This is a time of growth, innovation and leadership in Africa.
We are seeing a transformation in expectations. Africa is no longer simply a supplier of raw materials to the world. We are starting to see a growing connectedness, a growing cohesiveness, a growing awareness on the continent. People, from many countries on the continent, are increasingly connected by voice, SMS and the internet. That connectivity, that coming together, is changing the way people feel about their place in Africa and the world.
Whenever you take a large population and connect it, you start to see rising standards and the expectation of rising standards. And that is where I think Africa is today. As a result we start to see improvements in governance, not because we have a sudden magical transformation of leadership, but because we have different expectations of leadership. We are seeing a growing coherence, a growing confidence of the continent speaking as a continent. Less insecurity, less preoccupation with the past and a growing focus of what is possible in the future.
Critically, I think we are seeing a defragmentation in Africa. We are seeing people look at how they can do business across regions, rather than in countries. For a continent of 54 countries, we have a highly fragmented face to the rest of the world, but that is changing.
Of course there is much room for improvement. That critical need for improvement, spells opportunity for investment in infrastructure, services, energy and consumer goods. The population of Africa in 20 years’ time will be dramatically better off. They will have first-world expectations. They will see themselves as citizens of the world. That means there is an enormous market right behind our doorsteps.
The 21st century is going to be all about space, water resources and connectivity. Africa has all of this in abundance.
Mark Shuttleworth is a South African-born software entrepreneur. In 2002, he went on a self-funded mission to space, making him the first African to ever go beyond the earth’s atmosphere. This article is an edited extract from his acceptance speech for Frost & Sullivan’s 2011 Growth, Innovation and Leadership Award.