Tanzanian business leader Ali Mufuruki sees the conference so far as a reason for hope – he acknowledges the pioneers on our stage who’ve talked about model commodity exchange, thinking machines, motherboards made in Nigeria, and original software from Ethiopia. He suggests that Africa was the first continent to go wireless and one of the fastest growing markets for cellphones and computers.
“Is Africa connected? Yes. Connected enough? No.” This disconnection isn’t just digital – try to drive from Cairo to Cape Town and you’ll find yourself in bare desert and on footpaths – “that’s what we call roads here”. Africa has congested ports, dangerous airports and an energy deficit of 70 megawatts.
To build the infrastructure neccesary, Africa needs to grow its economy. This will require building intra-Africa trade as well as export trade. And this infrastructure is very expensive to build. There’s an unwillingness to invest in infrastructure on a government basis, and there’s no evidence that the private sector can build these tools, with the exception of the mobile phone system.
What Africa needs is money, but Africa’s got it – more than we know what to do with if we could figure out how to access it. Mufuruki references a Chinese proverb that argues that the first generation builds wealth from the soil, educates the second generation, which then builds industry. Even the US did this, with 75% of US GDP coming from cotton production in the 19th century. Africa, Mufuruki believes, needs to make money from its soil.
A mineral curse? He argues it’s a myth – different countries have used their minerals in different ways. While Liberia and Sierra Leone fought over their diamonds, they’ve been a boon for Botswana for 40 years. It’s a leadership failure, not a curse.
Africa has 78% of global platinum production, 21% of gold production, 43% of bauxite and 38% of uranium. “They are being mined whether we like it or not.” And Africa’s got almost 20% of the world’s oil and gas, which the US has identified as a huge strategic assett. As a result of this mineral wealth, Africa now finds itself running a trade surplus with China.
In other words, we have the wealth we need to build the infrastructure we need – we need to find the leadership and the will.