1 billion consumers?

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Even in its current state of massive transformation and in spite of its endemic problems Africa is looked upon by many – incessantly almost – to become the gravitational centre for global growth. Believers and sceptics agree on one essential issue: the onset, the very first steps towards this growth, is linked with the emergence of a genuine middle class, and it is subject to businesses locally finding indispensable skills.

Admittedly these processes will take time. And it’s not really difficult to understand why. First of all, having completed their studies in other continents and subsequently having put to work their newly acquired skills in the employment of international companies, a lot of African nationals hesitate to return to the countries where they were born and raised (in some instances but briefly). Another consideration is the economic options some local authorities have chosen to pursue, options that are not (or no longer) in sync with current developments and that therefore inspire not much enthusiasm. Further explanation is provided by financial politics, where fighting inflation takes precedence over stimulating growth by accepting a recovery of the cost of living. This enumeration is by no means exhaustive; there are even more issues that emphatically reinforce the current status quo. One of the consequences of the BREXIT for instance is the likely need for the implementation of new terms in long standing commercial agreements. The total absence of all things related to Africa in the presidential campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is significant as well.

But let’s not only focus on the difficulties; let us also praise Africa on how it is intelligently learning to turn globalization to its advantage. Digitalization for instance is omnipresent. Mobile banking is one of the chief characteristics of the economy, spurning creativity in the form of unprecedented economic models. E-learning and online courses are ideal solutions to provide access to information in remote regions. Still in other domains there is the birth of a first airport for drones in Kigali, enabling the swift delivery of medicines and bags of blood within 35 minutes to dispensaries and medical facilities scattered all over the country (the world’s first). Since 2003 Nigeria has successfully launched five satellites, monitoring changes to the soil’s fertility and quantifying the destruction of crops by migrating locust swarms. All of this just to emphasize that well informed economic players should keep a keen interest in what consumers (by far the youngest on the planet) are up to. All this generation wants is to enjoy democracy and to be part of the consumption society. These youngsters are the pioneers of the emerging middle class, that might soon represent a body of 1 billion consumers.