Africa Technology Business

African Business Network

To be successful in African markets, multinational companies need to build stronger partnerships with Africa’s private sector to encourage an economic transformation on the continent. More from IGD President and CEO Dr. Mima Nedelcoyvch.

Photo via USAID

In mid-November, I attended the Africa-France Business Network’s Forum in France, a business forum for European and African business leaders, which focused largely on agribusiness and its growth potential in Africa. Today, agriculture accounts for 32 percent of Africa’s GDP and employs much of its labor force. As such, multinational agribusinesses are looking to tap into this market. This is all good news and demonstrates that French companies are interested in investing in Africa’s growth.

French companies have maintained strong business ties to the continent in the post-colonial era. Between 2004-2012, exports from France to Africa increased by 55 percent, making Africa the second largest growth region for French trade. Ubifrance, France’s export promotion agency, recently opened five new offices in Africa, and is on track to add more in the coming years.

Yet, despite a growing interest and engagement in Africa, I found that — similar to US companies — many French companies are slow to recognize the tremendous potential of Africa’s born and bred businesses. African homegrown businesses are the backbone of Africa’s economy and understand the unique business landscape on the ground.

The discussions between French and African companies at the Forum reaffirmed that doing business on the continent means investing in Africa’s small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). A majority of the continent’s agricultural products are produced by African smallholders and SMEs. By partnering with African companies, French companies can expand their operations and reach on the continent. However, without a clear understanding of the African private sector needs, French companies will find it difficult to work on the continent for the long-term.

Traditionally, French companies had little choice but to deal with the government officials since Africa’s private sector lacked capacity for industry and manufacturing. Much has changed in the past decades. Rapid economic growth and strong government involvement have fostered a business environment that has eased the ability to do business on the continent.

Multinational companies must possess a greater understanding of African SMEs needs, giving them time and investment to expand their operations and ease French access into African economies.

Opportunities abound

The “Africa Rising” narrative points to Africa’s increasingly young, educated, and urban population. The number of Africans living in urban, metropolitan areas is projected to substantially grow from 36 percent in 2010 to 50 percent by 2030. Along with a rapidly expanding workforce, Africa’s urban population and growing middle class will present tremendous opportunities in the global economy.

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