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3 August 2015

Book review: Africa is Open for Business

Journalist Victor Kgomoeswana looks behind the headlines to examine the realities of doing business in Africa.

The Africa rising narrative is one that has been told over and over. Forums such as the Africa CEO Forum, the World Economic Forum on Africa and, most recently, the Africa Entrepreneurship Conference in Kenya – attended by US president Barack Obama, highlighting that Africa is on the move – have consistently spread the gospel of an African continent that is not only ready for business, but is open for business. 

The reasons to believe are many and range from a large market opportunity, and the thriving spirit of entrepreneurship to an attractive foreign direct investment proposition.

Africa is Open for Business – Ten years of Game-Changing Headlines is an interesting take on doing business in Africa. In the book, author Victor Kgomoeswana shares opportunities, risks and rewards he witnessed in his career as a business reporter for several outlets, including Power FM, CNBC Africa and the Sunday Independent, for whom he is a columnist.

Talking Business

The issue of business language in Africa isn’t as straightforward as the rest of the world, particularly in West Africa. The neglect of French-speaking countries by many multinationals has meant these businesses miss the opportunity to access close on 50% of their potential markets for trade. The same could be said of countries where the language of choice is Arabic; these countries are often viewed as more Middle-East Africa (MEA) than African.

For a long time, Africa’s gateway has been perceived as from the south up, but the reality is that all four compass points provide entry to the continent, depending on who is investing and in what.

Connected Continent

The concept of Pan-Africanism is one that comes through strongly in the book. Africa has diverse geography, economic and political systems, which cannot be represented by one president or one brand – unlike China or India, or even other continents. In the book, Kgomoeswana explores the possibilities of Africa as a unit, probing thoughts around a single stock exchange and common currency.

While Pan-Africanism may exist to some extent in arts, music and fashion, it is still a far-fetched idea when it comes to business. ‘Africa as a unit does not exist politically, economically or socially,’ he argues. ‘The only way for Africans to benefit equitably is for Africa to speak with one voice.’

Gearing Up

Africa is Open for Business is a colourful, portrait of the African marketplace. Kgomoeswana paints a realistic picture of doing business in Africa. The opportunity is great, the market is ripe and there ‘for those willing to look harder than most to find treasure’ – proof that African expansion is a long-term play. (Read our article on Extending your reach in Africa)

While there are risks to doing business in Africa, just as in any market, ‘the real risk is not being in Africa.’

Speaking about the book at TedxSoweto, Kgomoeswana cautions: ‘We need to change how we view the continent of Africa. From our living rooms it may look like Ebola and Al-Shabaab, but from the streets of Dar es Salaam, Juba and Addis Ababa, it is a booming economy. But you have to be there.’

Victor Kgomoeswana