It was a unique, rewarding and informative experience for Axiomatic Dubai to participate in the GBF: Africa conference. Not only did 10 Heads of State and top African entrepreneurs impart their knowledge and experience but the delegates were captains of industry from Africa and the UAE.

 

The conference is held bi-annually in Dubai and this year the topics were:

  • to identify opportunities and develop the fast-growing ties between Africa and Dubai
  • to brainstorm the next phase of growth and development with the founders of Africa’s most innovative businesses
  • to explore the potential for leveraging technology to accelerate growth across Africa
  • to discuss the power of the emerging private sector and identify the opportunities for financing and partnering with Africa’s most dynamic businesses.

We have summarised some of the stand-out content of the conference into themes and then provided information relevant to each category:

 

GENERAL

  • Cognisance must be taken of the fact that even though everyone talks about “Africa Rising” and the potential of Africa, it is relatively small in global terms. The USA is a $20 trillion market whereas Africa is only $3.3 trillion- the size of Germany.
  • People talk about Africa as one country and/or one market – forgetting it is made up of 54 different countries. The continent can possibly be grouped into regions or economic blocs (these include ECOWAS, ECCAS, COMESA, SADC and EAC) however this ignores the diversity of the various countries.
  • The UAE is the third largest investor in Africa after SA and China; the second largest external investor after China. The funding capital for Africa remains London, followed by Paris but Dubai is starting to catch up to the two leaders. It will however be difficult to surpass London given that several of the large Private Equity and Venture Capital companies are headquartered there and that most US inflows are routed through the English capital.

 

DIGITAL REVOLUTION

  • This was probably the most important theme of the conference and was constantly discussed.
  • Leading the digital revolution will be smart phones. It is estimated that there will be 700 million smart phones in Africa in the next few years.
  • Tonye Cole stated, “Think about infrastructure in Africa in a different way. Think about digital infrastructure.” Digital alleviates many of the present physical infrastructure impediments in Africa. There are however obvious challenges:
    • Only 1/3rd of the African population has consistent power and 600m do not have access to power;
    • Only 7% of the population is banked and 80% do not live close enough to a bank branch to take advantage of the services.
  • Mobile phones are however providing the answer in many African countries by creating a digital infrastructure; included in the digital infrastructure is digital money. Many Africans consider their mobile phone their bank. Companies must incorporate this into their African strategy to be successful.
  • Taya Oviosu, the CEO of PAGA[i], a Nigerian digital payment platform, did however sound a warning – “To go digital you need a human touch. Someone needs to bring the (people) into the fold” – this would entail educating consumers on digital banking and Fintech in general. Various speakers discussed how the bottom of the consumer pyramid is extremely wide however, to engage with this market segment, training is required to enable these consumers to embrace digital/ ecommerce/fintech.
    • Companies must therefore recognise that simply introducing digital into their business strategy may not be a panacea – some education of their consumers may be required.
  • NewBridge Fintech Solutions, a Dubai based company is using technology where payments can be made offline using Bluetooth.
  • The term Fintech, in the African context, is often complicated by jargon – Louis-Antoine Muhire the CEO of Mergims[ii] in Rwanda said that in Africa – “Fintech is nothing more than making financial transactions available to most people”.
  • Taavi Roivas, the former Prime Minister of Estonia stated that, “Kofi Annan said that education is the greatest equaliser however, the internet is the second greatest equaliser”.
  • The President of Rwanda, Mr. Paul Kagame, spoke at length about their official digital strategy which included the efiling of taxes and online application for visas; he proudly boasted that Rwanda had online applications for visas before the UAE.
    • In Rwanda, they are using drones to deliver blood and medical supplies to remote areas. They are now at 98% universal coverage for health care.
  • Governments however must still understand these new technologies and introduce adroit regulations. These cannot be too complex during the early stages or else innovation will be stifled. The DIFC Free Trade Zone in Dubai has introduced an interesting concept – they have set up accelerators or incubators where start-ups can test their product. If the product is successful, only then will regulations be introduced.
  • Digital start-up companies are proliferating in Africa however a future constraint may be access to capital. Start-up and/or seed capital as well as angel investing, must come from within Africa to avoid a reliance on foreign funding. Seed capital for PAGA and Mergrims came exclusively from the USA, UK and the Netherlands while 90% of the IPO proceeds for the Atlas Mara Fund was sourced from the USA.

 

TECHNOLOGY

  • Africa, in general, will not have malls and the infrastructure of Europe, the UAE or developed countries for a significant period. However, the internet and ecommerce will address the distribution problems which have plagued companies in the past. Entrepreneurs have found ingenious ways to solve supply chain problems and gain access to previously inaccessible markets. Historically, solutions were available but they were not scalable – technology/ ecommerce/ etrading is being used to ensure solutions are now scalable.
  • Technology is vital to the future success of Africa and concomitantly, it is imperative that companies who want to grow market share or even consider entering the African markets, must embrace technology. Several companies reported that they have appointed a Digital Executive to drive their business strategy.
  • Jeremy Hodara, the CEO of Jumia Group[i], the first unicorn[ii] tech company, spoke about how Africa is moving from a commodity economy to a consumer economy and their success in creating a digital environment. Further, this particular panel discussion which included Vahid Monadjem- CEO of Nomanini[iii] in South Africa and Ada Osakwe – CEO of Agrolay Ventures[iv] in Nigeria – reminded us how statistics can confuse or cloud prudent decision making. So, for example, the market penetration potential of a product in Nigeria may only be 5%. However, given that the current population of Nigeria is 170m people, that represents 8.5m clients. Then you need to examine how you can use technology to expand and increase your consumer base even further. All three panellists provided some valuable information to companies – stop using government policies and corruption (the oft spoken about C word) as an excuse and concentrate on execution. This advice was reiterated by Bob Diamond, the CEO of Atlas Mara[v] who said – “In Africa, roll up your sleeves and it’s about execution, execution, execution”.

 

COMMODITIES BECOMING LESS IMPORTANT

  • Currently the fastest growing economies in Africa are those without oil and gas.
  • Tonye Cole – Group Executive Director of the Sahara Group[i] in Nigeria – stated that “The fall in oil prices has forced many African countries to diversify their economies”. This fiscal problem has forced many governments to radically change government policies and has resulted in an increase in intra-Africa trade – for example, trade between Nigeria and Kenya.
  • The consumer market is expected to grow exponentially. Goolam Ballim, the Chief Economist of Standard Bank[ii] provided the following statistics to demonstrate the anticipated exponential growth in the middle class. The result will be an ever-increasing consumer based economy which in turn, will reinforce the “Africa Rising” story:

Global Business Forum: Africa Dubai

  • Further, urbanisation in sub-Saharan Africa will increase the consumerism bias of the economy. Only 37% of the population is currently classified as urban and the UN anticipates that Africa’s urban population will more than triple by 2050.
  • The estimated population of Africa is 1.2 billion and will double by 2050.
  • Africa currently spends $35bn importing food despite having 60% of the worlds arable land. Various government initiatives have been implemented to address this. Further, various start-ups present at the conference are engaged in the agri-foods sector – specifically focussing on reducing their country’s import propensity for finished or processed agricultural products. Nigeria for example, exports tomatoes but then imports tomato paste – Ada Osakwe’s company Agrolay Ventures is raising capital to address this and other anomalies. If you are currently exporting processed foods to Africa, you should be aware of these initiatives – local disrupters have entered your market.

 

GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE

  • The salient inhibitor of growth in Africa has previously been the lack of an adequate physical infrastructure (the so called hard infrastructure). This would include inadequate and intermittent power, an inferior rail network and poorly functioning ports and customs. These factors were exacerbated by corruption and the difficulty of doing business.
  • There has been a renaissance in the thinking of African governments. There is a new generation of political leaders in many African countries who are recognising this constraint to business and are actively addressing the bottlenecks (a frequently used phrase at the conference).
  • Perhaps these initiatives are not entirely altruistic? The slump in commodity prices in general, has meant lower tax revenues for several countries. Improving the ease of doing business will result in more profitable local companies, which in turn will increase the corporate tax collected by the fiscus. Ghana, Tanzania and Nigeria are examples of such countries frequently mentioned at the conference.
  • The improvements which various countries have made over the last year is illustrated in the table below:

Global Business Forum: Africa Dubai

 

CONCLUSION

  • Digitalisation and technology are being used to overcome the limitations of the physical infrastructure in many African countries.
    • Companies must examine or at least re-examine their product offering and supply chains to embrace technology or run the risk of being left behind.
    • Consider appointing a Digital Executive.
  • Research the countries where governments are pro-actively attempting to ease the difficulty of doing business in your industry. In general, these would include Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and to a lesser extent Nigeria.
    • A generic strategy objective of “Enter Africa” is no longer viable.
    • Rather enter those countries where government will facilitate the entry of your product suite.

 

REFERENCES


[i] Paga was founded early 2009 on the simple belief that the ubiquity of mobile phones can be leveraged to bring financial services to all Africans. Paga works on the most basic SMS enabled phone and on all mobile networks so customers have the liberty to have their Paga account available at their fingertips regardless of what phone or network they are using. For consumers, the core offering is a money transfer service while Paga Merchant Services allows businesses to collect payment from all spectrums of the population – whether banked or not.
[ii] Mergrims is a prepayment platform of products and services of first necessity in Rwanda. It is the sole platform to enable “Prepayment” of more than airtime and electricity, but also critical services like hospital, medicines, schools or transport
[iii] Jumia aims at creating a connected digital Africa to improve people’s lives on the continent thanks to the Internet. Jumia’s mission is to connect African consumers and entrepreneurs to do better business together. Founded in 2012, with a presence across Africa, the group has MTN, Rocket Internet, Millicom, Orange, Axa, Goldman Sachs and CDC as investors. Jumia has created a sustainable ecosystem of digital services and infrastructures through online and mobile marketplaces and classifieds.
[iv] A unicorn is a start-up company valued at over $1 billion. The term was coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, choosing the mythical animal to represent the statistical rarity of such successful ventures.
[v] Nomanini, is a South African-based enterprise payments platform provider that optimises transactions in the informal market. Nomanini enables financial inclusion of unbanked people in Africa via local informal retail merchants by facilitating a wide-range of basic transactions including mobile top-ups, utility payments, remittances, deposits, withdrawals, account opening and mobile money/card acceptance.
[vi] Agrolay Ventures is a private investment firm dedicated to growing the agriculture and food sectors in Africa. They are a venture capital investor in early-stage agribusiness and food-related companies and projects that seek to redefine the food production and retail opportunity across Africa’s large consumer markets.
​[vii] The company acquires a majority share in African banks. It has raised $625m in capital and has completed 4 acquisitions covering 7 countries.
[viii] Sahara Group is a leading privately-owned Power, Energy, Gas and Infrastructure conglomerate established in 1996 with operating companies’ active in the downstream, midstream, upstream, infrastructure and power sectors. Sahara has presence in different locations including Africa, The Caribbean, Asia and Europe.
[ix] The Standard Bank of South Africa Limited is one of South Africa’s largest financial services groups, operating in 20 countries across Africa and other key markets around the world. It is Africa’s biggest lender by assets.