Expert Eye: Key findings from the Africa List Business Barometer

Over the past decade there has been a shift in Sub-Saharan Africa’s economic landscape. Development and growth is increasingly driven beyond the traditional powerhouses of Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, and the extractive sectors. You can see it through the rapid rise of a country such as Ethiopia, which posted some of the highest economic growth figures globally in the 2010s.

The Africa List is a select network of CEOs and emerging business leaders, with communities in Ethiopia and other emerging African economies: DRC, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and most recently Ghana (another of the fastest growing markets on the continent in the last decade).

To harness the insights from this incredible community and shed light on the realities of doing business on the ground through the eyes of those shaping these business environments, we surveyed the membership. In December 2019, The Africa List Business Barometer – the largest survey of its kind ever conducted – brought together the opinions and insights of over 350 business leaders and owners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, and unearthed some fascinating findings.

Buoyancy on the ground

Perhaps the most striking results are around business confidence. 81 percent of CEOs and business leaders in Africa’s emerging economies are positive about the business situation in their country, with 87 percent expecting the business situation to remain stable or to improve in the year ahead compared to the current situation. This is despite persistent and often well documented challenges, which our members report on a regular basis, including regulatory obstacles and unstable political environments. 

Furthermore, and contrary to popular opinion, the survey found there to be no direct correlation between challenging conditions and business confidence. In fact, the opposite is the case. For example, members in the DRC acknowledged the high-profile challenges created by the political environment in the past year, but were the most positive about an improvement in business conditions, with 75 percent feeling optimistic about the next 12 months.

Whilst there is some difference of opinion on the factors behind this optimism, there appear to be two driving forces. First, is the increasing consumer demand for products and services, driven by rising household incomes. And second is the expansion of Africa’s digital and technological infrastructure, which our leaders see as another major opportunity for growth. 

Commitment to investing

Our members didn’t just report optimism. They also identified how that translates to proactive behaviour with 55 percent expecting to increase investment in their business and 50 percent committing to hire more staff in the next year. 

However, challenges pertaining to sourcing skilled employees was echoed loudly among our members, with nearly a third of participants identifying human resource issues as a primary constraint to growth. This was supported by frustrations with sometimes outdated education systems which fail to sufficiently equip students for the needs of the job market, and the knock-on impact this has in finding the right people to hire, who are short in supply and therefore expensive to bring on board.

Positively, it appears that business leaders in these countries are taking the situation into their own hands. Most businesses reported plans to invest considerable amounts in training and upskilling for their employees to fill the gaps. They recognise that by doing so they will provide not only short-term value to the quality of the workforce, but long-term commercial gain. 

How companies do good

Another key insight worth highlighting from the report is around perceptions of how businesses ‘do good’.

When asked about the primary way in which companies ‘do good’, across all countries, participants identified creating employment over options including engaging in corporate social responsibility initiatives, paying taxes and creating wealth for shareholders. As a result, and perhaps surprisingly compared to perceptions in more developed countries, financial services, telecommunications and mining were all sectors cited as ‘doing good’. In the context of the countries surveyed, however, unemployment rates are high, secure work isn’t easily accessible and the higher-quality jobs, salaries and worker benefits these sectors can offer has a direct impact on people’s lives. 

These results demonstrate that many of our members feel that by making the investment to grow their workforce and by providing good quality jobs, they are in turn making a positive contribution to wider societal good. They are acutely aware of the broader impact of their work outside the workplace and how long-term commercial growth can, in turn, support prosperity at a local, national and regional level. 

Tracking this sentiment into 2020

Our aim now is to make The Africa List Business Barometer an annual occurrence, tracking the sentiments of our business leaders into 2020 and beyond. 

With the upcoming Tanzanian and Ethiopian elections, the continued negotiation and implementation of the African continental free trade agreement and ongoing climate issues across the continent, the 2020s look set to bring about seismic changes for Africa. 

With such a pivotal decade lying ahead, the Business Barometer will be a unique and valuable tool for monitoring business conditions through the eyes of those leading the continent’s private sector in some of its fastest growing countries. We look forward to sharing more of these exceptional leaders’ views, as they navigate risks and seize the considerable opportunities to bring about sustainable economic growth and prosperity. 

 
 
About the expert 
 
Nieros Oyegun joined CDC Group as Head of The Africa List in 2017. Since joining, she has overseen the network as it has expanded across the continent and developed its learning and development offering for members.
 
Oyegun has a wealth of experience when it comes to doing business across Africa. She previously worked in investment banking and alternative assets, and helped lead the development of Macquarie’s Africa infrastructure project finance and advisory business with landmark projects in renewable energy, toll roads and water treatment. She also served as Head of Corporate Finance and Investor Relations at a portfolio company, one of Nigeria’s largest deep offshore logistics companies.
 
She holds a master’s degree in Finance from London Business School, and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Economics from Columbia University.