Africa beyond the numbers: getting down to business

Consider the key African markets and hubs in which there is a strong concentration of multiple large company footprints. The obvious reading is that for these firms the risks in entering or expanding into Africa have become manageable, while a greater number of companies operating per country speaks to the confidence and development of those markets.

Some economic positives:

In the last two decades Africa’s average inflation has been halved, there has been significant reduction in the budget deficits, and the debt burden as a measure of external debt relative to gross national income has been reduced from 120% in 1994, to around 21% today. The BRICS’ trade with the continent has doubled twice since 2000, doubling between 2000-2006, and doubling again from 2007-2012 to reach US$340 billion.

Africa’s foreign direct investment (FDI) share of the global total increased in 2012, even as the year saw mixed results and an overall decrease of projects into the continent. Those foreign businesses already invested in Africa saw a net inflow of funds (via reinvested earnings, intra-company loans or equity), which strongly supports the above survey results and confidence of those multinational businesses already doing business in Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa also stood strong, attracting FDI at an annual compounded rate of over 22% since 2007.

Locally registered African company confidence is perhaps the most impressive FDI story, growing steadily these past years, with an exciting 33% CAGR since 2007, and now contributing to almost 19% of Africa’s total FDI intake. Again… confidence and optimism in Africa’s rise from within.

There is almost 500 million mobile subscribers today in sub-Saharan Africa alone, resulting in an technological innovative marketplace, with about 70% average penetration, and 20%+ annual growth. The consumer spend in Africa is estimated to be near US$1 trillion, and while half of all African countries have moved into the broader “middle income” status as defined by the World Bank, the proxies all point to the already substantial but growing African consumer class.

Interestingly, but not curious – since it is the way with newly developed capitalist driven economies – the industrialists get rich quicker.

It is widely reported that there are now over 120,000 US$ millionaires in Africa, greater than the number in Russia, and at least 4,800 individuals spread between 17 African countries that are in their own capacity worth more than US$100 million. Another estimates place Africa’s richest 40 people at a wealth worth over US$73 billion – put that in context: it is about one-and-a-half times South Africa’s foreign exchange reserve, about 5-times Nigeria’s pension assets, roughly the amount that would be needed to build the DRC’s Grand Inga dam project and generate an output of 40GW (enough to power the entire continent, excluding South Africa), or about the same as Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa’s combined bilateral trade with Africa in 2010, or shockingly, more than the size of 45 African countries’ current GDP, or if you like, equal to the combined wealth of Africa’s poorest 22 economies.

Some socio-political positives:

According to the World Bank, of the top 50 countries globally being the most proactive in enacting reforms that in some way enable doing business, a third of those are African economies.

And purely measured by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, 36 African countries outperform Russia. Similarly, 38 African countries out rank China on the EIU’s Democracy Index, while in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, 17 African countries score better than India.

Since 1995, Africa’s poverty rates have been falling by about 1% per year, translating into the proportion of Africans living under the poverty being reduced from 60% in 1995 to about 40% today. During the same period, human development indicators in health, education and income levels are all consistently moving more positive.

In the Democracy Index by Polity IV Project, Africa’s average has improved 8-fold since 1990. From the early 1960s African independence years, through to 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, only five African countries are recorded as holding regular elections of any kind, and only in a single case – Mauritius – was there a peaceful democratic transfer of power. Since 1990 however, more than 30 African ruling parties or leaders have changed through a democratic process. Most recently Malawi and Ethiopia saw peaceful transition after the death of the incumbent president; Ghana’s incumbent was reinstated through peaceful democratic elections, while Senegal and Zambia went through a smooth and democratic transfer of power.

The point being, it is not just economic indicators, but both social and political factors that are trending in the right direction.

We advise and assist a substantial number of big firms to achieve success in Africa. As such we personally see an overwhelmingly positive outlook and a scramble of activity to expand into Africa. For the many foreign and locals clients we see, it is increasingly not a question of ‘tell me what the risks are’, but instead, the perspective to consider becomes: your peers have established their brand, and your potential clients are scaling up into Africa, the business models and mode of entry and product/service delivery is more sophisticated, so before the competitive environment saturates opportunities, the most important next steps are not always where, but how you can get down to business.

Charlie Pistorius is head of market intelligence research for the Africa Business Center at Ernst & Young.