Africa’s Business Revolution: A book review by Bob Morris

Africa’s Business Revolution: How to Succeed in the World’s Next Big Growth Market
Acha Leke, Mutsa Chironga, and Georges Desvaux
Harvard Business Review Press (November 2018)

How to map your Africa strategy, innovate your business model, build resilience for the long term, and unleash Africa’s talent

As Acha Leke, Mutsa Chironga, and Georges Desvaux explain, “The idea for this book was sparked from a challenge from Harvard Business Review Press,  who told us that there was a need for a comprehensive book on the African business opportunity by people with deep experience on the continent.

It is noteworthy that, as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) opened, President Xi Jinping announced that China will be providing $60 billion in financial support to Africa. President Xi gave the following breakdown for the partial distribution of funds: $20 billion in credit lines, $15 billion in grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans, and $10 billion in investment financing. This support will come in the form of government assistance and investment.

These are among the passages that caught my eye, also shared to suggest Leke, Chironga, and Desvaux’s coverage. First, the extraordinarily informative Figures inserted in Part One, Chapters 1 and 2:

o 1-1: The numbers highlight Africa’s acceleration — and the opportunity for business (Page 10)
o 1-2: Most companies see Africa as a major growth market (13)
o 1-3: Africa’s 700 largest companies earn a combined $1.4 trillion in revenues (19)
o 1-4: Nearly half of Africa’s big firms are based in South Africa (21)
o 2-1: Megatrends create big opportunities for business (39)
o 2-2: Africa’s cities are rapidly growing (42)
o 2-3: Africa could double its manufacturing output in a decade (51)
o 2-4: Most African countries lag other emerging markets in infrastructure (59)
o 2-5: Africa is the world leader in mobile money (78)

These and other Figures in Part Two consolidate a wealth of valuable material within a single page. This will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points later.

The experience of fast-growing businesses across the continent reveals four key innovation practices that should be at the heart of any strategy:

1. Create products and services that fulfill Africa’s unmet needs. (Pages 114-117)
2. Rethink your business model to truly engage with your customers. (118-121)
3. Get lean to drive down cost and price points. (121-123)
4. Harness technology to unleash the next wave of innovation. (123-125)

Be sure to check out “How to Win in Africa: A Strategic Guide” (Pages 29-33) and the navigation tools in Chapter 3.

“To turn white space into gold — for shareholders and customers alike — companies must be ready to rethink their products, services, markets, and business models. For forward-looking businesses, that makes Africa one of the world’s most exciting arenas for innovation.”

These are the four cornerstone practices that Leke, Chironga, and Desvaux recommend:

1. Take a long-term view and ride out short-term volatility. (Pages 135-139)
2. Diversify by building a balanced portfolio across countries or sectors. (139-144)
3. Integrate up and down your value chain. (144-147)
4. Understand local context and claim a place at the table with governments. (147-154)

All of the most successful businesses on the continent share one characteristic: “a sober view of Africa’s challenges and a mindset that allows them to work around them — and see the business opportunities buried in them.”

In this brilliant book, Acha Leke, Mutsa Chironga, and Georges Desvaux explain how to map an Africa strategy, innovate a business model, build resilience for the long term, and unleash Africa’s talent. That said, it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to adopt and then adapt all of their all of their suggestions and recommendations. Each reader must determine which of the material in the book is most relevant to their organization’s needs, interests, resources, cultural values, and strategic objectives.

Perhaps the right decision is not to become actively engaged in efforts to achieve business success with a substantial presence in Africa; rather, to help other companies do so.


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