products are another up-coming sectors. Growing more food is a key in banishing hunger but it is just as important that ordinary people have access to nutritious and affordable meals. An example is Indomie noodles by Dufil Prima Foods in Nigeria.

In 2015 Kellogg invested $450 million in DPF and more international food companies are attracted to the distribution model of DPF.

Another area that is promising is the e-commerce start up. Giants like Goldman Sachs and others have been attracted to this platform. It is estimated that Africa has 60,000 people for each formal retail outlet, whereas the US has only 400 people per store.

In the west e-commerce is slowly changing centuries old shopping habits, while in Africa it is creating habits.

People are making their first big buys such as smartphones and their first online purchases simultaneously. Jumia launched in 2012 now has more than 2 million active customers in 13 African countries and now has created the JForce sales programme in which agents go door–to-door with Wi-Fi-connected tablets.

These innovations could help Africa bypass costly brick-and-mortar retail, and go directly to an e-commerce model that brings consumers greater choice and lower prices wherever they live.

6. With so many young people entering Africa’s work force there is a big scope for human capability building. Innovations in education and skills development are essential and needed.

In the midst of high unemployment rates amongst young people many companies are finding it difficult to get skills needed for entry-level jobs.

This happens in part because many education systems do not provide either technical or the behavioral skills needed to succeed and adapt in the rapidly changing work landscape.

One African solution to the youth skills gap is Generation Kenya, a non-profit with 180 local employer partners, which operates 37 training locations across the country.

Each offers immersive “boot camp” programmes lasting six to eight weeks, aimed at building job readiness in areas such as retail and financial sales, customer service, and apparel manufacturing.

The programmes not only teach relevant technical skills, they also use role-playing and team exercises to impart behavioral and mindset skills such as punctuality and resilience.

The examples quoted above should include additional activity needed for success: harnessing technology in imaginative ways including to drive costs and thus prices down. Serious individuals also need to take a firm stand against corruption which is wide spread but in order to achieve sustainability and long term impact stick to values and ethics no matter what.

The African business terrain is difficult, but when one goes with a deeper purpose recognising high levels of poverty and gaps in infrastructure, education and health care, you do not see only barriers to business you see real human issues and feel a sense of responsibility.

In Africa you need to be more of a responsible citizen than a businessperson. If you see a problem think about how you can solve a piece of it.

With all the problems Africa has, it is still possible through innovative thinking to resolve profitably because humankind has never before had such resources, knowledge and technology at its disposal.