John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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South Africa and Foreign Investment

by John Campbell
July 26, 2011

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma delivers a speech at a Trade and Investment session of the G20 CEO summit in Seoul November 11, 2010. (Hoang Dinh Nam/Couresty Reuters)

Yesterday, I had a discussion with a few students about the various lenses through which different American communities view sub-Saharan Africa. I chose to talk about the business community, civil society, and the federal government.

One view that seems to be quite common among the American business community is Africa’s enormous untapped economic potential. However, clearly, that hasn’t translated into the investment necessary to tap that potential. I speculated that this timidity was related to a number of issues, including the widespread poverty of African consumers and our lack of nuanced understanding of the African business climate.

Interestingly, South Africa, despite its highly developed (and Westernized) business climate, has also failed to attract significant foreign investment.

In the most recent installment of the World Bank’s biannual “South Africa Economic Update,” released last week, the authors emphasize that now is the time for South Africa policymakers  to start focusing on the country’s medium term growth prospects, including working to attract more private investment, to reduce its sizable unemployment.

The authors note that South Africa actually provides favorable and rising returns on investment but that “risk perceptions or structural barriers to investment” likely impede foreign firms.

However, the report’s authors believe that South Africa’s economic problems can be overcome by promoting policies that generate  higher employment, productivity, savings, and investment to kickstart a “virtuous cycle of inclusive growth.”

An added advantage for American business is that establishing a foothold in South Africa could make it easier for private firms with little or no Africa experience to begin expanding into the continent, helping to provide the much needed investment and employment that Africa needs.

Read the report here.

h/t to Asch Harwood.

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  • Posted by Mark Gillies

    Africa is a continent with great potential for business development if one looks at the natural resources and the work ethic of the people, plus the general desire to improve ones circumstance. However, it is also an extremely difficult place to do business due to the endemic corruption. It is an old story, but sadly still a true one.

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