Global Economy Watch, a monthly report released by PwC, usually leads with stories on US employment figures or an analysis of the Eurozone crisis. In August, though, it turned its attention to a more neglected part of the world, running an article titled, “Africa: Growth is on the horizon but where should you look?”
The audience for such reports are the senior executives (CEOs, CFOs and COOs) referred to as occupants of “the C-suite”. Most of these guys haven’t spent a great deal of time thinking about sub-Saharan Africa’s potential as an investment target. But, it turns out, they should.
Historically, foreign investment has focussed on the “top 3” cities in the region – Johannesburg, Kinshasa, and Lagos. They have the largest populations in the region, and that alone gives them a significant economic footprint, and most multinational companies will now have a presence within them.
But PwC predicts that, over the next 15 years, most of the growth will come from the “next 10” biggest cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. These include Nairobi (Kenya), Abidjan (Cote D’Ivoire), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Dakar (Senegal). Here are the full 10, mapped:
There are several reasons why PwC have focused on these 10. First, there’s demographics. By 2030, the region’s population will have overtaken every continent but Asia, and Africa will account for around a third of the world’s population. By 2040, PwC predicts, the continent will have the biggest labour force in the world (the result, one assumes, of a youthful population).
UN predictions suggest that, thanks to the process of urbanisation, the “next 10” cities will grow even faster than the region as a whole: most of these cities will double in size by 2030. The populations in Dar es Salaam and Luanda will both rise to around 10m by 2030, putting them on a par with Paris or London.
Add to that the standard processes of growth, and the fact that many of these countries are sitting on oil and gas reserves, and the economic importance of these cities is going to soar. In all, the IMF predicts, the size of their combined economy will triple by 2030, rising by about $140bn in total.
There are, of course, obstacles to this type of swift development. One major difficulty is overpopulation, and the accompanying shortfall in infrastructure and resources. In Nigeria, which contains three of these top 13 cities, only 20 per cent of the roads are paved (in the UK, it’s, er, 100 per cent). All 10 cities have low levels of literacy, and schools that aren’t good enough to plug the gap.
Many of the countries’ governments also lack the legal infrastructure required to manage bigger, more developed economies. The path to business deals in some countries is still occasionally smoothed by bribery: no less a figure than Albert Stanley, one time CEO of Halliburton, was jailed after paying officials bribes to secure a natural gas contract in Nigeria.
The motivations of potential investors may cause problems of their own. As an explanation for why Africa will become increasingly attractive, PwC points to the expectation that labour costs in Asia are going to soar. There’s a danger that the firms most likely to invest in the region will be those seeking cheap labour and ways to cut corners.
PwC advises its C-suite readers to invest in these cities. But it wants them to support infrastructure, (by building roads, say); and to pay for skills development programmes for the cities’ rapidly expanding workforces. Whether they’ll listen is another question.