Digitalisation, agriculture to transform Africa’s growth

Caption: Rendering of the new mega-city to be built for the Dubai Expo 2020

Digital infrastructure and agriculture in Africa are key growth areas that are expected to attract a higher level of investment, a panel of financial experts said during the fourth Global Business Forum on Africa in Dubai.

Addressing a panel discussion entitled, “Funding African Business – Deal Makers or Risk Takers”, Eghosa Omoigui, Managing General Partner of EchoVC Partners, Nigeria; Ashish J. Thakkar, Founder of Mara Group and Mara Foundation; and Rob Hersov, Founder and Chairman of Invest Africa, who presented unique and valuable insights on investment trends in Africa.

Highlighting primary agriculture as a critical area for growth, Hersov noted that while everyone says Africa needs investments in power and infrastructure, the “most important thing is digital infrastructure because everything will be driven by a smartphone, and that is where we must be investing.”

Hersov said that while London and Paris continue to be the key sources of capital for Africa, Dubai has a strong opportunity, as the emirate has the connectivity and innovative business environment that can serve as a platform for attracting investment into Africa.

Thakkar said that while technology is going to change the continent dramatically, the digital opportunity is not being taken seriously enough, and called for a change to the “bandwagon approach.”

“Digital infrastructure is the tip of the iceberg; it is the beginning (of the big change). We will have 700 million smartphones, which will change the way we live. From healthcare to education to agriculture to trade to truly enabling ecommerce, the impact of digitalisation will be game changing,” said Thakkar.

To audience applause, Thakkar said that the key to attracting capital to Africa is for entrepreneurs to know that they are only answerable to themselves. “If we try to please others to come to our continent, it won’t work. If we are authentic and have a long-term ethical mindset, everyone will come, and those who later will kick themselves for not coming earlier,” he said.

Omoigui said that the UAE and Dubai have shown their ability to innovate, and said that a lot more investment could be attracted by African countries if governments put more focus on cities and microeconomics as opposed to countries and macroeconomics.

“While small and medium enterprises are the engine of growth, there is a complete mismatch when it comes to private equity support. A lot of these companies are not willing or capable of absorbing huge capital infusion, so it is important that we grow the companies – scaling up not just the business but also people,” said Omoigui.

The fourth Global Business Forum on Africa, orgainsed by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was held on November 1 and 2, 2017, at Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah. The high-level event was held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

The event was held as part of the Chamber’s Global Business Forum series, which focuses on Africa, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Latin America. To date, the series has hosted 10 heads of state, 74 ministers and dignitaries, and 5,400 executives, as well as a host of influential decision makers from 65 countries around the world.

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