Africa is inchoate to many westerners, an undifferentiated group of countries. Yet this huge continent with its rocketing population, the least researched of the emerging markets, may hold rich promise for the adventurous.
David Mataen, head of corporate finance at Faida Investment Bank in Kenya, starts his guide Africa ? the Ultimate Frontier Market with demographics: sub-Saharan Africa?s population has quadrupled in 55 years; this population is predominantly young, but life expectancy, currently averaging 50 years, is stretching.
The first third of Mataen?s book is a backgrounder on African history, the centre section looks at the business plans of African governments from 2000 to 2010. But read the last third first ? here Mataen lays out the areas of opportunity in this young market.
Agriculture is an area of interest to Irish business people. Africa has 60 per cent of the world?s uncultivated arable land, but is the continent most threatened by climate change. Yet Mataen shows that western agricultural technology has the potential to revolutionise African land use ? he instances the Brazilian research company Embrapa, which crossbred the African brachiaria grass to produce a new grass, braquiarinha, which can grow 20 times the amount of feed per hectare. Raising a bull for slaughter used to take five years; with braquiarinha it takes 18 months.
A warning, however ? profits may not be easy to take from this problematic export market: Mataen rages against the EU?s and US?s ?deliberate and systematic trade-distorting practices? and tariffs on African produce. But the yields are extraordinary: he writes that a basic-sized Kenyan greenhouse, continually harvesting tomatoes for eight months of the year, can yield up to 25,000 tonnes of tomatoes per year.
The book lists opportunities in real estate, consumer retail, financial services, transport and logistics, manufacturing and processing. In telecoms, mobile penetration increased by more than 10 times between 2000 and 2006, almost all in urban areas, and M-commerce is a growing market.
Mataen writes honestly of the factor that makes many western business people cautious of investment in his beloved continent: corruption. ?With limited exceptions, the cancer of corruption in African countries completely refuses to let go, and remains by far the single most cited reason for the failure of aid to develop Africa. Political parties and their leaders strive to get to power largely in pursuit of the vast enterprises of corruption in the government-business complex.?
For anyone thinking of entering the African market, this is a great basic guide to the background of the continent?s possible opportunities.