Viewpoint: As African economies grow, regulators, investors, and corporations need to put sustainability first
A recent analysis in the Harvard Business Review paints a fairly rosy picture for economic growth up and across the African continent. When controlling for the drop in revenue from oil-rich African countries and disruption from the Arab Spring movement, other economic sectors maintained a 4%+ growth rate over the past five years.
Growth coupled with a rapid urbanization rate, increasing workforce size, accelerating technology access, and abundant resources all mean that the “continent still offers promising opportunities for global investors and businesses.”
The article asserts that, “to unlock growth, companies should look for opportunities in six sectors that we find have ‘white space’— wholesale and retail, food and agri-processing, health care, financial services, light manufacturing, and construction. All these sectors are characterized by high growth, high profitability, and low consolidation.”
To continue, the authors do make note that political and economic stability play major roles in how the continent will move forward. But there is no mention of how global, national, regional, and governments should also pay close attention to – and set policy and precedent for – how a 4%+ economic growth rate, booming population, and tens of millions of households entering the consumer class should be regulated in terms of mitigating the effects on the environment.
Yes, to unlock growth, companies should be looking at Africa – specifically these six sectors – and governments should be paying close attention to prevent exploitation of the new working and consumer classes. Yet, everyone should also be committed to making sure this new African future is sustainable as well.
Tackling sustainability, and adding sustainability in as a factor for African development in assessments like the one published, pressing global multinational companies to ensure all African initiatives have robust sustainability elements, designing programs to help African-based companies gain immediate and relevant access to sustainability strategic planning tools and best practices, including African leaders in important conversations and protocols as global climate accords are developed, and essentially not reinventing the wheel.
As we see Asian countries struggling to reduce emissions generated by decades of providing a cheap-labor market driven by coal power, the international business community and government leaders need to ensure sustainability is directly integrated into Africa’s path for industrial development – helping build a green Africa starting today.