Interview: Africa in 2013

blessing_41Recently we were talking about what smart people expect to happen with Africa in the world economy. Since I’m not African, I reached out to my friend Blessing Mpofu from South Africa. He can’t speak for the whole continent, but was willing to share his thoughts into what is really inspiring people these days.

Blessing’s response helped me understand a little bit more about how our friends in Africa are thinking.

Here’s the interview:

Stephen: First of all, tell us where you are and what you do.

Blessing: One of the things I do is work with Youth for Christ South Africa. Our focus is reaching young people and with that comes addressing some of the issues or challenges they face. This can include health, education, poverty, unemployment etc.

One of the projects I’m involved with at the moment a movie called Nothing for Mahala (Nothing for Free). It is a part of a mass media campaign addressing values and money. I am contributing to a facilitator guide on how to teach values around money. One of the challenges in South Africa is poverty and how people with income are managing their finances.

Is M-Pesa actually awesome and used by the average consumer?

Yes. M-Pesa is being used by the average consumer. In fact it is probably the bank account for many who don’t have any bank accounts. M-Pesa, as a brand is actually huge in Kenya as compared to South Africa. Some South African banks have come up with their own M-Pesa like products to compete with M-Pesa.

These services are enabling trading in the “informal economy.” Some people are paying their general labourers this way as well.

Is there widespread adoption of Facebook and Twitter in your area?

Yes, there is a significant uptake of Facebook and Twitter. Facebook, in South Africa, from the last report I read from World Wide Worx (South African internet research company) says there are over 6 million users [Editor: 11% of the country]. Facebook has seen a slight decline in active users though. As of February 2013 Twitter had 1.1 million users but seems to be getting even more traction and growth.

Users are also using other social media platforms such as Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+.

What growth have you seen in the past 5-10 years? Have there been substantial changes in the communications, health, transportation or service industries?

Big question! One of the most notable things is broadband. Though South Africa is lagging compared to some African countries… Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have been a game changer. Most people access the internet through these devices either as they primary or only access to the internet. Online trading is one of the changes and my take is that it is going to get even bigger. Advances in communication enable a lot of this.

In terms of change in the other areas, South Africa is a contradiction. Perhaps this is the story of Africa. It breaks my heart. In some areas health has gotten better due to better availability of drugs and technology. However, to some extent, the best medical care is mostly for people with money, that can afford to pay medical aid / health insurance. Antiretrovirals (ARVs) and vaccines are generally available through the public health system but there is still a lot of work to be done there.

On the overall I think there is great transport infrastructure in South Africa. However at the moment people living in Johannesburg and there greater Johannesburg area will be, perhaps the most taxed people in the country soon. A new tolling system has been introduce on “local” roads, which might present challenge in terms of cost of goods and services in the greater Johannesburg area.

On the overall there have been some significant advances that need to be nurtured and grown more aggressively to encourage economic growth and better lives for the average South African. To balance it off, I must point out that this is a land alive with possibility.

50 years ago the “American Dream” was to go to college, get married, own a house and car and be safe. What is the “African Dream”?

I’ll approach this question from two different angles. The first is speaking directly and the second, because this is close to my heart will share my African dream. I would say the American dream as you highlighted, is an African dream. In a lot of ways the things represented in the “American” dream are universal. Everyone wants security, health and some version of wealth.

Because I am passionate about my continent, my African dream is of an Africa really loving herself. Africa has great leaders and examples such as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. The African dream, however you frame it depends on structures that facilitate it. This includes great leadership, governance and infrastructure. It means a return to Ubuntu, where community enables identity, success and well-being for everyone.

Africa has expected too much of politics and her governments to address her challenges. Perhaps my perspective is more on what needs to be done. I hope it doesn’t discount or take away from the great that is happening.

Thanks to Blessing for answering those questions, I like hearing about the way people think in other places. His conclusion struck me:

if you knew that China would be the size economy it is today, twenty years ago what would you have done? I think Africa is headed that way…

2 thoughts on “Interview: Africa in 2013”

  1. PS: I just picked up a new report and Twitter users in South Africa are now over 5 million!

    Thanks for your interest Stephen. After answering your questions I wept in joy and sadness as I thought about my continent. Great things and not so great things happening at once. And the bottom line is, Now is the time to explore startups in Africa. There are a lot of awesome things happening right now.

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