In this thought leadership article, we explore the economic leadership that Africa needs with George Sebulela, the President of the African United Business Confederation (AUBC)
In recent years, Africa has emerged as a continent of immense possibilities and untapped potential. With its vast resources, youthful population, and a growth in middle class, Africa stands on the cusp of a transformative economic era.
To fully unlock this potential, Africa needs visionary and bold economic leadership. In this thought leadership article, we explore the economic leadership that Africa needs, with insights and suggestions from George Sebulela, the President of the African United Business Confederation (AUBC).
1. Harness Africa’s Natural Resources
Africa possesses an abundance of natural resources, that includes minerals, oil, and arable land. However, effective management and sustainable utilisation of these resources remain key challenges. Strong economic leadership should prioritise responsible resource extraction, encourage value addition, and promote equitable distribution of benefits. As Sebulela rightly emphasises: “Africa must move beyond being a mere exporter of raw materials and focus on building robust industries that add value to these resources.”
2. Invest in Infrastructure Development
Robust infrastructure is the backbone of any successful economy. Africa requires significant investment in transportation, energy, telecommunications, and digital infrastructure to facilitate trade, attract foreign direct investment, and foster regional integration. Sebulela suggests that “Africa needs to prioritise infrastructure development and create an enable environment for public-private partnerships to flourish, ensure the timely execution of infrastructure projects”.
3. Enhance Regional Integration
Africa is a continent of diverse cultures, languages, and economies. Greater regional integration can unleash the continent’s economic potential by promoting intra-African trade, reduce trade barriers, and facilitate the movement of goods, services, and people across borders. Sebulela emphasises: “Regional economic communities should harmonise policies, align regulations, and eliminate trade barriers to create a seamless market that can rival global economic powerhouses.” Countries such as the East African Community (EAC) member states and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have made substantial progress in regional integration, exemplifying the benefits of intra-regional trade and collaboration. To foster partnerships, align policies, and invest in critical infrastructure, Africa can unlock the full potential of its regional markets and create a vibrant and unified African economy.
4. Embrace Technology and Innovation
Technological advancements and innovation drive rapid economic growth worldwide. Africa must embrace these trends and leverage technology as a catalyst for development. Investment in research and development, nurturing local innovation ecosystems, and fostering digital skills development will empower African countries to advance traditional stages of development. Sebulela advocates for “investment in human capital, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), to drive Africa’s digital transformation”. Countries like Kenya, with its growth in technology sector and mobile payment systems, and South Africa, which has embraced innovation in various industries, serve as beacons of technological advancement in Africa. Through collaboration between academia, industry, and the public sector, Africa can harness the power of innovation to drive economic growth, enhance productivity, and improve livelihoods.
5. Promote Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Measures
Transparent and accountable governance is essential for sustainable economic growth. Africa needs leaders who are committed to fight corruption, strengthen institutions, and uphold the rule of law. Sebulela emphasises that “African governments must prioritise good governance and enable environment for businesses to thrive. Corruption erodes public trust, hinders investments, and suppresses economic growth. We need leaders who are committed to ethical governance, uphold the rule of law, and champion transparency and accountability”. Exemplary leadership in countries like Botswana, which consistently ranks high in anti-corruption indicators, and Rwanda, with its efficient governance structures, demonstrate the positive impact of strong leadership on economic development. Africa must learn from these success stories and adopt measures such as independent oversight bodies, transparent procurement processes, and citizen engagement to foster an environment conducive to sustainable growth.
6. Learn from Successful Economies
Outlining inspiration from successful economies can provide valuable insight for Africa’s economic leadership. Countries like Rwanda, Mauritius, and Ethiopia have achieved remarkable progress in recent years through visionary leadership, effective governance, and strategic investments. Sebulela suggests that “African leaders should study these success stories and adapt best practices to suit their respective
contexts, fostering an environment conducive to sustainable economic development.” Mauritius has emerged as a hub of innovation and business excellence in Africa. The country has successfully leveraged its strategic location, political stability, and business-friendly environment to attract investments, particularly in the financial services, information technology, and tourism sectors. Through investment in high-quality education, fostering a business environment and nurturing a culture of innovation, Mauritius has positioned itself as a regional leader in business and entrepreneurship. Lesson: Africa’s economic leaders should prioritise investment in education, create business-friendly environments, and promote innovation ecosystems to attract investments and foster entrepreneurship.
7. Embrace Sustainable Development
In an era to increase global environmental awareness, Africa has an opportunity to position itself as a leader in sustainable development. Sebulela emphasises the need to “adopt sustainable practices across industries, prioritise renewable energy, and promote environmentally friendly initiatives”. Through integration of sustainable development goals, Africa can attract green investments, address climate change challenges, and ensure the well-being of future generations. Morocco has made remarkable strides in renewable energy sources to power its economy. The country’s commitment to sustainability is exemplified by the Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex, one of the world’s largest concentrated solar power plants. Through significant investment in solar and wind energy, Morocco has reduced its dependence on fossil fuels, mitigated greenhouse gas emissions, and created a robust renewable energy sector. The country’s ambitious goal to achieve 52% of its energy mix from renewables by 2030 showcases its dedication to sustainable development.
8. Empower Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)
SMEs are the lifeblood of Africa’s economy, that accounts for a significant portion of employment and GDP. However, they often face challenges such as limited access to finance, infrastructure deficits, and regulatory barriers. To drive inclusive economic growth, Africa needs to prioritise the empowerment of SMEs. Sebulela declares that “provision of support for SMEs is vital for job creation, poverty alleviation, and drive innovation”. Countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa have implemented various initiatives to support SMEs, that includes streamlined business registration processes, access to credit, and targeted capacity-building programmes. These efforts demonstrate the positive impact that can be achieved through tailored policies and support mechanisms.
9. Foster Economic Diversification
Africa’s economic growth has historically been reliant on commodity exports that leave nations vulnerable to global market fluctuations. To foster long-term sustainable growth, Africa must embrace economic diversification. Sebulela emphasises: “We need to move beyond a single-resource dependence and invest in sectors that can drive innovation, value addition, and job creation.” Diversification will help mitigate risks and build resilient economies. Countries like Rwanda, with its focus on the service sector and innovation, and Botswana, which successfully diversified its economy through diamond beneficiation and tourism, serve as excellent examples. South Africa, Egypt, and Morocco have made notable strides in diversifying their economies through investments in sectors such as manufacturing, services, and technology. Their success stories highlight the importance of targeted investments, strategic planning, and the cultivation of competitive advantage in emerging industries. Their experiences underline the importance of strategic planning, targeted investments, and the development of competitive advantage in key sectors.
Africa stands at a pivotal moment in its economic trajectory, ready for extraordinary growth and prosperity. To realise this potential, visionary economic leadership is essential. Sebulela affirms: “Through bold and strategic economic leadership, Africa can chart its own course, unlock the continent’s immense potential, Africa’s economic destiny lies in our hands. Let us embrace visionary leadership, seize the opportunities before us, and work collectively towards building a prosperous and vibrant Africa and shape a brighter future for all its people.”
George Sebulela is the President of the African United Business Confederation.