Two eastern expressions would probably summarize this post. One is a Chinese proverb that when the wind of change blows some build walls and others build windmills. The second one is that the Chinese word for “crisis” consist of the words “dander” and “opportunity.” Now I am not a linguist neither am I an expert at Chinese syllabus. However I find these two concepts striking. I even wonder if this has got any influence on the Chinese attitude to doing business in Africa.
I say this because each time I visit home I see a lot of things that I wish were different and better starting from the less than standard service I received at a hotel, the town centre roads without pavements for pedestrians, a building with naked electrical wires and other health and safety issues that leave much to be desired. This is not to mention scenes that would make for “exotic viewing” on TV screens in the West. I have to admit that I have been wishing I could make a difference and have often seen these as opportunities that require action.
However, on my last visit last year I was impressed to see that a lot of people are now erecting massive windmills to harvest massive winds of changes within a short period. Even in a town as small as Enugu in Eastern Nigeria, I was able to snap loads of tourism worthy pictures that are beginning to emerge. These include large shopping malls, multipurpose recreation centres, and new services such as cable TV and home Internet. Impressive as these are, I would still caution any complacency as there is still so much to be done and obviously these are business opportunities.
More importantly I was pleased to watch this TED broadcast featuring Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Finance Minister titled: Want to help Africa? Do business here. The whole idea is that while some are busy with showing the depressing pictures of impoverished people, others are making genuine business out of it and by so doing benefiting the masses. The areas mentioned in particular include telecommunication and shopping malls which seem to be booming. The reason I enjoyed this talk is that it sort of validated my thoughts on these issues. And there are still other areas to explore.
And by the way, talking about influential African women, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala should be somewhere at the top of my list with her sound education and determination to challenge the status quo to push for reforms. We desperately need a lot more of such women. Her newly published book Reforming the Unreformable is also at the top of my long to-read list. According to the Economist this book might become a blueprint for reform in Africa. It argues that we need a better mechanism for sharing what has and has not worked in the tedious work of reforming the continent.
This is huge work in progress. The recent Forbes magazine publication regarding the happiest and saddest countries in the world make for depressing reading for many African countries. On a second thought it sounds like a convincing and well formulated business case enlisting the huge opportunities that exist.