By Strive Masiyiwa
As a company, we are “foreign” investors, in some 17 countries around the world (except Zimbabwe my homeland). Even in other African countries, we are technically foreign investors, there are no special considerations given for the fact that we are an African multinational. I really understand what it means to go to a country, and to invest capital, and skills to create jobs.
Unless your country has a unique resource, that no one else has, the truth of the matter is you have to compete for investment, even with your neighbors, because everyone wants it, from America, to China, to Zambia. Even the British were forced to allow the sale of marquee companies like Land Rover, and British Steel, to foreign investors, from India, who pumped in money, and created jobs.
The world has changed; foreign investors are no longer just companies from western countries. In our business, our most fierce competitors come from countries like China, India, Mexico, the Middle East, Nigeria, as well as South Africa. For these companies, America and Europe are no longer off bounds, to invest in. We for instance have business interests in Europe, New Zealand and the US, and yet we are an African company; the world has changed.
Even if your country has a unique resource, chances are you will need foreign investment, in terms of capital and skills, to extract that resource. And if you make unreasonable demands, the quality investors, do not quarrel with you, they just leave quietly, and you will be left to the mercy of chancers or “bottom feeders”, who promise you the moon, and deliver nothing, and also rip you off.
More than 50% of the population of African countries is below the age of 25. That means we have to create more than 500 million jobs over the next ten years. If you ask me what sometimes makes me wake up at night, it is that challenge. It is not just the purview of politicians to worry about these things; it’s about jobs, jobs, and I mean decent jobs.
Last year, Africa got about $50bn in direct foreign investment, and whilst this was 10 times what it was a decade earlier, the truth is, if we are to address the problem of poverty and youth unemployment we need to be running at 10 times that level, NOW!
One of the most inspiring leaders of the 20th century was Deng Zhaoping of China who in opening the door to foreign investment, said, “I do not care what color the cat is, as long as it catches mice”. For me the “mice” are “decent jobs” for the youth. I shudder to think what China, would have been like, if he had not opened up the country to massive investment, and creation of jobs.
Rwanda has no significant natural resources, but it has sustained a growth rate, in excess of 7% over the last decade. When I met recently with their President, Paul Kagame, we were less than 5 minutes into the conversation, and he moved the subject to investment to create jobs, and I immediately understood why they are doing so well.
Only a few weeks earlier I had been to Nigeria, and President Goodluck Jonathan welcomed me, by thanking me for our contribution, in helping to create jobs, in that great country. This is the message I hear increasingly from African leaders, as I travel around the continent. Even as an African business leader, if you are not thinking about how we create jobs, then you are simply not relevant.
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