Tito Mboweni on doing business in Africa

“I think most of the folks who are here, who are in business in Africa, would know that although Africa is an exciting place to do business, it is also a hell of a difficult place,” says Tito Mboweni, former governor of the South African Reserve Bank and currently chairman of AngloGold Ashanti.

Tito Mboweni

Tito Mboweni

Speaking during a session at the recent World Economic Forum on Africa, Mboweni said that “there are many obstacles and constraints for doing business in Africa”.

He noted that the regulatory environment in many countries is unattractive. “In some instances you feel that when you make an application to open a business you are being a nuisance to the bureaucracy.”

Mboweni said that in several African countries there is still a “strong belief that only the state is capable of doing business, therefore making it very difficult for private entrepreneurs to do work”. He called this a “hangover from socialism”.

Corruption is also still a problem in many African nations. “The other problem that we face is the tendency by some . . . government officials to steal from the public purse. So as a business person you have to pay tax; then you have to make huge amounts of political contributions; then . . . you must pay somebody to get a licence. So before you start your business you are going to spend quite a lot of money.”

Mboweni said that Africa needs to grow its middle class. “The fact that over half of the African population still survives on about US$1.5 a day is a disaster. It means we are not growing the middle class.” He added that “a significant component of the middle class in Africa, doesn’t live in Africa.”

Despite the challenges of operating in Africa, Mboweni, however, believes that it is still possible to do profitable business on the continent. He said that investors need to have “the stamina to slog it out”.