Africa is a continent filled with opportunities, from mining to real estate to agriculture. However, the potential for projects in these areas is stunted by the limited accessibility to capital.
I see the current generation of young people who have left Africa as its next generation of builders. Armed with access to global networks and pools of capital, our generation can help contribute to the economic boom of Africa. Whereas our parents and grandparents fought imperialism, our generation must strive to create its own legacy of economic victory, improving the quality of life for even the most unfortunate communities in Africa. I believe it is our generation’s obligation to work with investors so we can take advantage of the resources that we have in Africa. Whilst we understand the history between colonial masters and our ancestors, we are free to look forward to the future and realize that this is a new era. We are at a great advantage because of our background growing up in Africa; we understand the culture and have strong ties to our community as well as close connections to the decision makers, some of whom are family members or friends. We have an edge as we have also spent years abroad building new relationships with influential global players in America, Europe, and Asia. We have experience working in the developed world in sophisticated institutions and have become familiar with world financiers.
I believe it is our time to play a pivotal role in Africa’s development by participating in business in Africa. We can utilize our connections abroad to finance ventures in Africa. We are very fortunate to have had the chance to grow up in Africa. Africa is a continent that thrives on relationships, and our childhood there gave us the skills to develop deeper relationships abroad. These relationships, combined with our business skills, put the youth of Africa in a position to make major contributions to the long-term business growth of our great continent.
We are the architects of Africa’s growth and we owe it to those we have left at home to contribute to and develop our villages, towns, and communities. Despite our booming economy, Africa is lagging in internal development when compared to the rest of the world. We must strive to improve ourselves, working toward an Africa with highways and sophisticated transport systems, world class telecommunications, impressive standards of living for the bulk of the population, human rights that are actually respected, and freedom and societal support for the weaker and poorer members of our society. We are uniquely poised to contribute to development because of our exposure to the rest of the world, our experiences in career and education, and the worldwide business networks we have cultivated.
It will not be easy. Investing in Africa and learning to work with people from another culture can be very difficult. We have different standards of efficiency, and the business environment can be hard to understand when one party is across the world. However, by working together and leveraging those Africans already in places of power and financial influence in America, Asia, and Europe, we can broker the new business relationships that are vital for Africa’s growth.
The future of Africa hinges on the synergy between the business and government leaders in our mother countries, and those of us that have gained a global perspective by working across the world. Many African professionals are familiar with the economies of our home countries, but can also bring global insights back to our government and businesses. The African businesses and governments need young people to act as bridges to the global markets and to leverage our global relationships. We are in a unique position to act as trusted advisors to businesses looking to venture into African markets, and our language skills will help us to broker deals in both the private and public sectors. These different perspectives will bring rich and diverse ideas to African leadership.
As our African governments and businesses deal with international firms, it is worthwhile to engage the diverse talent pool as some of them already know or have worked with international firms, and can be the bridge between the international firm and the local African governments and businesses. Most of the time, important deals between African governments and African businesses are negotiated by people who might not have experience in the nuances of that deal, resulting in an unfair position as our African governments and businesses end up with the shorter length of the stick. For instance, several mining deals between African governments and mining companies end up benefiting the miners at the expense of the government. Typically, deals are skewed in favor of the international mining firms who are able to hire the best talent in the world to out negotiate our African governments and business counterparts, most of whom have no prior experience in deals of this magnitude.
In South Africa, the Bafokeng tribe in the platinum-rich Bafokeng region managed to hire global mining lawyers and experts to negotiate on their behalf with the global platinum mining giants, and today the Bafokeng tribe is the richest in their region. James Sutherland, lawyer to the Bafokeng from the mid-1990s, asserts that ‘the playing ﬁelds are skewed.’ The owners of the mining resources, usually African communities, are not able to match the high-powered mining experts that the big companies employ, and are not knowledgeable enough to analyze or evaluate the potential of their mines. According to Sutherland, he was told that the African owners would have to ‘listen to a litany of lies as the mining representatives told the owner what the deal was about’ (MBENGA). Yes, we have talent locally, but most of the globally competitive African talent is in the diaspora; we must tap into this talent to negotiate deals on behalf of African governments and businesses.
Thus, the rest of the world holds the key to furthering Africa’s business prosperity and bright future. With the world getting smaller, and the increasing need for idea and resource collaboration, now is the moment to take advantage of win-win partnerships with local and global companies and leaders, tapping into our experiences and talents.