THE question in every economist and market observer’s mind is how African economies will manoeuvre around the havoc triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic and whether the continent can leapfrog to better days.
On Tuesday, the University of Stellenbosch Business School presented a panel discussion to its MBA students.
The discussion, held through the online platform Zoom, examined the vital resources that Africa has at its disposal for a successful recovery.
Panellists included David Monyae, co-director of the UJCI, an international relations and foreign policy expert; Louis van Pletsen, founding partner of Quantum Power; Andrew McLachlan, managing director development at Hilton Hotels for sub-Saharan Africa, and Wilmot Magopeni, executive head and head of business development Africa Insurance at FNB International.
Host Nthabiseng Moleko of the University of Stellenbosch Business School opened the discussion by asking panellists: “Is the glass half full or half empty for Africa?”
Panellist agreed the glass is half full, saying the continent poses endless opportunities, although with a myriad of challenges ranging from infrastructure development woes and a lack of knowledge on processing raw materials.
Participants said the continent suffers from its inability to manage resources prudently for economic relief.
“How do we fix Africa’s problems, instead of finding who is to blame?” Van Pletsen asked.
He said Africans, compared to the rest of the world, have leapfrogged the typical path of development with innovative solutions – especially in the telecommunications and banking sectors.
He said within the telecommunications sector, Africans have leapfrogged from landlines to mobile phones, and in banking, branches leapfrogged with mobile money.
With the Covid-19 pandemic challenging all sectors of the globe, the panellists believe the outlook in the hospitality industry post-Covid-19 remains positive – despite it being the hardest hit globally.
McLachlan said leisure will return faster than business travel, with restaurants and bars redesigning to incorporate social distancing measures.
He said: “If airlines continue to bring people to Africa, the leisure industry will flourish post-Covid-19.”
Van Pletsen added that 10% of global GDP is from tourism.
McLachlan said trade barriers between African countries are starting to disappear and intra-continental trade agreements are increasing.
Monyae said: “Africans need to trade among themselves, which will diversify the risks of trade wars between the United States and China.”
He said the African approach is more entrepreneurial and ambitious than the rest of the world, which could be utilised to bring Africa to the forefront.
However, he said reforms and transformation will be needed to prove Africa’s economy is no longer despondent, but attractive.
The panellists said internet connectivity is the biggest challenge Africa faces.
“We have challenges with regards to infrastructure and it is a critical issue in Africa. The potential of digital technology still needs to be harnessed in the greater Africa,” Monyae said.
Panellists agreed the continent is showing signs of readiness for digital transformation although a lot still needs to be done.
Moleko said Africa still needs more than 2,5 million new engineers.
The panellists said public and private partnerships are central to elevating Africa’s readiness to digitally transform, as evidenced by Rwanda.