Friday, 19 June 2015

African Lions Begin to Prow: Undiscovered Countries

‘The Nerve of the World has been Deadened  for Centuries to the Vibrations of African Genius.’

Ivan Van Sertima.
Professor of African Studies, Rutgers University.

For the infamous Great White Hunter 100 years ago, Africa was indeed an Undiscovered Country. Astonishingly, so it is again. But this time, the uncertainties and unknowns are deep within the commercial jungle and technological planes with strange and exotic opportunities.

Quite impressive and deep structural changes are occurring so fast, that sizeable divisions of the continent’s economy has suddenly developed into bustling marketplace. Big macroeconomic legacies that simply do not get the attention they deserve. 

And there are plain reasons for this. Africa’s enduring character over the last one-hundred years has been one of struggle: exploitation by the west, war-torn provinces and deadly conflict, zero-sum political gaming, famine’s misery, highly skewed infant mortality; and set against Millennium Development Goals Africa has lost considerable ground in combating disease and epidemic blight. Hence, the long account of substantial parts of the African continent in turmoil.

Abject poverty has, and will remain at the heart of Africa's challenges for some time to come. Even middle income countries like Gabon and Botswana have sizeable sections of the population living in severe poverty. So it is understandable that Africa has long been considered a continent least attractive to investment. Hence, the world’s media preoccupation with Africa malfunctions and systemic malaise.

This view, however, is shifting. Recent discovery of new resources and continuous striving by African leaders to improve the socio-economic welfare are changing the dynamics of these economies. Dramatic and rapid change is taking place in the heart of the continent.

Do not be surprised if in years to come, that like the Dragon and Puma nations, Africa’s appellation becomes the formidable Lion-states! Do not forget that Africa is a vast continent with extremely diverse and distinctive cultures; holding unprecedented uncultivated arable landmasses, with the largest deposits of untapped natural resources in the world, coiled with vast economic potential.

But before we go off and explore the numbers and complexities, it is a good idea for you to actually get your head around how geographically big Africa’s is. Because it is ultra-huge! Contemplate the fact that man’s mother country easily swallows the whole of the USA, China, India, Japan, and all of Europe combined and could still find room for a few more provincial states.

Look at the picture closely. Spend a few minutes studying and contemplating it. Think not the past. That is too late. But think future. Think future politics. Think future resources. Not just merely oil. But think fresh ground water, foods, ores, mineral, precious metals, gems, potential, innovation, and GigaMarkets!

Because Africa, with all its modern legacy and thunderous challenges, the true mother country is about to come on to the world stage in a way and magnitude that no man has seen or been before.

Whether prehistoric, ancient, contemporary or prospective, big Africa is a continent full of revelation and enigma. Retrospectively, it is easy to forget that Africa is our primal home: both biologically and culturally.

Africa is the veritable mother country; the birthplace of man and human civilisation. But where and how did all this begin? Where were our original ancestors born? When was our first birthday? When did we actually diverged from Chimp to Human? And what first to the world cultural innovations came about, where no precedent existed help jog and inspire the mind?

Contemporary physical evidence corroborates to a fair extent that the proto-proto-human legacy actually started ~7 million years ago. However, the further one goes back to the chimpanzee/human divergence, the more uncertain taxonomical classification (innovation again!). Our utmost grandfather is named Sahelanthropus tchadensis, a ‘guest’ (my definition) member of the hominid tribe. The fossils were discovered in Djurab Desert of Chad in 2001. I might point out however, that many evolutionary zoologists and taxonomists, claim it to be a Small Ape. My point is, innovation – whether biological or technological – is far from a smooth ride when coming into being.

However, three-million years later, something more concrete emerged: the famous 4 million year old fossils of Dinknesh or ‘Lucy’ were excavated on the slope of a desert channel at Hadar located in Ethiopia.

The first tool making man, the much famed Homo-Habilis – Hand Man – was excavated in Kenya in 1961; estimated to be ~1,750,000 years old. Habilis has since been found in a variety of locations along the Rift Valley, as well as at Hadar, Ethiopia.

The dawn of Homo Sapien emerged in Africa ~200,000 years ago in. Bones of two humans were found in 1967 near Kibish, Ethiopia, and are the earliest known members of our species.

But what of memetic culture? It is debatable, but perhaps true that memetic culture began with the basic invention of controlled fire, which can be forensically traced back 1.4 million years to a range of South African caves. However, evolutionary anthropologists argue that intellectual culture begun with language. This is also debatable because memetics includes learned techniques and gestures, which clearly came before the invention of language. Commonsense tells that you copy people’s technique without a spoken word.

However, the basic invention of syntactic, verbal language, according to Johanna Nichols, a linguist at the University of California, must have arisen in our species at least ~100,000 years ago. Evidence suggests that language almost certainly emerged somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa during the Middle Stone Age.

It is worth noting that the ancient cultural history of Africa – way back before ancient Egypt – is rarely made known in modern western culture. As many know the vast majority of scholarly work on the genesis of science and technology is based on what the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans brought to the world.

People of African descent – that is you and me – come from a rich and elaborate legacy that invented a wealth of technologies and scientific bearings that set the platform for some of man’s monumental achievement.

Because if you have learnt that agriculture was born roughly 12 thousand years ago, well the information you gleaned was to some degree right, but mainly wrong. Like all technological innovation, agriculture did not begin in one giant leap for mankind in Natufian, South West Asia, 12,000 years ago; but in staged, staggered and in parallel modes, way-way back.

Although early ancient Africans were the first hunter gathers, with the first signs of self-fashioned weapons for hunting; proto-agriculture actually began in Africa.

Advancements in agriculture and husbandry advanced the variety of livestock. Goats, cattle, and sheep were reared; and camels and horses were tamed. As a result, meat was incorporated in the staple diet. Milk yields increased. Clothing became increasingly sophisticated, where wool became plentiful, and where animal hair was used for weaving.

To give calibration here, the most ancient fine art object in the world was discovered in a South African cave, dating back ~75,000 years. It is a series of tiny, ornately pierced snail shells which were possibly strung on a string as a necklace, clearly meaning that very early man was into art. But the collective ancestry and culture of achievements, though – by the evidence – actually got going – as densely cumulative – ~50-40,000 years ago.

Ancient Africans were the first people on earth to use metric counting systems, keeping track of stocks and accounts. Indicating the first level of municipal trade. By ~35,000 BC ancient Africans started using tally sticks or counting sticks; the first number system and basic calculator. The Lebombo bone, come across in the Lebombo mountains of Swaziland consists of 29 distinct notches cut into a baboon's fibula.

It is thought that early attempts to quantify the tick of time may be as much as 20,000 years old. The Ishango bone, found near the headwaters of the Nile River, consist of a series of register marks carved in flutes running the span of the bone. The speculation is that the Ishango bone depicts a six month lunar calendar. Others feel that it is the earliest known display of a sequence of prime numbers!

Eight thousand years ago, people, in what we now call Zaire, developed their own numeration system, as did Yoruba people in what is now Nigeria. The Yoruba system was based on units of 20 (instead of base-10) and required an impressive amount of subtraction to identify different numbers. Scholars have lauded this system, as it required much abstract reasoning.

Hence these artifacts speculate that the beginnings of rudimentary mathematics were applied in land-living and land-dwelling measurement, commerce, weaving patterns and the recording of time. However, it was not until ~3000 BC, when more structured functional maths such as arithmetic, algebra and geometry was applied by the Egyptians (and further east the Babylonians) for taxation and other financial calculations, building and construction, and astronomy. Distances and angles were calculated, algebraic equations were solved and forecasts were made of the size of floods of the Nile. The circle was gauged to have 360 degrees and got very close to Pi at 3.16. Hence, the Egyptian got to the wicket 3500 years before the Indians.

It is worth a technical note here that it is not so strange for two cultures to come up with similar innovations, when they are significantly separated by distance and time. This is known as Split Field Simultaneous Cultural Evolution. There is a lot to it. But fundamentally, and once again, we humans come from the same biological origins and ancestry (same brains, same basic survival challenges, and many of the same basic goals and motives). So it is not such a leap of faith to believe that two minds can come up with same idea, even though they have never met nor immersed in the same body of knowledge.

Take the early Egyptians. They began to chart the movement of the constellations and the cycles of the moon. They tracked the position and arch of the sun and divided an earth year into 12 divisions. They even concocted a yearlong calendar containing 365 ¼ days! From this, water powered and auto-calibrated clocks were invented. Time became manageable. And again, agriculture took yet another leap forward.

It gets even more fascinating and controversial. Again, most westerners learn early at school that Christopher Columbus was first to sail to the Americas. Not according to evidence that empirically states that ancient Africans sailed to both South America and Asia hundreds of years before Europeans.

13th century Africans constructed thousands of miles of waterways across Africa, using them as trade routes. Many ancient societies in Africa built a broad variety of vessels, ranging across small reed-boats, long sailboats and large scale ships with stowage areas, cargo spaces, cabins, and even galleys. The Mali and Songhai built boats 100 plus feet long and 15 feet wide with an 80 ton capacity.

It is widely known today that ocean currents flow from part of West Africa to the South Americas. And along with DNA evidence from indigenous African plants, and art and artifacts from societies inhabiting South America at the time, clearly tells that groups of West Africans cruised to South America to make it their home. In fact, scientists have recreated these antique master marinas and expedited transatlantic crossings. In the other nautical direction, while Africans were sailing to the Americas, these ancient peoples also sailed to China and back, carrying elephants as cargo.

It is also now agreed that Egyptian hieroglyphs dates back to ~3400. This disputes the commonly held belief that early pictographic symbols and logos that codify location, types of object, size and importance first evolved into phonetic symbols in Mesopotamia. A belief that was held for many centuries. Curiouser and Curiouser!

And so now you know what many western people do not know or have at least not shared. But the story does not end there. Because the amount of people I bump into that simply will not believe what I have just alleged, explains why the Ancient Rome and Greece paradigm of history still dominates most people mindsets. It is time to wake up. Because as I said: Africa is BIG!

African Lions Begin to Prow: Undiscovered Countries 

So back to the future and quickly jaunting several thousand years ahead, as of  the year 2012[update] ~1.07 billion African modern Homo Sapiens-Sapiens were living in 54 different countries, with a continental nominal GDP of $1.6 trillion; expected to rise to $2.6 trillion by year 2020 according to Mckinsey Global Institute.

The causes of Africa’s new gained economic momentum and forecast outlook derives from multiple sources in multiple context. And the opportunities that lay ahead for both Africa and foreign investors are as yet uncalibrated, but subjectively substantial. Because although civil conflict and government upheavals might stagger economic growth, in the longer-term - especially the distant-term - international business cannot afford to ignore Africa’s potential. Much of Africa’s future economic growth will be influenced by unprecedented GigaTrends beyond the influence of any single or cluster of African nations. The global demand for fossil fuels, minerals and raw materials, commodity and primary goods will exponentially increase over the coming two decades.
Large-scale trends such as a youthful and growing population, progressively competent workforce, and increasing urbanisation will surge forward African expectations, aspersions and material growth. By 2020 ~120 million households will earn more than $5000 per annum, a point at which more than half the moneys are spent on items other than basic domestic living and food. Lagos, Alexandria, Cairo, Cape Town and Johannesburg consumer spending will be greater than $25 billion each, comparable to New Delhi and Mumbai.

Yet from a broader perspective, Africa’s future has vast, even huge economic and technological potential. According to the World Economic Forum; Africa is on the brink of a fundamental economic transformation. Over the last 10 years, Africa has held 6 of the 10 most rapidly rising nations (below), at a point in time when the much of humanity face major political and economic challenges.

South Africa accounts for over a third of the Africa’s GDP, while growth in the region was ~6 percent, making it one of the fastest growing developing areas.

The economy of South Africa is ranked as an upper-middle income economy by The World Bank, which makes the country one of only four countries in Africa represented in this category (the others being Gabon, Mauritius, and Botswana).

South Africa’s economy is fairly diversified across mining, agriculture and marine fishery, vehicle assembly, food-processing, clothing, textiles, telecommunication, real estate, tourism, transportation, and wholesale and consumer services. South Africa suffers from relatively heavy overall regulation burden compared to developed countries. Interference imposes high barriers to entry in many areas. High numbers in unemployment and inequality are thought to be South African’s most outstanding economic challenges. These issues, and others related to them such as crime, have in turn impaired investment and growth, in turn having detrimental feedback effect on employment.

South Africa, unlike many other emerging markets, has struggled through the 2008-09 recession, where upturn has largely been carried by public consumption and private growth; while exports and private investment have yet to meet expectations. The long-term forecast for South African growth has been estimated at 3.5 percent; while per capita GDP was at 2.2 percent from 2000–09.

Nigeria is most surprising to me in the African equation. For sure it is a large, vibrant, natural energy source rich, West African nation. While its nominal GDP growth over the last decade is bringing the country up as a economic contender. Nigeria’s current nominal GDP is $451 billion (equivalent to the UKs in the early 1950s); with 7.1 growth. And considering the accelerating rate of technological progress, Nigeria should reach developed world GDP rates exceedingly faster than any of the incumbent developed nation have through those years.

Like other nations in Africa, Nigeria is growing trade (GDP generation) with the BRICS nations. Looking way out, Mahesh Sachdev, Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, made it clear that with a projected 500 million people by 2050, Nigeria will be fifth most populated nation in the world. As a result, Nigeria will become one of the 10 largest consumer economies. Further still, he affirmed that Nigeria could actually meet the target of being among the 20 leading economies in as little as five years (2020). Sachdev, who spoke at the 10th award ceremony for winners of the National Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), remarked that India alone buys ~$7 billion worth of primary goods from Nigeria. Plus, India’s direct investment and imports in 2010 was $5 billion, with more medicines coming from India into the country than any other nation.

One important observation is that the economy of 2050 would be largely knowledge-based, not wholly natural resource-based; considering the rate of technological evolution going today. However, for such progress to take place tribalism and extreme religion-based values have to be tempered, the right targets have to be set and achieved, coupled to an ethical course that seeks to build and grow, rather than raze.

Although much has been made of its status as a major exporter of oil, Nigeria produces about 2.7 percent of the world's supply, next to the largest producer Saudi Arabia’s 12.9 percent. To put oil revenues in perspective: at an estimated export rate of 1.9 Mbbl/d (300,000 m3/d), with a projected sales value of $65 per barrel in 2011, Nigeria's anticipated revenue from petroleum is about $52.2 billion. Therefore, though the petroleum sector is important, it remains in fact a small part of the country's overall vibrant and diversified economy.Look at the picture closely. Spend a few minutes studying and contemplating it. Think not the past. That is too late. But think future. Think future politics. Think future resources. Not just merely oil. But think fresh ground water, foods, ores, mineral, precious metals, gems, potential, innovation, and GigaMarkets!

It is wildly voiced in Nigeria that the coexistence of vast wealth in natural resources and extreme abject poverty in developing and emerging countries is known as the as the Resource Curse. Now consider that the population increased from 120 million people from 2000 to 160 million in 2010, whilst at the same time with 45 percent of Nigerian families are sitting in resource blight. One thing is that if South Africa is sincere about leading the continent on the way to a brighter future, it should develop a more comprehensive wealth-based accounting system and help the rest of Africa, including Nigeria, to do the same.

Many estimates suggest that Nigeria’s GDP may increase by somewhere around 40 percent in nominal terms in 2015, which means that the West African powerhouse would overtake South Africa as the continent’s largest economy. But that estimate is questionable one. Comparable jumps have occurred in other nations, as in 2010 Ghana’s status to a middle-income nation occurred because of a sudden leap by 60 percent. Even so, insubstantial it is.

Concerns have also been echoed about the status of the BRICS organisation. But – and I do wonder what Jim O’Neil is thinking – I do not feel that the membership would not necessarily change that quick. South Africa could still act as an integral member state because sear size of GDP status is not the only metric; plus South Africa are in the club, with a lot of goodwill and relationship building under its belt. So Nigeria would not automatically become the preferred counterpart of BRIC(S)? However, some policy makers believe that Nigeria’s economic dominance of Africa would produce significant impacts in governance and political will. Well that is good’ol politics at work.

One not so well know Nigerian gig that is something of mass cottage industry, is her entertainment markets. Since the 1960s, Nigeria has had an active cinematic film industry, often branded as Nollywood in the same style of India’s Bollywood. You may be surprised that it is the world’s second largest producer, ahead of Hollywood, just behind Bolly. Nollywood creates some 200 videos for the home video market every month. Law impeded foreign television content so producers in Lagos started televising local topic and themes.

Currently, Nigerian films outsell Hollywood films in Nigeria and many other African countries. Some 300 producers turn out movies at an astonishing rate somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 a year. The films go straight to DVD. The chief reason is that TV transmissions do not reach much of the more rural parts of Niger. But the industry is profitable. The average video production costs around $20,000 and shot in just a week; selling up to 200,000 units nationwide in one day. With this type of return, more are getting into the business. By most reports, Nollywood is a $500-million industry. And it keeps growing, according to Frank Ikegwuonu, author of Who's Who in Nollywood.  

However, I should emphasise that economic growth – like Nollywood – is not the same as economic development (you may know this). Economic development ultimatly boils down to improving all the things that go to stepping-up and sustaining a nation’s standard and quality of living. GDP focuses exclusively on the money being generated by market activities and the total throughput of goods and services. Hence, even though Nigeria’s GDP per capita doubled from $1,400 in 2000 to $2,800 in 2012, it is important to understand that economic development, not just growth, is vital.

Nigeria, as another example, has immense solar energy potential because of its latitude and its large swathes of unused land. Many approaches are possible, such as off-grid and low-tech hot water. Biomass is a traditional African off-grid heating and cooking fuel. Simple, small-scale and medium-scale biomass plants could improve efficiency. Numerous African waterways possess.

Untapped potential for hydropower would be the cheapest energy source, but requires significant suppliers and then train and integrate local employees into their infrastructure projects, they will find easier market access. The rewards can be substantial for both the company and the economy. Recent calculations by Roland Berger Consulting indicate that making electricity available for one more hour per day would result in a 9 percent GDP increase in Nigeria.
African Lions Begin to Prow: Undiscovered Countries 


Kenya is another extremely promising example, having a new lease of economic and cultural life in recent times. With a nominal GDP of $39.6 billion; at $478 per capita in 2012. GDP growth rate is estimated at 4.2 percent in the same period, primarily driven by financial intermediation, tourism, construction and agriculture sectors.

One attention-grabbing surprise here is that Kenya’s capital Nairobi has the fastest-growing luxury real-estate prices on the planet; and that Kenya’s coast is second only to the nation’s capital city, beating in terms of relative growth per inhabitant of megacities like Miami, London, Chinese boom-cities; even Singapore and Sydney. According to a report from Citi Private Wealth, prices for premium land sites and properties in Kenya’s capital Nairobi bound almost 25 percent in 2011 alone. Kenya’s seemingly illogical rapid economic development is attracting domestic and international private equity, with particular growth in transfer of funds flowing from Kenya’s increasingly affluent diaspora.

Kenya also holds Africa's biggest Automotive and International Trade Exhibition. Attracting automotive products and auxiliary parts from over 11 countries. For example, the event showcases a wide range of products from China, often with over 30 Chinese firms participating. Trade visitors from all over East & Central African countries come in collaboration with several regional trade bodies in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Mozambique & Congo. Though Kenya by itself is one of the biggest markets in Africa, major emphasis is being laid upon attracting traders and importers from neighbouring countries. This kind of activity, should ensure business specially for the foreign participants who form almost 80 percent of the exhibition.

Kenya is primarily focused on automotive retail and distribution; focusing on Toyota (East Africa), Cooper Motor Corporation, General Motors, Simba Colt and DT Dobie. There are also three vehicle assembly plants in the country, which concentrate on the assembly of pick-ups and heavy commercial vehicles.

Figures recently released by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicate that in mid 2013 the total sales of motorcycles stood at 45,935 units while in 2008 the number stood at 2,084, an increase of 2,000 percent.

With the motorcycle explosion in Nairobi, several business opportunities have emerged. Banks and micro-finance institutions are also targeting transporters especially those using motorcycles to offer them loans. Most of the motorcycle operators within Nairobi and other major urban areas took loans to buy their first motorcycles.

Ghana is another revelation. As the nation leads as Africa’s fastest growing economy. Ghana’s recent economic growth put her ahead of major Asian emerging economies such as Qatar. Ghana is projected to grow in double digits over coming years; and through an economic symbiosis, nearly 40 percent of the neighbouring countries are likely to see higher growth rates as well (check any world map).

Ghana is the pride of Africa, with clear democratic achievements, peaceful elections, peaceful environment, hospitable people, renowned personalities, economic progress and much more. Now Ghana has a comparatively strong commercial and consumer sector, predominantly serving the Ghanaian economy and the West African sub-region. The goal is to develop strong manufacturing bases and increase exports.

Ghana, According to, leads with GDP growth pinned at a whopping 20 percent. Ghana has the largest Per Capita Income in West Africa. Latest figures released by Ghana’s Statistical Service indicate the country’s economy stands at GH¢44 billion ($83.18 billion) in 2012; at $3,300 GDP per capita. Ghana joined the league of oil producing countries in December, 2010 with 85,000 barrels of crude oil in a day (compare that with Nigeria’s 2.2 million per day).

Ghana remains somewhat reliant on international fiscal and technical support as well as the activities of broad Ghanaian diaspora. Cocoa, diamond, bauxite, manganese, gold, timber and other exports are major sources of foreign exchange. One being an oilfield which is reported to contain up to 3 billion barrels of light oil, discovered in 2007. Oil exploration is ongoing and, the amount of oil continues to increase.

The good news is that foreign investment in Africa has a fast growing momentum. China, in particular, has great interest in the region. As Stephan Richter president of The Globalist Research Center, wrote in the BusinessMirror:

‘...China is everywhere in Africa these days, both exploiting the continent’s vast natural resources and pursuing infrastructure projects the West has long promised but never quite delivered...With the ability to deliver projects on time and on budget, China’s leaders are offering their African counterparts a clean-cut deal: If you work with us, we will build it—period. Given that Africa’s economic growth has long been stunted by a lack of dependable transportation infrastructure, this is more than a tempting offer... China’s vision is very distinct from the West’s.
In post-colonial Africa, the West focused on democracy-building over market-building. The Chinese approach switches those priorities. And whatever the preferences of Westerners, it is Africans who must ultimately make the choice of whether to embrace democracy or markets first.
In the abstract, it is always preferable to focus on democratic structures. However, in countries where poverty remains rampant, an uncomfortable counterargument can be made, based on the West’s poor track record of the last 50 years. In much of Africa, political growth remains as stunted as the economy.’
Focusing on market-building first can empower a budding middle class—which provides a counterbalance to the vestiges of clan-based feudalism. In this approach, economic development promotes political development....
As Communist China keeps building bridges, railroads and conference centres across Africa, it is, ironically, the Chinese people—not the Americans—who can make a compelling case that their focus in Africa hasn’t been on spreading ideology but on the practical business of securing natural resources and creating future customers.’

Trade between Africa and China stood at $160 billion dollars in year 2012 and with the expected rise in commodity prices and discovery of even more resources, Africa, with good economic management the economy is expected to continue to perform very well into the future. China and Africa have a long history of commerce, often via third parties, as far back as 202 BC. Archaeological excavations at Somalia and Tanzania have recovered many coins from China. As of August 2007, it is approximated that there are more than 750,000 Chinese nationals working in different African countries and possibly as many as 200,000 Africans working in China as of 2012.
China is currently Africa's main trading partner. Hence the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was established as an official medium to reinforce the partnership. Though a few Western countries have raised concerns over the political, economic and military roles China is playing in the African continent.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlights China's development aid to Africa, while also stating that China and Africa are making ‘joint efforts to maintain the lawful rights of developing countries and push forward the creation of a new, fair and just political and economic order in the world.’

An estimated ~40 percent of the world’s Gold deposits lay in African rock. Africa holds 80 percent one of the most significant and precious metals: Platinum, and notwithstanding some spectacular engineering breakthrough, it remains a fundamental constituent of Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology. Heaven knows the total potential value.

Urbanisation has always given rise to the middle classes, bringing with it new consumer aspirations and demands. According to Mckinsey Global Group, ‘In 1980, just 28 percent of African’s lived in cities. Today, 40 percent of the continent’s 1 billion people do – a portion close to China’s and larger than India’s and one that expands further…. We estimate that by 2030, the containments’ 18 top cities could have a combined spending power of $1.3 trillion.’ Shifting from rural to urban increases productivity by 30-50 percent, and on the whole leaves for more efficient livelihood, better standards of living and improved quality of life.

Urbanisation means transport systems (rail, air, roads, waterways), drinking water, drainage and sewage systems, mains electricity and gas, telecommunications and TV transmission, banking, schools, hospitals, municipal public services, sports grounds and recreation parks. And that means both private and public service systems and management. And that means JOBs! Millions of technical, trade, professions, administrative, maintenance, civil and management roles.

Africa, it seems, is just turning its front door sign to open and poised to become a new economic driving force in the 21st century. As long as it persists to embrace the sound economic policies that engender progress, these African Lions on the Prow may just be about to pounce!
Ashish J. Thakkar’s ‘New Final Frontier.’

To boldly go! Just about sums up this young, principally Asian extract, yet African intercontinental entrepreneur. And without the advantages the western economy has; and the more developed emerging nations are gaining; few people match up to this guy’s GigaMarket mettle.

Apart from being Africa’s second prospective astronaut (thanks to Virgin Galaxy), Ashish J. Thakkar’s is also Africa’s youngest billionaire. At 35 years old, Thakkar’s legacy began in Uganda before he was born! Triggered by the much troubled 1970s, when Idi Amin came to power. Amin gave an ultimatum to the Asian community, expelling them at their peril. Thakkar’s family effectively lost everything and emigrated to the UK. After a none-so-easy period adjustment, his father found shift work at Ford Motors; his mother at a Walkers Crisps factory.

Then in 1993, in a courageous move, his family moved to Rwanda, a neighbouring country to Uganda. Where, Thakkar’s father took a loan and started over again in Uganda.

This diehard willpower, super-work ethic and never-say-die attitude rubbed off and at the age of 15, Thakkar put into action his families traits. In the mid 1990s, Thakkar borrowed a tiny amount of seed capital, starting his first business buying and selling computers systems. Thakkar GigaMarket strategy began when he would go to Dubai every weekend and load up his suitcase with IT goods, the bring it back to Uganda, then sell his goods during the week; and then in a never ending recursive cycle, take the plane to Dubai, gradually increasing his inventory. The normal rituals of a teenager, like boozy holidays, weekend partying and pimped-up rides, where out. This young man was driven by a different beat.

20 years on Thakkar has built an IT, real-estate and manufacturing conglomerate. The Mara Group, a pan-African multi-sector business conglomerate, including business outsourcing, mobile-enabled online platforms, agriculture, real estate, hospitality, packaging and asset management; operating in 26 countries, employing ~7,000 people.

But way had he become a billionaire in as little 18 years? Again GigaMarket mindset. He could senses in his water that Africa was about to get moving, even in the face of widespeard poverty, sectarian a and tribal wars, it was nearing a tipping point. Sell some IT gadgets (drives, graphics cards, RAM cards, cables, app-software, etc) out of suit case on a height street in say the England back in 1997, and people would have just walked past. Do that in Uganda, and people began to come in flocks. GigaMarket mindset!

That small trading outpost has quickly snowballed into the Mara Group (meaning Lion), a diversified corporation bringing in $100 million in revenues. Mara operate in business outsourcing, corrugated packaging manufacturing plants, large-scale agriculture in East Africa; glass manufacturing plant in Nigeria; real estate project, Mara World Tanzania, and also another of similar size in Uganda called Kingdom Kampala. Both comprise of hotels, shopping mall, convention centre, office space and serviced apartments.

Mara Group ethos hinges on Honesty, Integrity and Truth being the bedrock of company values, work ethic and operational execution. Establishing a prosperous business in Africa even when it is difficult. Media’s attention is often on bureaucracy, tardiness and duplicity, and corruption. But all human-beings have an innate longing for transparency and truth. Honesty is the best policy; for a long term customer loyalty, and partnership loyalty and profitability.

I have been saying this for years now, ‘African entrepreneurs are now your competition.’ Part of the group, is the Mara Foundation, a non-profit social enterprise which focuses on African entrepreneurs. The Foundation works to create sustainable economic and business development opportunities for young business owners via its Mara ‘Launchpad Incubation Centres and Mara Launch Fund’ which focuses on emerging African entrepreneurs. The Foundation works to create sustainable economic and business development opportunities for young business owners via its Mara Launchpad incubation centres and Mara Launch Fund.

Thakkar says,  Embrace the Unconventional’ – I like it! All of his business success in Africa is because he has taken traditional perception and turned it on its head. Not  business as usual. Instead, innovative, intuitive and inconceivable ways to gain an edge while also ensuring that our competitive advantage is sustainable. Even in the face of controversy, he leverages counter-intuition and uncommon-sense way and means. ‘When you see everyone going east…find out what’s going on in the west…that may be your door to success!’ He says.

Grandiose plans and big dreams are often answered with the ‘snooze button.’ Dreams are only as good as the strategy and resources behind it. Business success is the culmination of dreaming big dreams, daily strategic execution, hardcore teamwork and a pragmatic ‘hands on’ approach.

Thakkar, ‘I remember in the early days, when one of my corrugated box plants in East Africa was 24 hours away from delivering one of our largest orders to date. The machine operator was out ill and no one else who knew how to operate this piece of equipment, yet the order of corrugated boxes still needed to be fulfilled. So as the CEO, I sat and read the manual and taught myself how to use the machine. And needless to say, within 24 hours I was able to help my team fulfil this order in time to deliver to our client on time.’

In Africa, you must be willing to take the bull by its horns and make things happen…even when it is not in your traditional job description. Just get it done…on time…no excuses!

There is an African proverb that says ‘If you want to go fast…go alone. If you want to go far…go together.’

Mara Foundation is the Mara Group’s social enterprise that focuses on emerging African entrepreneurs. It works to create sustainable economic and business development opportunities for young business owners via our Mara Launchpad incubation centres and Mara Launch Fund. Our mission is to provide comprehensive support services, including mentor-ship, funding, incubation centre workspace and, business training to African entrepreneurs. We believe that these support services will transform entrepreneurs’ business ideas into profitable and thriving business entities that will employ other Africans and contribute to the local and national economies.

Every day, I forget my journey with great mentors who continue to walk this uphill windy road with me. It is my hope to walk along with other African entrepreneurs as their mentor because I believe passionately that Africa has a bright future of innovation, prosperity and global relevance.
He says he focuses 40% of his time on his non-profit venture – the Mara Foundation, which is devoted to helping young African entrepreneurs. It comprises of the 3 key things emerging businesses need to succeed. An Entrepreneur Launchpad, a business mentor-ship program for  emerging entrepreneurs, the Mara Launchpad, an  incubation center for young businesses and the Mara Launch Uganda Fund, which offers venture capital for startups & growing businesses in Uganda. ‘You're guiding them, handholding them, teaching them, inspiring them and you're giving them credibility and visibility.’ Says Ashish.  

He is passionate about giving back and seeing Africa prosper. ‘The Indian Tiger and Chinese Dragon have had their days.’ He says ‘It is now time for the African Lion!’

Global unemployment trends have headlined news coverage as of late. In particular, I follow youth unemployment trends, because they forecast the career trajectory of our future generations and the overall health and stability of the global economy.

The UN’s International Labour Organisation reports that approximately 74.5 million or 12.6 percent of young people around the world are unemployed. For Africa, that translates into about 14.2 million youths.

Launchpad provide infrastructure for SMEs and ‘Solopreneurs’, who otherwise would not be able to afford professional office space. Launchpad is the epi-center of the Mara Foundation’s business training and networking events. Currently, we have Launchpad in Kampala and Dar es Salaam.

In 2013, he launched Mara Women, which will solely focus on supporting women entrepreneurs. We also just expanded our mentor-ship programme to include an on-line portal. In the past year, we can attest that we have made an impact to at least 100,000 African and global entrepreneurs who are interested in on-demand mentor-ship and business advice. We do, however, recognise that our impact needs to be greater to reach the millions of young people who are without guidance and hope because of unemployment. We believe that just as other continents, like Asia, have reinvented themselves through an industrial revolution, Africa is primed and ready for its own innovative revolution partly driven by young and women entrepreneurs.

After all, he's revolutionising the mobile and social communication landscape in Africa. Though he's a devout follower of ‘Bapu’ (Gandhi) and his teachings of truth, love and compassion, you would be foolish to think Thakkar became Africa's Youngest Billionaire by following the path of least resistance, for he is an irresistible tale of passionate perseverance and indefatigable drive.

‘Africa is such an amazing place, the people are so beautiful, the atmosphere is amazing, we've got a billion people. You've seen what India and China have been through the last 10 to 15 years, but what Africa's going through is a completely different transformation. Unlike India and China, we're 54 different jurisdictions, 46 for Sub-Saharan Africa; 46 different laws, parliaments, opposition parties, backgrounds, traditions -- the whole shebang. So we're really unique in that respect and unfortunately we're really generalised in a lot of different ways. We are a continent, not a country.’

‘Look at the number of natural resources we have, the amount of naturally rain-fed arable land, the population, the consumer base we have, which is growing; the lack of penetration of anything in that respect. There are no shopping malls in a lot of these places. Fifteen years ago, India didn't have shopping malls, now it's nothing but shopping malls. There's a whole new shift, that's the next big thing.’

‘20 years ago, India and China were misunderstood, completely misread, and underestimated. Africa's in exactly that position today. Hence, my saying and why the Mara logo is the African lion. The U.S. is still investing in India and China, yet India and China are investing in Africa! We are the final destination, the last frontier!’

Ashish’s family were flat broke and destitute 20 years ago. Now he is one of the wealthiest men in the word and goes to work on his private jet! The Lions are coming!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Red Knight’s ‘Galactic Vision.’

When it comes to the Red Knight, a.k.a Sir Richard Branson, he lacks no positive ontology. One of many infamous anecdotes that confirms this, is that before Branson took the soaring leap into transatlantic commercial carriage, he owned, among a small number of businesses, a chain Record Stores and a Radio Station. And therefore, it might be no surprise that when he went to his board of directors and told them that Virgin was getting into aerospace by renting an outmoded gas guzzling Jumbo Jet to accommodate budgets flights to Florida and New York, his executives threw a wobbly and exclaimed that he was nuts. After all, what has a music/media orientated business got to do with commercial aerospace passenger transport?

GigaMindset, that is what! The Red Knight has a stupendous strategic GigaMarket mettle; driving the vestal Virgin Atlantic from untamed underdog to one of transatlantic brand leader. But this kind of mindset drives much further; principally in the face of the unexpected.

One of the first steps in commissioning a plane is its flight worthy certification. And that is governed by the FAA/CAA authorities. Only, during the inaugural make or break test, a flock of feathered beasts flew into an uninsured engine, causing catastrophic failure. Teh indemnity of the plane hung on such certification. Only a new Jet-Turbine costs more than $1 million. Virgin’s bank balked at the tab, so Branson pulled cash from overseas subsidiaries to ease the crunch. And if that was not enough, he had to find new investors and backers to continue the business-line. He succeeded, and in the knick of time, Virgin Atlantic’s madden paying flight took off in view of a major PR circus.

So to say the very least, it was not an easy flight to establish the Virgin Atlantic brand. And to add insult to injury; the 1990s begin with a rapid recession on both side of the pond. Quickly, commercial airfuel prices hiked; and the cost of flying to and throw over the Atlantic shot right up. Blast! What was Virgin Atlantic’s prospects? The Red Knight had little choice but to raise cash, having to sell treasured asset: Virgin Music Group. But as with all crisis, there is often opportunity! The influx of a near billion dollars worth of cash cleared long-term debt and loans, and bought back investor equity. In turn, giving the Red Knight full ownership Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin Atlantic has grown into a $2.9 billion dollar business as part of Virgin Group. Where as the larger corporation holds 57 divisions and subsidiaries, including banking, cable, film making, trains, electronics, et al. Employing ~50,000 people, with group revenues in excess of $21.3 billion.

And now perhaps the Red Knight is entering his most bold venture yet, ‘Virgin Galactic,’ a revolutionary enterprise that is ‘taking tourists into space.’ A phenomenal GigaIdea. I would go as far as to say that it is a wonder phenomenon in its own right.

For an initial price of $200k, Virgin Space Ships ‘Enterprise’ and ‘Voyager’ are designed to propel six sightseers and two pilots through the atmosphere to a suborbital jaunt of over 100 kilometres (360,000 ft), which is above the Earth’s Kármán line, a common definition of where space begins. Speeds reach Mach-3 (0.5 miles/s.). These pioneering space tourists have excellent celestial views thanks to the sizeable porthole-shaped windows. In the course of their journey into space, these cosmic commuters are able to leave their seats to soar weightlessly for approximately five minutes.

The craft takes off from a purpose-built ‘Spaceport America’ in Upham, New Mexico; encompassing a 3,000 meter runway and a space-age terminal and hangar designed by Foster and Partners. There are plans to build a Spaceport in Dubai, and an intention to construct multiple Spaceports world-wide in the near future.

In addition, ‘The Spaceship Company, Inc.’ is Virgin Group’s new aerospace production firm, which will build fleets of commercial spaceships and launch aircraft. The goal is to make space travel a widespread reality.
‘First In Space’ Ideas for Virgin Galactic

Clearly, consumer space tourism is an out of this world first! So it was obvious to me - and no doubt the Red Knight has thoughts about this as well – that this is a golden opportunity to break world records and first of a kind rituals, events, and publicity stunts in orbital space.

From a business perspective, this is a true GigaMarket opportunity, as a result of the UberExclusivePrimium value of being the ‘First in Space’ to experience and achieve a cherished cultural totem or custom. 

The first space jaunts are set at $200k a seat. But what would a Russian Oligarch pay to be the first to Marry in space? The first Royal Wedding in the heavens? And what would the TV syndication rights and sponsorships add up to, for any of what is envisaged below? Here is a menu of quip ‘First in Space’ ideas:

First Marriage in Space.
First Grandmaster Speed Chess Match.
First A-List Pop Song Recording in Space.
First 007 Feature Film Scene Shots in Space.
First Zero-Gravity World Championship Wrestling Match.
First Man-v-Food, 10 Pound Chili Dog and Shake in Under 10 Minutes in Space.

Looking at the interest in this emerging industry, suborbital space travel may well be affordable to higher-middle income families by 2030. In addition to multiple international spaceports (planned and those not yet on the books) catering for an expanding market, space cadets trips might well become a popular birthday present. Tech-innovation, coupled to increased supply and demand might well get jaunting above the Kármán line down to ~$5,000.

The more suppliers you have, the more price competition sets in. The more consumers you have, the more incentive there is for suppliers to enter the market. The net effect is that, the more desired any information is, the cheaper it will be to acquire it. Hence, competition for Virgin Galactic will be intense. Already Dubai, hotly tipped to be a leading hub to catering to the affluent Middle Eastern market.

But the Red Knight is not stopping there. By year 2030, Sir Red wants to put up space satellite hotels and slash transcontinental flight times from London to Sydney, or Mumbai to New York, to two and half hours. Plus, by the exponentially driven technologies, even higher, longer space jaunts might become a reality too. This is exactly the visionary mettle I am talking about.

Integral to such GigaMarket mindsets comes an intractable, while shrewd and tenacious resolve to breakthrough stubborn obstacles. This is doubly important when you create or enter into something significantly new. And even more so when it comes to ultra large-scale programmes and markets. Ones that with some good detective work and some sidewinder-like thinking, it is possible to move not merely through the road blocks and machine gun nests, but manoeuvre around them and then turn them into opportunities, allies and assets: ‘Kurpow!’ From the Red Knight’s blog.

Since we started Virgin Atlantic, 16 of our 17 original competitors have gone out of business…! Why did Virgin, a very small airline with limited resources, survive?... For years, we wanted to expand Virgin Atlantic's services into South Africa. For some reason, British Airways and South African Airways didn't want the competition!

Every 12 months I would travel to this beautiful country, meet with the Transport Minister and try to convince him that Virgin should begin London to South Africa flights. Each minister would wholeheartedly agree, say they wanted to improve service and competition - and then as soon as I left the office we would never hear from them again. 

After several years of this, we decided to try a new tactic. After yet another meeting with the Transport Minister, there was no way he was going to give us permission to fly. He was just giving us empty promises and platitudes. So we decided to ignore the minister and try something different.

We threw the biggest press conference announcing Virgin flights beginning to SA, revealing when they would start and how much we'd save the travelling public. We quoted the minister's words saying how much he was looking forward to it, and praised him for his belief in competition, lowering prices for the flying public and supporting new airlines. As the world's press were already running the story, there was no way for the minister to backtrack. As it turned out, by that very evening, he had to agree with us as he was getting so much praise from the press and public, that he couldn't climb down.
Within a few months Virgin planes started flying to South Africa! This week, we are celebrating Virgin Atlantic's 17th anniversary in South Africa. We threw a party at the team's offices in Johannesburg - surely the most stunning office in the whole Virgin Group - and thanked all the team for their outstanding work. We are going from strength to strength in SA, with more than 5000 seats than last year and over 8000 more than originally planned on the Cape Town to London route…’

Deft moves! The Red Knight avoids complicating his life with corporate reports, developing extraordinary people skills and learning to trust his instincts. He is never in one place for very long; and never thinking about one thing for too long either. He is a real Hyperthinker. Water, has occupied his agenda recently. Russian Open Source Innovation is another raw topic. In addition to Virgin Atlantic, he co-owns Virgin Blue, V Australia, and Virgin America airlines. The point is that this kind of ‘always on, follow the sun’ behaviour continually stretches the mind toward billion dollar business ideas and the breakthrough brinkmanship needed to realises eventual GigaOperations.

Hence, a GigaMarket mindset integral with perseverance, stealthy imagination and courage has sustained the Red Knight’s 50 year GigaMarket transience. According to Forbes, at end of 2012, he was worth ~$4.6 billion; ranking as the 255th richest person in on the plant. Fly Red Knight!