By Bhaskar Chakravorti | From Quartz Africa
In June, global food giant Nestle was forced to downsize its operations in Africa, after having gone too big too fast because its managers had cast Africa as “the next Asia.” Belatedly, those same managers eventually realized that the two continents are, well, continents apart, and that Africa could not sustain the same growth they had seen elsewhere.
It’s an important lesson—for investors, for intellectuals, and even for politicians.
For generations, the story of Africa has been one of despair, famously headlined as the “Hopeless Continent” by The Economist only 15 years ago. Now, the newer story about Africa is that of “rising Africa,” which US president Obama frequently referenced on his historic tour to Kenya and Ethiopia. Certainly, the first visit of a sitting US president to Kenya has helped to put all of Africa back on world newspapers’ front pages—and on the business pages, too. But this “rising Africa” narrative is still vulnerable to what the Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie once described as “the single story.”
By replacing multilayered reality, Adichie argued, any “single story” about any foreign country or nation can lead to costly mistakes. Business leaders would be wise to take heed. If we look closely for all the complexities in market opportunities on the African continent, there are three ways in which the stories we tell might multiply:
People: There is no single Africa
Obviously, Africans are far from being a single people. While technically comprising 54 countries (or 55 if one also counts the disputed Western Sahara), the continent’s political boundaries are a relatively recent colonial legacy; there are potentially even more nations within Africa.
Across the official countries, there is economic unevenness, diversity and contradiction. Between Nigeria and South Africa (the continent’s two biggest countries, accounting together for 63% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s total GDP), future prospects vary considerably.
According to the IMF, Nigeria is expected to grow over 5% this year, while South African bank Nedbank predicts that South Africa’s economy will grow at a much lower 1.6%. Ghana and Zambia, on the other hand, have suffered from large macroeconomic imbalances and resulting inflationary pressures, while Rwanda and Botswana—often held up as economic models for nearby countries—represent only about 14 million people in a continent of over a billion.
Read more at Quartz Africa
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