By Marianne Abib-Pech

This was the title of a fascinating talk given by Serge Borg at Club Eight on March 7th, drawing on his twenty plus years of experience doing business in Africa.

We had our very own private Indaba[/url], held strategically in the heart of the City. In a very unorthodox but fascinating way, Serge took us through a fascinating 'heart and mind' journey, over the short (or was it long) span of 2 hours.

The principles were clearly laid out: imagination and a change of perspective are required. The structure was crystal clear: 10 facts and figures. 10 misconceptions, 10 risks and 3 potential scenarios to create a new picture of Africa.

My key take aways:

Africa is not a country. It is a continent that can fit the whole of the US, China, India and part of Europe. The potential is clearly gigantic…but currently poorly managed.

Africa has a rich and diverse history. One needs to fully appreciate it to have even a glimpse of a chance to be really successful in that part of the world.

Understand ancient kingdoms and local history, the rules and the culture, to connect with and embrace a population proud of their cultural heritage.

Africa is truly the heart of global natural resources. From soy to wheat, oil to iron ore, bauxite or cobalt — but the lack of infrastructure hinders the region’s potential to be a player in the emerging new world order.

Africa’s average growth over the last 60 years amounted 4.9%. That’s an inch away from the Middle East at 5.2% and only 3% short of Asia. I say only considering that large parts of Africa have been a war zone for about the same amount of time. With more stability hopefully on the way, with 2012 rich in elections all over the continent, the speed of growth can only increase.

However, the epiphany for me came from:

ONE number: $1.6 trillion — $1.6 trillion of aid flowing to Africa in the last 60 years. In the current economical climate, this is doomed to end some time soon. A mix of only direct foreign investment and increased national investment will soon become essential to sustain the continent’s needs. China is already moving very fast in that space, securing lands, resources and privileged trade routes.

TWO pictures: [nurl=]Facebook’s significant penetration in Africa. This shows the rapidly moving usage of social media and widespread embrace of the internet.

Sir Richard Branson awarded Divine Ndhlukula, founder and Managing Director of Securico the $100,000 grand prize for the 2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship. Hers was just one of 3300 submissions made from 48 countries (out of the 54 located on the continent). Africa’s emerging entrepreneurs are ready to shape the future of their countries and participate in sustainability.

What is it that we have learnt, listening to Serge last week?

As investors, we have to be wise and smart. We have to be active listeners and observers and adjust our perception to develop a different approach. We have to open our eyes. There is a new wave coming already, a wealth of opportunities at our doorstep.

As (future) leaders, we have to scrutinise the past, embrace history, and embrace the various national psyche(s) of Africa’s individual countries, and learn the lessons. Only then will we find priceless insights on how to succeed there.

So do your homework be humble, be patient, be ready and grow with Africa. Because it guaranteedly will.

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