I will kick-off 2013 by making an historic journey. The plan is to fly to Johannesburg and then travel via land up north to Botswana. The history lies in the fact that Botswana was the first country I ever visited, 20 years ago at the tender age of ten. My uncle worked there as an aid worker and we went to visit him. I’ll never forget that trip, which ignited my passion for Africa.
As the turmoil in Western economies continues and aid is being cut left, right and centre, African countries will have to start looking beyond foreign assistance. Kenya is a good example: it hardly depends on aid to fund its budget. Instead it found ways to collect more tax from the increasingly wealthy population. Within a decade, tax collection in Kenya rose six-fold. Opportunities present themselves since the vast majority of people work outside the formal economy which is still hardly taxed due to the lack of registration.
Rather than looking at the West for aid, more emphasis will have to be put on connecting with neighbours for trade. I was amused this week to read Africans on Twitter scoff at the fact that their countries import toothpicks from China. Toothpicks, indeed. Even the most underprivileged country in the world should be able to produce at least toothpicks. They reason it isn’t rocket science…
South Africa’s push north
As much as African countries will (have to) look for trading partners, South Africa –as the continent’s leading manufacturer- is looking for a market. There is an increasing push from South African companies which, as their own economy slows, see opportunities north of the Limpopo river.
Consumers in 15 African countries can get their groceries from South African giant Shoprite, which plans to open up 9 new supermarkets in Nigeria and a whopping 21 of them in fast growing Angola. South African banks have a major presence on the continent while over 24 million people across the continent –including me- make use of an MTN telephone line.
The way forward
Maybe the Southern countries will show the continent the way forward. When I visited in 1993, the first multi-party elections in South Africa weren’t held yet. Angola and Mozambique were embroiled in bitter civil wars. Just two decades later, most Southern African countries have found peace and stability, with only Zimbabwe as potentially unstable as they go to the polls later this year.
I hear roads in the South are much better than in East-Africa. Hopefully in the slipstream of MTN, Shoprite and Standard-Charted bank, the South-African road constructors can also find their way up north.