For the longest time, Africa has been seen as a very difficult place to do business, as can be seen by generally slow economic growth across many countries on the continent. Many resources have been invested in the continent, and results have not matched the levels of investment. In the short but concise book, the authors Leke, Chironga and Desvaux give us an overview of the business context that is Africa. Using the metaphor of the giant baobab tree which provides much more than just shade to the communities around it, they present the idea of big business in Africa as having the potential to enliven local economies, thereby contributing to wages, taxes, innovation and productivity.
The authors have one thing in common – they are either working with or have been connected with McKinsey, a global management consulting company that is well known for its astute and incisive engagement with contemporary marketplace issues. From that perspective, they come with the credibility to not only give an overview of the African business landscape but also discuss key highlights of the potential for successful big business and the important pitfalls to look out for. This they do with clarity. While they seemingly use broad strokes in painting Africa, the nuances are evident. They take time to highlight some interesting nuggets of both success and failure factors along with examples. The book is a call to entrepreneurs everywhere that Africa is awake! In Mutsa’s words – we’re only getting started!
The book is set in two parts:
The first part spotlights Africa as the next big growth market as far as big business is concerned. This is an important factor given the African entrepreneurial landscape, which is to a large extent the domain of small-scale businesses. The book points out that ‘big firms matter not just for shareholders but for society because [they] are the primary drivers of economic growth’.
The main point of this book is to spur big business, given the present opportunities, to innovate at scale. The extent of the huge unmet demand is exemplified by the following statistic: ‘In Africa, there are 60 000 people per formal outlet compared to just about 400 per store in the United States’.
The book points out the reality of winners and losers, and in the second part defines in succinct detail what strategies to consider to move towards success. The strategies described in the rest of the book fall under the following headings:
This book is important because it points to the strong potential that Africa has in economic growth. While recognising the role that SMEs continue to play on the continent, it emphasises the need to also focus attention on big business, not only to enhance shareholder value but to meet Africa’s numerous unmet needs. It recognises the opportunities that big firms have to influence for good some of the societal challenges that have pressured the continent for a long time. It is therefore an invitation to big business to consider Africa as the next growth continent.
This is a must-read – it gives hope for business in Africa. It says that big business is one sure way of meeting Africa’s big and hairy audacious goals! It can be done!
Reviewed by Irene Banda PhD – 1st March 2023