Victor Kgomoeswana can be described as an unabashed Afro-optimist. For more than a decade, he has promoted the feel-good economic stories of Africa, primarily via his weekly radio spot, Africa Business Report. In “Africa is Open for Business,” Kgomoeswana offers fifty essays—each dedicated to a country, industry, organization, individual, or business theme—that illustrate how Africa’s economic time has come.
As Kgomoeswana points out, the sheer size of Africa’s population presents an enormous opportunity. And it’s this opportunity—along with the continent’s enviable supply of natural resources—that has attracted the Chinese, who see Africa as a place to extend China’s manufacturing footprint.
One challenge, though, is that the continent is divided into fifty-four countries, each with its own bureaucratic idiosyncrasies, not to mention political and social issues. Another monumental problem is that Africa is not well understood abroad, and a crisis in any one country creates a public relations concern for all fifty-four states. Right now, if you surveyed a hundred westerners about the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Africa, the most common response would no doubt be Ebola. The Ebola crisis—limited to a handful of West African countries—has managed to taint the entire continent, in much the same way as people now associate Africa with piracy, thanks to the exploits of Somali pirates.
Kgomoeswana also reminds us that once an African country becomes linked to a particular problem, it’s nearly impossible for it to shake that image. Consider Nigeria, which is now equated with 419 scammers, or Ethiopia, which has long been associated with drought and famine. “On my first visit to the country, I had expected Ethiopia to be dry, hot and full of malnourished people,” admits Kgomoeswana, before advising the reader that Ethiopia now exports electricity (to Djibouti), and is working hard to capitalize on its vast hydroelectric potential. Readers may also be surprised to learn that in 2013, Ethiopia’s national airline won the Airline Passenger Experience Association’s Passenger Choice Award for Best Regional Airline in Africa, and that it was the first African airline to order the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Even if one doesn’t accept Kgomoeswana’s argument that Africa’s economic time has come, he makes a good point when noting that Africa’s shortcomings—particularly in regards to infrastructure—present a golden opportunity for investors and businessmen with foresight and a certain appetite for risk. “Be it poor roads, lack of banking services, absence of decent shopping malls, unreliable electricity supply—every backlog is an opportunity for those optimistic enough to look,” concludes Kgomoeswana.