The Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu once said: "There comes a time when we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream to find out why they are falling in."
Africa is now heeding that advice. It is a continent heading upstream, a union of countries seeking to identify and resolve the root causes of its challenges, building solutions and products to address these problems, with jet-fuelled markets and economies as a result.
In short, Africa is in acceleration mode.
Don't believe it? Here are some facts and trends that illustrate why Africa is stepping up as a major player in global business and economic affairs.
The continent currently represents a $2.5 trillion market opportunity and has an upward growth trajectory. That's quite a contrast to much of the world, which is seeing headwinds and facing worries about a global economic recession. A number of factors drive this contrast.
Let’s start with the people. By 2050, one in four people in the world will be African, a continental identity that represents a youthful, talented, creative and innovative cohort, with the wherewithal to support a booming consumer market. And these young people are not wasting any time. Over the past five years, entrepreneurship has grown tenfold in Africa, with over 600 active tech hubs, 3,500 new tech-related ventures and $1 billion in venture capital for pan-African start-up and entrepreneurial initiatives.
Africa is also investing significantly in healthcare and wellness, signalling the continent’s resilience, even in the face of the vaccine inequality it experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African healthcare and wellness sector is projected to be worth $259bn by 2030 and has the potential to create close to 16 million jobs. This means 14 per cent of all business opportunities in the global healthcare sector could turn out to be in Africa, second only to North America’s 21 per cent.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the most vital sector in African business is the creative and cultural one. It is a pivotal piece of the continent's economic engine and power. It is predominantly informal, even though it is responsible for creating a significant amount of jobs. This indicates severe underfunding of the sector, which has direct consequences for the continent as a whole. Its creative potential is not being maximised.
Africa needs investment both locally and from foreign capital to establish a robust and organised ecosystem to nurture and unleash the continent’s creative talent. Turning Africa’s creative and cultural industry (CCI) into a powerful PR platform for the continent is an opportunity that must be given an equal amount of attention in tandem with other sectors. Africa contributes just 3 per cent to the $2.25tn global CCI revenue, which stands at a total of $67.5bn and includes, among others, the arts, fashion, music and film.
Africa’s vast energy resources, plus its agriculture sector, food systems, and physical and digital infrastructure are also areas ripe for disruption. Africa has the potential to feed the rest of the world and the global bread basket. More than 60 per cent of the world's uncultivated arable land is found on the continent. Africa can and should be taking care of the world’s needs.
Africa’s rise must also take into account the larger interests of the sustainable development agenda enshrined in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015. They require an enlightened, bold and creative leadership to build a more progressive, sustainable and inclusive world that is capable of tackling the global threats posed by the climate crisis, rising socio-economic inequality and regional conflicts.
Africa is offering massive investment opportunities and innovative solutions that are needed to reap the full benefits of this major transformation. This means trade, investment and a rules-based world order, not aid or charity. The continent is not blind to its many problems and challenges, but most of them can and should be solved through greater engagement with and investment in the people of Africa. There is now a determined push on the continent to make new friends and advance and nurture current relationships to explore and develop mutually beneficial partnerships that are aligned with the current realities of geopolitics and geo-economics.
This clarion call was highlighted at the Global Africa Business Initiative, held between September 18 and 19 on the sidelines of the UN's 77th General Assembly in New York. More than 100 high-level leaders from various sectors are set to gather to promote this new narrative of Africa during the event, one that challenges the stereotypical tropes of the continent. With a theme of “Unstoppable Africa”, the event will highlight the optimism and self-belief of an empowered, innovative and tech-savvy citizenry that is driving the narrative of a roused and empowered continent. Their message is simple: When Africa wins, the world wins.