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Africa bounces back with author Victor Kgomoeswana

“Africa’s status as an investment destination is undisputed,” Africa expert Victor Kgomoeswana told Professor Adrian Saville, Director of the GIBS Centre for African Management and Markets.  

“If your mindset is right, Africa is open to you and your business to trade, to build, because it offers the longest upside compared to any other region including the other emerging markets of China and India.” 

Kgomoeswana, media commentator, speaker, author and a self-described afro-optimist, spoke to Professor Saville about his new book Africa Bounces Back: Case studies from a Resilient Continent in an online Forum. 

The book draws on case studies that look at the continent’s response to Covid-19 and how the increasing shift from globalisation to more nationalist politics, China’s ongoing involvement in Africa and innovations that have disrupted their sectors will play out across the continent’s 54 nations.  

Africa Bounces Back is a reminder that even in the midst of a crisis, a resilient spirit, decisive action, and the correct perspective can lead to progress and, ultimately, success Kgomoeswana explained. 

“After every disruption, Africans have been able to bounce back. The book appeals to the quintessential African in all of us – when every African is faced with adversity, we always find a way.”

Lessons from Covid-19
“Covid has taught us that our lives can be disrupted in an instant,” Kgomoeswana said. He discussed the example of tourism as a mega industry in Africa: Those participants who only focused on the international tourism market with their offerings priced in dollars struggled when Covid-19 hit and in some cases, had ostracized local customers. 

The second lesson Covid taught us, Kgomoeswana continued, is that healthcare is a major driver of economic prosperity: “In Africa we have been enormously frustrated that we have had to import masks, sanitizers and vaccines, rather than being able to manufacture them ourselves. We have had to learn a bit of self-reliance.” 

Kgomoeswana said as South Africa’s isolation during Apartheid had meant the country was forced to innovate and had resulted in industrial advancement, “Covid has taught us that we must be a lot more self-reliant, even though it is a bad state and a disruptor of business flow.” 

“We must embrace African solutions, such as payment solutions and fintech. Our mindset has to change to realise that we already have these solutions, we just have to embrace them.” 
One of the case studies in Africa Bounces Back is that of Ethiopian Airlines, which didn’t have a reputation as an international airline carrier a decade ago, but carried 12 million passengers in 2019. 

The airline is fully government-owned, and has managed to build an airline that is a success. After Covid struck, it pivoted and removed seats in 25 of their passenger aircraft in order to become a become a cargo carrier almost overnight. “It is a story that makes me proud to be an African,” Kgomoeswana said. 

Africa’s business proposition 
In his 2014 book: Africa is Open for Business Kgomoeswana summed up “the scenario that faces Africa as a member of the global economic order,” he explained. “The continent was previously never associated with business, and companies that have thought Africa is ‘up for grabs’ are learning some very bitter lessons.” 

“Often people are taken aback, they are expecting docile Africans who are waiting to take their instructions,” he added. 

New entrants to Africa need to have respect; to be humble; need to think in terms of  sharing and indigenisation. “Companies must look to localisation of the supply chain so that people can identify the entity as one of their own. 

“We need business leaders who can think in terms of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) goals and have sustainability at the heart of everything they do. If you try to grab what you can, you risk reminding people of colonialism and the slave trade,” Kgomoeswana said. 

Pan-Africanism and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) 
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which was founded in 2018 and commenced with trade on 1 January 2021 will have major implications for free trade and Pan-African integration. However, “we are likely to see increased regionalism before Pan-Africanism can become a reality. Some countries will open their borders more quickly than others and we will see regions were people can move more freely becoming larger, creating quasi-regional economic blocks,” Kgomoeswana said.  These small regional economic zones might then amalgamate. 

With regards to a single African currency to facilitate the ease of cross border transactions, integration and economic connectedness, Kgomoeswana said he believes that Africa could  eventually have a single currency.

“Currency is the language of trade; it is an agreement on value. It is likely that different regional blocks will integrate their currencies first.” ECOWAS (The Economic Community of West African States) will probably be the first region to create a single monetary unit for its 15 member states, followed by the East African Community (EAC). “We are still fighting the colonial hangover which saw one currency as a symbol of prestige.
The African Continental Free Trade Area will force people to think in terms of value, not a label or tags.” 

Kgomoeswana said corruption had an impact on business development in Africa: “Corruption is an equation and requires two equal sides: One who is willing to accept a bribe; and one who is willing to pay it. 
Africans have to decide that we are not up for sale. We must fight corruption with the same vigour that we are fighting Covid.” 

When asked which countries in Africa presented the best investment opportunities post Covid, Kgomoeswana chose South Africa, due to its strategic location, as well as Ethiopia and Nigeria: “If you have a West African strategy without Nigeria, you are irrelevant.” 

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