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Why I Believe in a Bright Future for Africa

As I reflect on the future of Africa, I find my thoughts repeatedly drifting back to my own past.
My parents come from a small village in Senegal, in the northwest of Africa. It was a poor place, without running water or electricity. My ancestors were cow herders.
But, nonetheless, there was opportunity. Senegal’s capital city, Dakar, where I was born and educated, has world-class schools and libraries. The education I received there propelled me on to universities in France and Britain, and to an international career that eventually brought me to DHL.
My own experience as an African is a good illustration of both the formidable challenges that confront this vast continent and the tremendous opportunities that await it.
Africa is the world’s second largest continent – only Asia is bigger – and it is home to more than 1 billion people. The continent also possesses about 10% of the world’s petroleum reserves, and it holds about 90% of the world’s cobalt, 90% of the world’s platinum, 50% of the world’s gold, 98% of the world’s chromium, and one-third of the world’s uranium. There are also vast tracts of farmland under cultivation, producing everything from maize and wheat to asparagus and wine grapes.
There are 54 independent countries in Africa today, containing incredible cultural diversity, with more than 3,000 different languages spoken throughout, each one representing a unique cultural tradition. My continent also lays claim to the world’s most ancient Christian communities and its oldest Islamic universities.
Sadly, Africa also possesses a history stained with colonialism and slavery.
This dark period, which lasted well into the 20th century, was traumatic for Africans in many profound ways, both emotional and economic. While countries in Europe, America and Asia focused on building modern global economies after World War II, Africa’s best and brightest struggled to take control of their own destinies.

A New Beginning

I am happy to say that the struggle for independence is well behind us. My kids will only know about it from their history books. We are producing 700,000 university graduates every year who are concerned about the future and transforming the continent, integrating it into the global economy.
Africa’s nations are moving to the next level and coming together around their common linguistic, social and economic bonds.
Since 1975, 15 countries have been working together in the Economic Community of West African States. The mission of ECOWAS is to promote economic integration and foster collective self-sufficiency.
In the South, the Southern African Development Community was established in 1980 to facilitate socio-economic cooperation and integration among its 15 member states.
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa stretches from Libya to Zimbabwe. Formed in 1994, COMESA aims to create a fully integrated, internationally competitive regional economic community.
This kind of cooperation bodes well for the future.
Sure, progress is slow. But, we shouldn’t forget that the European Community required more than 50 years to arrive at its present state of social and economic integration, and that ASEAN, founded in 1967, has only recently begun to deliver real economic benefits to its member states.
I have faith that we will continue to see African states cooperating more and more closely for common benefit. I think 50 years from now we will see four or five well-integrated regional entities seamlessly engaged in trade with one another and with the rest of the world.

Investment Is Flowing

This accelerating trend toward economic cooperation and integration comes as the populations of Asia and Latin America become more affluent, and there is increasing demand for energy, food, housing and basic consumer goods. As Africans continue to develop their economy, they will be in a good position to supply these commodities to the world, efficiently and at reasonable prices.
Already, trade between Africa and China topped US$100 billion in 2010. Trade with India was over US$50 billion. In fact, the volume of trade between Africa and Asia was higher in 2010 than the trade between Africa and all the other regions of the world combined.
Of course, sustaining this growth for the long term will require tremendous investment in infrastructure and production, especially if African businesses are going to emphasize value-added manufacturing over the export of energy and natural resources.
Again, I am optimistic. The global economy is really a simple system at heart. Money flows to areas that have the greatest potential to make a profit, and Africa is looking very attractive to both offshore and onshore investors right now.
Unfortunately, this success story is not well known outside of Africa. Although famines and civil wars generate spectacular images that are prominently reported on the front pages of newspapers around the world, when someone like Nigerian-based billionaire Aliko Dangote invests a billion dollars in an African industrial project, it almost never makes headlines. I guess images of progress just do not sell newspapers.

There are many investors like Mr. Dangote on the continent who are putting their ‘smart’ money behind crucial infrastructure and industrial projects. A recent study conducted by a respected African NGO reported that African countries collectively received about US$50 billion in investment from outside the continent during the most recent year for which statistics are available. But this amount represents only about 30% of the total investment in Africa for that year. The other 70% was generated from sources inside Africa.

DHL’s Role

This is encouraging news, but money is not the only thing that the African economy needs. Once minerals are extracted and processed, once goods are manufactured, they need to be shipped to customers located elsewhere on the continent and in other parts of the world.
We at DHL understand how important our services are to the competitiveness of the African economy.
In fact, we are the only logistics company operating in every country on the continent – a milestone we reached more than 30 years ago.
Africa is one of DHL’s fastest growing markets. In the first quarter of 2011, revenue growth in Africa was up more than 25% year-on-year.
DHL is also better placed than anyone else to connect Africa to the world and enable investors, importers, exporters and consumers to have and make better choices.
For me, personally, contributing to a bright future for my home continent is just about the sweetest reward I can earn as a professional. It is a reward I could not possibly have imagined when I first entered school as a cow herder’s grandson.

10 Comments

  • David
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    Mr Diallo, your optimism is wonderful, but also blind. What you are predicting for Africa would all be very realistic if it had actually won the struggle for it’s independence. The struggle for ECONOMIC independence is still very much ahead of us, contrary to your statement. The history books are blank on that topic. Almost all countries on the continent depend on foreign aid as a lifeline. Most of Africa is exploited like never before by the industrialised nations of the world.

    Since we’re on the topic of logistics, here is some food for thought: to this day, there isn’t a railway that stretches from the South-Western tip of the continent, to the North-Eastern one (Cape to Cairo). Such a railway would take the integration of the continent to a new level, wouldn’t you agree? About 100 years ago there were attempts to build this, but they failed.

    I’m also an optimist though.

    • Amadou Diallo
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      Dear David,

      First of all thanks for your interest and interesting point of view.

      As one would say: What you see indeed depends on the perspective from which you are looking at it.

      Today 7 out of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are African. A decade ago we (at least I) would not have seen it coming. Middle income earners are growing very fast and governance is becoming much better as an increasing number of our African leaders look to serve their people and countries and less themselves. I have witnessed it with Ethiopia, Mauritius, Ghana, and Tanzania…

      That during colonial times African resources have been used for other purposes than for the local economies goes without saying; but today’s generation is more centric around positively transforming our own economies.

      While I fully agree with your assessment on the logistics, I also believe that our continent will look like what we – Africans – (aspire to) make of it. This is regardless of any aspirations we may have of transforming it to a better space for African children and world citizens.

      David, look around and read about what is happening and you will see more interest, activities and investment than ever before happening in/on Africa. The continent has been growing faster than the world economy for quite some years now, which I would be more than happy to share with you.

      I’m happy to see we share the same blind optimistic aspiration and are working towards making African dreams come true with the firm commitment of its daughters and sons.

      As you see I wear glasses (hence a bit blind) but I am definitely optimistic about the things I see on the continent just like you!

      Jarama! (Thank you in Fulani)

      • David
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        Thanks for your reply. Indeed, I do hope for the best too.

        Yes, the general trend is positive – I agree. It needs to be mentioned, however, that in the case of measuring the well-being of the African population, ‘economic growth’ is not an accurate indicator. It’s purpose is better suited to compare, for example, investments in Africa vs the world.

        We must not forget that investments are only made for the sake of the return they will bring. And yes, of course that will make the numbers display positive trends, but at the end of the day the investor needs the return of the initially invested capital – plus the profit.

        Unfortunately though, today’s ‘modern’ economic model has been accepted globally as the standard and any suggestion of an alternative one is frowned upon. In the short-term that leaves us with no choice other than to pursue economic growth and promote ourselves to the investors as the best place to invest in. In fact, this model actually creates an incentive for governments to maintain the conditions necessary to display themselves as the best for ‘investments’. Some of these conditions include: low wages, minimal government intervention, low taxes, which means less social expenditure, and privatization on a massive scale. History has shown us that these are deeply unpopular programs among the people. The consequences of their implementation are secret to no one.

        Is the conflict of interests not obvious here? Who is the real winner from investments into Africa, the people or the investor?

        Essentially, foreign investment into a country, as well as the economic growth that follows as a result, are probably closer to an indication of the exploit-ability of that country’s people or resources: that is the truth of the matter.

        I say: don’t worry about foreign investments, all the wealth we need is already here, beneath the ground.

        Let me know what you think.

  • hiit

    Do you have a Facebook fan page for your site?

  • William Katunda

    A local perspective
    From a purely local business development perspective, the trends under
    discussion in this blog confirm my expectations to see logistics activities on the African south sub-continent develop sea-freight re-forwarding capabilities from the Tanzanian’s port of Dar-es-Salaam and the South African port of Durban to a continental traffic with Congo (DRC). The tendency might end into the deployment of a sub-continental transport mega-platform in the coming 100 years. The African continent will on a way-up benefit from on-line shop-and-ship logistics technologies, express-cargo chartering with IT visibility in the coming 20 years if political correctedness improves. Its extrovert industry is likely to depend on the political balance among
    continents, thus determining the optimal export tool for a condense natural resources transaction. Floating megalopolis are likely to be developed to bypass physical and administrative constraints on a purely logistics perspective in 200 years.

    Consumer’s future behaviour
    British American Tobacco out-sources production of its tobacco leaf to DHL Global Forwarding in Congo (DRC) and in various countries worldwide. VODACOM out-sources its reversed logistics and ZTE its supply chain processes in the same location. Their African competitors will do same in less than 50 years. While local inland & ground distribution capabilities remain impacted by rainforest obstacles, volcanic activities and social unrest, supply chain disruption should be anticipated by merging recurrent natural disasters responses and contingency plans to maintain a more vital and continuous logistics service in these future geographically unstable environments.

    A hand in the basket
    Technology helps us transform the condition of our existence as well as the environment in which we live. What contribution will Africa bring to science and to the world is our key question. Let’s not hide it, modern consumers tend to request more real-time logistics operations and will demand more efficient standard in 50 years. The development of DHL RFID tag technology will enhance those standards on the continent in the 20 coming years. But say I am still around in 100 years; I will not be surprised to hear a client asking us, to apply a
    fractal decompression (molecular unlinking) to his shipment and send it in realtime from a shipper portal A to a destination portal B.
    Here is a matter of global research as cargo immaterial teleportation and instant delivery is not part of our core business and still a less exact science…

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