I am writing this article whilst sat outside in the beautiful town of Kitwe in Zambia. Kitwe is the second largest city in Zambia in terms of size and population with seemingly unlimited supplies of copper. It is part of the Copperbelt region of Zambia. The landscape is lush and green with tropical plants. The temperature this morning is 21 degrees Celsius and it feels a lot cooler.
I am here to deliver training on entrepreneurship to a pan-African cohort of scientists and researchers from across the continent of Africa as part of the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund.
I come back from my travels in Africa excited and keen to leverage my network in Africa to broker opportunities for fair trade between some of the world’s fastest growing economies and the Northern Powerhouse. But my enthusiasm is met with blank stares and the usual stereotypical negative remarks about safety and corruption.
Most of these comments are based, not on a personal experience of the continent but on biases formed from media representation or shall I say “misrepresentation” of the continent and its challenges.
Oxfam, Comic Relief and other fundraising campaigns by UK charities are largely to blame for perpetuating the narrative of a hungry, starving Africa and not a continent that is booming and making strides towards the welfare of its citizens.
I have come to realise that a lot of people are still in the dark about the continent called Africa and its people. Perhaps this is why we in Yorkshire and the UK as a whole struggle to embrace diversity talent and create inclusive workplaces in our businesses.
It is time to debunk these myths and negative stereotypes.
So let me try to share insights from some countries to dispel some of these myths.
Zambia like the rest of African has experienced rapid economic growth over the last decade. Foreign direct investment from China is fuelling the rapid economic growth with Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Benin, Kenya, Uganda, and Burkina Faso amongst some of the world’s fastest-growing economies according to the International Monetary Fund. The population of these countries, growing spending power of the middle class and the use of leapfrog technologies have created the perfect conditions for growth and prosperity on the continent. Africa like China and India will have the largest, well-educated young workforce of any other economy. It really is a market that cannot be ignored.
Ethiopia is leading the growth as Africa’s second most populous country with 102.5 million people. Nigeria is the most populous with 181 million people.
Ethiopia is also the only country that was able to maintain its independence from colonisers apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini’s Italy.
Take Botswana, one of Africa’s most stable and thriving countries. Botswana has the longest continuous multi-party democracy. It is relatively free of corruption and all citizens have free access to education from primary school to university with fully paid stipends and access to land for every citizen. No student is laden with debts like we have in the UK.
Lets us take Kenya for example. Kenya is the cradle of mobile banking with its M-Pesa mobile banking infrastructure which is light years ahead of the UK and US allowing users to store and transfer money through their mobile phones.
I am sure that you also wouldn’t believe that some countries in Africa lead on female leadership and empowerment with four out of the fifty-four African countries having been led by women and have a greater representation of women in its parliament. America has never had any female presidents and the UK has only just had its second female prime minister.
In light of Brexit and the mission to power the Northern Powerhouse, fair trade with Africa is something we must explore. Trade missions to these countries should be on the agenda.
For those reading this who are not interested in business and trading, Africa also offers fantastic leisure and tourism. Take Ghana for example which has been heralded as the next big tourist destination by CNN Travel in December 2018 with it’s white beaches and political stability.
I doubt if I will be able to dispel all the myths in one article, but I hope I have challenged some of your ideas about Africa and planted the seeds of possibility. African is open for business.