Last week, I started to read Vijay Mahajan’s “Africa Rising: How 900 million African consumers offer more than you think”. The book does a very good job of showing Africans and non-Africans the market opportunities that exist for goods and services tailored to the hundreds of millions of African “consumers”. I think the book is well written and supported by facts drawn from first hand experience. Africa is a place of seeming contradictions, for sure. How for example, can people earning less than $10/day be able to afford cell phones, live in a house, even own a house? As a Nigerian, it is clear to me and the book supports it – Africa is not a place to ignore, as a market opportunity.
I see the opportunity in Africa not merely as a market opportunity or a wealth creation opportunity but primarily as a development opportunity. Right now, we have the opportunity to build Africa not with a greed motivation but a love motivation. The opportunity right now is an opportunity not just to sell products and services to Africa’s grassroots but to enter into an interdependent relationship with Africa’s grassroots, whereby everyone benefits.
I think (and this is a bit of digression) even though the world is gradually moving towards a “trade not aid” approach to Africa, there can still be a sense of “we are trading with you to help you”. In Africa, what works is humility and a sense that Africans even at the grassroots have at least as much to teach as they need to be taught. I agree with the Australian aboriginal woman who said, “If you are coming to help me, you are wasting your time but if you are coming because your liberation is bound up with mine, then come and let us work together”. I think this is a mindset that will lead to sustainable results in Africa.
Where there has been little or no development, there is now an opportunity for development as though people and life are sacred. Right now, compared to the developed world, we have a blank slate. We can either develop with the mindset of “greed is good and foul is fair” or with the mindset of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I think we have a chance to correct mistakes of first world development, that tended to desecrate and denigrate all forms of life, in the pursuit of profit.
Thankfully, we have it in our genes to put people before profit. Hopefully, we will take responsibility for doing so as we make use of our opportunity. One hopes that Africa is seen as an opportunity to develop by creating advantages for the hundreds of millions living in poverty rather than an opportunity to take advantage through marketing of tailor made products and services.
Personally, I don’t think there is reason for competition, especially at this time when the needs are so great and numerous that it can be a challenge deciding which one to focus one’s attention, energy and resources on. This is a time for collaboration within and across various forms of boundaries. Shortsightedness will make us compete with each other for developed markets but a holistic view and a large heart will help us to see that there are more undeveloped markets than those that have been developed. Hopefully, we can have a collaborative approach to development rather than a competitive one and carry that through for the benefit of future generations.
As an African, I think this is the best time to be alive.
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