Archive for the 'Economic Crisis' Category

25
Apr
10

325 million voters for the Presidential Elections of 2010 to 2034


Did you know that as of 2009 Africa has an estimated 987 Million people of which 401 Million are between 0 and 14 years.
Nigeria has the largest population of the African countries with an estimated total population of 149 Million people. The population growth rate is 1.9 %.
This means that in 9 months as many Nigerians will be born as the total population of Namibia, that in 12 months the total populations of Mauritania or Liberia have been reproduced and that in two years the total population of Libya is added to the Nigerian population.

There are 325 Million children ranging from age 4 to 24. These 325 Million children represent the future decision makers of the continent both in private and public sector.
Out of these 325 Million children and youngsters 54 new presidents will come into power every so often in the years to come.

Illiteracy rates are still as high as almost 45% average of the population. Estimates indicate that about 100 Million children drop out of school at some point for various reasons not always because the children want to drop out. Sometimes the eldest son of a family has to take over from a father that turns ill or dies, in order to support the family. Sadly this happens often with children that only have a few years ahead to finish college or high school and as a result all the effort that the family has put in place to get the eldest this far is lost and the chances for the family to finally break out and move up the ladders of society are gone. No social security net is there to protect the hard earned money that was set aside by the family to provide children with education for a better future.

Many people who are involved in development efforts around the world have come to a conclusion that the most important thing is to create jobs. Today nobody would argue in Europe that unemployment is one of the biggest threats to its economy. Spain with unemployment rates reaching 20% is currently looked upon as the biggest burden of the EU.

Most countries in the developing world would love to reach unemployment rates of “only 20%”.

Junior Achievement (JA) is an organization that support almost 10 million children around the world with education programs that teach them entrepreneurship and financial literacy. One of the most successful programs is The company program that teaches students how to set up a company, find investors, decide on product and marketing strategies, organizational set-up etc. Students that attend this program have demonstrated higher success rates when starting up a company and therefore JA is very hopeful that through this program many out-of-school youth will get a second chance to find a way to reach economic independence and means to support a family.

In countries where jobs are not available people turn to trade. If this trade is anchored in an enterprise that has been given proper thought, the drive, the passion and the will to succeed of many young Africans will open one way to a successful and sustainable future.

The fiber optic cable connection has been completed in East Africa and therefore accessibility is improving but even though Seacom has agreed with some of the country operators to provide special rates for educational purposes some of the operators prefer to increase their margins then to pass on the lower costs of connectivity to their children. Affordability therefore remains a challenge and despite all efforts that are made to bridge the digital divide it will require in-country decisions to fix this once and for all.

Given that the internet does reach an increasing amount of youngsters (even if slowed down by some of the above described factors) it is only a matter of time before more and more people will demand to be connected, to be given a chance to enjoy good education and to be given a chance to build their future and start sharing the wealth creation.

While good governance is still hard to find in most places in developing nations and often one of the most significant barriers to economic development if not the only one, we don’t have to wait for elections and for new presidents to come to power or start country models from scratch.

Since computers and internet are still luxury for most of the 325 million children in Africa, we need to find clever and creative ways to utilize the existing infrastructures that are there.
Many volunteers are standby waiting for an opportunity to reach out to these children but cannot afford on their own to cater for entire infrastructures.
Many schools do not have the means to pay for a monthly internet bill, since the budgets simply are not there.

The private sector can start today to play a role and to invest in its own future. Infrastructures are not accommodating and most often this is due to a lack of organization and management. Skilled labor is hard to find. So by investing in education companies are investing in their own future employees and in future decision makers that will see the benefits of enabling infrastructures.

Many companies pay for their internet connections on a fixed price basis. Much of this internet power is not used after working hours. This wasted internet power could be put to good use to the likes of JA volunteers who are ready to teach children around the world using video conferencing, instant messenger or other new technologies that today have become the common tools of teenagers that go to schools in the west.

The internet is opening doors to the diaspora to get involved, to train youngsters remotely and to share experiences with those back home, using Skype and other open source technologies that are available to anyone that has access to the internet.

Youngsters in Africa will soon join the development communities using open source technologies for non-mission critical applications and or sell their applications via iTunes to be used by the millions of iPhone users around the world. Made in Africa is just a few internet sessions away.

The same way art of printing books ended the monopoly of the clergy a few centuries ago, the internet will penetrate the developing nations and will break down illiteracy. Once societies will reach critical masses of literacy, people will start asking how come their country is not adopting certain policies that other developing nations have embraced a few decades ago when coming out of independence, like the Asian Tigers, who at the time were economically behind some of the African nations.
Nations will start to demand that current governance models will have to be replaced by more adequate ones and therefore we need to educate the potential voters of to be elected presidents today.

Given that we live in exponential times the good news is that penetration of new technologies is on a bullet train without brakes on its way to the developing world and no governmental stop sign can slow the train down anymore…..

© Desi Lopez Fafié

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16
Jun
09

Money Talks In Africa Like Anywhere Else!

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

handshake

If you consider doing business in Africa you have to ask yourselves the question:

Do we really want to do business in Africa?

If the answer is yes, you should approach the opportunity just like you would approach any investment decision anywhere else on the planet and prepare yourselves accordingly.
A cost-benefit analysis can give you a go or no-go, based on what you feel is an acceptable level of return on the investment you are willing to make, considering possible alternatives.

Recent studies have identified that some projects in Africa yield up to four times the returns these projects would yield in Europe and twice as much as they would yield in Asia.
exploring oil fields

When the opportunity is there and the understood risk is high, the measures that should be put in place to manage the associated risk, should be properly defined.
The initial cost of identifying exploitable oil fields are significant but the returns of the production side of the business are hugh as well, if the studies turn out correct.
Needless to say what the impact can be of mistakes….

woman analyzing

Some companies make half-hearted decisions when it comes to running their operations in Africa and may end up getting disappointed after a while because they are caught by surprise on various fronts from productivity and efficiencies to facing infrastructural issues nobody had even thought of as potential challenges.

A recent CNBC broadcast titled “Dollars and Danger” had the intention to portray Africa as the final investment frontier.
The first 3 minutes of the program give an example of a Chinese project in Libya where China is accused to export their labor problems to Africa running more Africans into unemployment.
I think it is well understood by now that the US and China are both competing for African energy resources and one can read this between the lines here again.

Not to mention that the US is slowly losing its first trading position with Africa and of course this is not something that the US is happy with.

Most people in the US still believe that the investment and official donor assistance their country provide to Africa are among the highest in the world.  Facts have proven the contrary.

The next 4 minutes discuss the risks and dangers of doing business in Africa, where one could end up believing that you cannot walk the streets of Africa without at least one bodyguard because of the way that one conflict zone, limited to a small region of one country, is blown up to a level as if this is the standard across the continent. The reality is that the number of wars and conflicts at this point in African history are lower than ever before and lower than in Asia for instance.

I am not sure how many potential investors made it all the way to the end of the program. If there still were people watching I wonder how many of those ended up seriously considering Africa as an investment opportunity.

It is sad that this has become the standard of portraying a continent that has never been given a fair chance for as long as the developed world has been interacting with it.

I will share some of the considerations I made, with you,  when I started to work in Africa that have helped me  to exceed my expectations.

Africa is big

The first thing one need to realize is that Africa is a continent that consists of 54 countries and I am showing you a picture that will help you understand the size of the continent to put things in perspective.

You can read more on this topic in my post of https://dfafie.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/balance-the-view-and-opinion-on-africa/
Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish are the imported languages depending on what part of Africa you are at, apart from the thousands of local languages that are spoken by the African people.

Unless the nature of your business is linked to available natural resources, you need to decide on a location or multiple ones where you want to operate from.

Here you will have to strike a balance between business opportunities and cost of operation given that the level of available infrastructure differ from one country to another.

nairobi airport

If the nature of your business requires mobility for instance you have a limited number of airports that will allow you to reasonably connect across a region. You may not have the business volume in the country from where you operate but you have the convenience of a workable infrastructure. The safest bet therefore in this case, is to consider offices to play a regional function rather than a local one, right from the start. You can read more on this topic in my earlier post: Africa is big and flights are short in supply at  https://dfafie.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/africa-is-big-and-flights-are-in-short-supply/

students

Companies that require skilled labor will have to make a decision to bring in the skills from overseas or to invest in local staff or a combination of these. When skills are a determining factor you also need to consider where you want to train your staff, on-site or overseas.
If you have to sent staff overseas for training you may face challenges obtaining visas for your staff based on where staff originate from unfortunately.  This is one of the so many imposed barriers to Africa’s development by the developed world, but one that should not be underestimated. Sometimes visa requests are rejected without even a plausible reason.
A more local consideration is that it can be more difficult in some African countries to obtain work- and residency permits for neighboring nationals because the hosting country wants to protect employment for their local citizens.

See my post on visa related issues at  https://dfafie.wordpress.com/2009/05/

African partners

Some companies work with or via local partners. My recommendation is to look for business partners on equal footing so that the partners can organize themselves similar to meet each other’s expectations in terms of investments, organizational structures and quantitative and qualitative standards.
If you are new to a region, working with a local partner can help you to get the local know how faster incorporated into your company.

The good news for Africa is that more nations have started to invest in Africa. While historically the Europeans were the main overseas players, today US, Chinese and Middle Eastern companies are present and compete for the business opportunities.

I see different approaches to doing business from some of the companies depending on where they originate from.
Knowledge transfer is a common practice for US based companies for instance, where the Chinese companies bring in most, if not all the work force from China thus providing less long-term benefits to the local population.

Not all companies will work with local staff at all levels of the organization and some even have different levels of employee standards for staff that come from overseas versus local staff.
This creates all sorts of human resource problems in the long run. This is not a specific problem in doing business in Africa.
There are plenty examples of companies applying duality everywhere in the world.
The average age of Africa’s population ranks very young and with proper training, skills can be developed. While doing business, we have a great opportunity to invest in Africa’s future at the same time. If there is one way we can make a difference in assisting the development process from within the private sector, it definitely is in the area of capacity building.

The size of a company will determine to some extend the possible investments that can be made. It is the initial cost of exploration that will represent more of a challenge to smaller companies than it will to larger ones. Given the many additional factors companies have to consider when doing business in Africa, it is a conditio sine qua non to have a chance for success. If your company does not have the means to do proper due diligence, you may be better off exploring easier terrain.

There are some conditions that we have to accept for the time being since in most cases companies can do little or nothing about these.
Some countries still have state owned utility companies that hold a monopoly position providing poor service while overcharging the consumer, to mention just one.

Similarly there are government owned cooperations for some of the natural resource related economic activities, that impose price and conditions to the producers. Cotton and cacao are good examples where the farmers work very much under cooperation’s set rules. Since these cooperations are most of the time the only one in its kind in the country, providing fertilizers, pesticides and some other basics to the farmers who have no access to capital,  it is difficult to change the conditions for some of these primary producers. Even with micro financing support, the farmers would still be stuck with price cartels once they want to sell their crop.

It is difficult to break this model as long as these monopolies exist.
If you are part of such a chain the basic conditions will be very much set for you when you approach your suppliers.

If you work regionally and you have to transport goods by trucks, crossing borders requires a skill all by itself, to ensure that your cargo does not lose time dealing with the formalities.
Specially perishable goods require close attention and working with solid partners will proof useful in most cases.

The public opinion on Africa is based on what the media cares to show and more often than not this is a very negative single sided reflection of the reality.
When there is a conflict in one part of one country the news headlines will state that there is a problem in Africa and thus the issue gets amplified by a factor of 54!

body guard

In all the years that I have lived and worked in Africa I have always applied a simple rule. If you are in Rome do as the Romans do!  So if you are in an unfamiliar place, you should pay attention to good advice from your local staff or local partner and you should not go experiment on your own. I have never used bodyguards nor any security personnel and I have worked in over 34 countries in Africa for years and I am enjoying my work and my life. I have come to terms  with the fact that sometimes there are power cuts, water cuts and other inconveniences but the flip side is that if you do, you can enjoy a very hospitable environment where nobody ever complains even if they have all the reason to do so at times.

man in rain

If you are in London, people will complain about the rain or the sun. It is either too wet or too hot but it is never going to be fine..

man smiling

You run into any person anywhere in the streets of Africa and you ask them how they are and they will tell you , I am fine and will do so with a sincere smile.

Of course there are issues. It would be naive to think that there wouldn’t be any issues across 54 countries. More so if we realize that there are so many issues with the rest of the world.
Somehow we have become myopic and we only manage to see what does not work in Africa, while we are stuck up to our eyebrows with issues in the developed world.
Did Africa create the economic crisis most of the western countries are currently struggling with just to pick on a recent one ? When these problems, that the western world created itself,  happen,  overnight billions of dollars can be found to fix the problems and everybody turns back to autopilot.

Those of us who are successfully working in Africa often ask ourselves the question how come “those back home” fail to see what it is that we see…

I have come to the conclusion that often the problems come from a pre-conditioned mindset that forgot to do due diligence before taking up the new challenge, irrespective of the location of the activity.

For you to proof me wrong!

© Desi Lopez Fafié


21
Apr
09

Question for Presidents Obama, Hu Jintao and or Pratibha Patil ?

539w

The challenge:

In order to make Africa the best place to be, we still have some homework to do and therefore I am hoping soon to see your questions for those leaders of nations that will impact the African economies probably most, appear on this blog or you can join my discussion board on facebook under the same title, Africa the place to be.

Here is a statement that may be provocative but hopefully will stir up some discussion:

The Global economic crisis according to some, is the result of the imbalance between Capital and Labor, or if you wish company profit ratios and employee wages. Companies have over-invested and wage increases have not followed accordingly and therefore demand fell short on the supply. Governments wanted to portray economic growth at all cost and found Housing as a target to fill the gap of demand, accepting unsustainable debt levels. The US and the UK copied the mistakes that Japan made earlier and after more than two decades is still trying to recover from.Once the housing bubble burst, we found ourselves where we are today.

Now some also say that Companies have been given too much freedom to outsource labor to low cost countries like China and India as part of free trade and globalization without any oversight. Free trade is seen as part of the problem since the lost purchasing power in the developed world is not compensated by the gained purchasing power in the developing countries where companies have outsourced to.

Early in the crisis President Obama’s administration made some maybe premature statements about “Buy USA made products” and the media picked this up as a possible new wave of protectionism. If the developed countries were to embrace protectionism I am concerned that this will worsen the chances for the developing countries on top of all the other effects that this part of the world will have to deal with as a result of economic imbalance between the haves and the have-not. Global warming effects will hit Africa probably more than any other region while those who contribute to the global warming are outside Africa to mention just another challenge we put on the overloaded shoulders of Africans.

Over 1.7 million Australian jobs  are directly or indirectly connected to exports according to the  Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)

fta_factsheet_web_map21

The picture illustrates Australia’s top 10 agriculture export destinations.

In Africa on average Agriculture contributes to more than 85 % of the economic output but exports are still marginal compared to the big players.

How many millions of people in Africa would be able to make a living if their agricultural products could reach overseas markets ? What effect would this additional supply have on the current food prices that clearly indicate the shortage in supply with a world population that is still growing too fast.  So finding additional supply resources in agriculture should not be considered a threat to any current suppliers who cannot cope with the demand anyways.

I still am convinced that free trade and free market access is the only incentive to create a higher value chain otherwise Africa will remain condemned to export raw materials and will never be able to develop industries and services.  Cacao Farmers in Ghana pay 8% duties exporting raw cacao beans, and would have to pay 38% duties if exporting cacao powder. Not a great incentive considering cost of freight and all other competitive disadvantages that the farmers in Ghana have to face ?

fta1

Today US labor is outsourced to China, after finding an even cheaper labor force then in India. As you can see from the illustration of the US Department of Labor, free trade agreements are in place with labor provisions but the current picture does not yet include such provisions with China nor with India.

The African leaders who today have found China as a willing investor,  in my view, should also insist in agreements that provide for a fair deal. South Africa has seen a surge in unemployment as a result of cheap Chinese products being dumped on their markets. Dealing with the World Bank and IMF has never been easy for African leaders. The offers coming from China may be very tempting but like always one should be on alert if cheap and easy money is offered as to what the conditions are and how this will ultimately affect people.

Hopefully we will have pictures where the leaders of the developed world will shake hands with the leaders of Africa, like in the above case between the US and Korean presidents at the G20 in April,  to try and reach free trade agreements with proper labor provisions providing a fair deal for every world citizen.

So who wants to give his or her thoughts on how to handle this issue and what would be the best  question to Mr. Obama, Hu Jintao or Prahib Patil ?

Feel free to comment this blog or to participate in the discussing board on facebook at:

http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?topic=7963&post=30586&uid=87956082428#/topic.php?uid=87956082428&topic=7963

© Desi Lopez Fafié





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