Saturday, April 12, 2014

African dawn?

For centuries, colonial merchants tussled for access to Africa's raw materials, and huge swathes of Africa's geography became synonymous with the main commodity they exported: Gold Coast, Ivory Coast, the Spice Island of Zanzibar.

Management consultancy McKinsey estimates that African consumer spending will be $1.4 trillion by 2020 and forecasts a more than doubling of the working age population to 1.1 billion people by 2040.

 The continent's booming economic growth and swelling population gives capitalists an opportunity to shift away from the traditional raw material export model towards consuming and transforming its own commodities and selling them to its own expanding local markets.

Hasnen Varawalla, managing director of Investment Banking at Barclays Capital, said "This is not about taking resources out of Africa to the rest of the world, they are seeing the opportunities within the continent and developing them."

Poor land infrastructure is a factor limiting the internal trade in commodities across the continent. A U.N. study last year found that intra-Africa trade represents just 11 percent of the total, compared with around 70 percent within Europe, partly due to insufficient infrastructure.

Another important factor limiting their ability to process locally is power supply, as many African countries struggle to increase generation capacity in pace with demand.  Currently power prices meant production costs were more expensive than China and that this would limit Africa's potential to process raw materials locally.

"For the continent to really make that huge step forward and step up in terms of development, electricity supply is one or two of the basic infrastructure that needs to be in place."  said Mzilane Mthenjane, executive head of strategy and corporate affairs at South Africa-based mining company Exxaro.

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