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September 21, 2018

Africa is the frontier

Now that we’ve all gotten over the thrill of Shark Tank coming to town (seems Mark Cuban is more impressive than Obama) maybe we need to take a deep breathe and ask ourselves why. Here’s how I see it. Imagine running a small but really impressive organisation offering truly great services and products. However you’ve got two things holding you back. First - the marketing muscle and money to tell your story to a bigger audience thereby attracting a bigger market for your goods and services. Second the capital to grow and improve your offering and also meet the demands of the new market you seek.

What the GES2015 Kenya is doing is opening doors for your small business (Kenya/East Africa/Africa).

With this summit comes the investment capital and alongside it the much needed marketing muscle.

You cannot buy this sort of publicity or marketing it doesn’t matter how much money President Uhuru gives Kandie’s docket. This is heaven sent – the question is, do we recognise it and are we ready for it?

What President Obama is doing for us cannot be underscored. I see the usual brain dead comments on social media, some even dismissing his importance here. I see legacy media watering down the GES2015 Kenya to some sort of goat-eating event and an ‘Obama homecoming”. Really? How many pictures do we have of Obama and his short trousers hanging out with his Grandma? He has been home very many times. Can we please focus? Obama could have done many many things, all of them window dressing. But given he can’t just hand out US money to Kenya or Africa, after all there is a senate that would have to clear that and like all government processes it’s a long and painful affair. What he has done by leading the GES2015 Summit entourage to Kenya is bring private enterprise to us and told them “here is your new growth frontier”. They get it. Do we?

Incidentally, can we all stop referring to Africa as the “next” frontier. Africa IS the frontier. Now. “Next” was five years ago. When some of the world’s top businesses and entrepreneurs of our time decide to get on a plane and come to Kenya – it’s important to sit up and pay attention. Another note for all of us. For the fore-seeable future, when one speaks of Africa they will be referring to Kenya and when they speak of Kenya they will be talking about Africa without a doubt. Same thing. There was a time we constantly had to correct foreigners and remind them that Africa is a continent not a country. The new memo for this week and the near future is clear – Africa equals Kenya and Kenya equals Africa.

To hear the analysts speak (forgive me for the numbers, but I am a student of economics) sub-Saharan economies have routinely grown at nearly seven per cent per annum over the last five years and cleared well over $50 billion of debt. Remittances of around $8 billion dollars a year are now finding their way back into the continent while the capital markets reflect an enormous growth in the numbers of listed companies.

“Africa remains the last frontier in a very positive sense. The opportunities available today will not be available in 10 years time. These opportunities are being seized by many within the continent”. The words of Ecobank’s Arnold Ekpe - and he would know. Ecobank has been a major investor in the continent, providing banking services today in 21 African countries. Ecobank has invested more than $600 million in the banking industry in Africa and many Nigerian banks are investing millions in other African countries. This type of activity, said Ekpe, is what will sustain growth.

Another voice worth listening to is that of Stephen Jennings, CEO of the investment and fund manager, the Renaissance Group

“G7 economies have slowed to a crawl while emerging markets are walking more briskly - and nowhere is this more true than sub-Saharan Africa’ Jennings, has been quoted as saying “If Russia was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, sub-Saharan Africa is a second once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Check out www.rendeavour.com.

But unlike many foreign investors, Jennings has caught onto the need to use local leaders and thinkers. He’s just not theorising, he is doing it. He very confidently boasts “Our senior people and key decision makers live locally where they can understand the local dynamics. This is a world that will be led and managed by local talented entrepreneurs. These are exciting times for Africa.”

The GES2015 Kenya is a marketing and publicity machinery and opportunity money can’t buy. If President Obama has been perceived to do nothing else for his “fatherland’ his mere presence here wrapped in investment and business opportunities is a phenomenal gift.

There is a new scramble for Africa and many of us, myself included are not going to sit and watch as our forefathers once did, we plan to participate.

You and I may not be in Gigiri, or at KICC, at the various discussion panels or even cocktails thereafter. It’s neither here nor there. What we need to do is engage. Stream on-line, read, watch, follow, share and follow-up.

Someone once said, the future of Africa will happen, whether Africa participates or not. It’s our call. I’m in. Are you?

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