Africa is Booming, But Caution is Still Necessary…

Tolu Ogunlesi

Fellow Guardian Africa Network contributor and journalist Tolu Ogunlesi has written a frightening and fascinating piece about being subject to an armed robbery in Lekki, Lagos just last week.

While we are all for promoting the good that’s going on in Africa, the reality is that such incidences – Tolu was forced into the boot of his car and was lucky to escape death – are not uncommon. Unfortunately, such incidences, as common as they are undermine progress.

Here’s an excerpt from Tolu’s article:

Around midnight on Saturday 11 November (make that Sunday 12 November), I drove into a band of armed robbers somewhere in Lekki.

Before then I, Otunba of the Lagos Night, had never – not in my seven or so years in this city – run into armed robbers. I knew, in that instant, these ones were not ‘friends’. I’m used to running into my ‘friends’ at night in Lagos.

Nigerian policemen, evil as they are, don’t haul you out of your car – without first asking for identification and ‘papers’. They don’t bark insane orders menacingly at a lone male in his car, don’t surround a lone male with AK47s pointed at him, don’t collect his car keys, don’t strip him of his watch, don’t empty his pockets in seconds. Yes, they ask you to open your boot; will ask you what the suitcase in the boot contains. But Nigerian policemen don’t ask you to get into the boot. They don’t slam the boot shut. They don’t pile into your car and drive off with you in the boot.

I know Nigerian policemen can be crazy and all. We’ll talk about that another time.

I spent the next hour in the boot of my car, unsure of my fate, unsure if these were car-snatchers, or something worse.

You can read the piece in full here.

This also comes off the back of a piece published last week about the realities of doing business in Africa. It gave a refreshingly honest account of the challenges that are still ever present and basically concluded that the statistics about the continent’s growth do not reflect what it is like on the ground. It is worth a read.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The statistics often associated with the rise of Africa as a business destination don’t reflect the reality on the ground,” said Dianna Games, CEO of Africa@Work – a company dedicated to facilitating business in Africa – at a roundtable discussion held at South Africa’s UCT Graduate School of Business recently.

She said that the main insights into African business that emerged from her research for her latest book, Business in Africa: Corporate Insights, were that the reported strengths of African economies are not what they seem, the fastest growing economies having the least diversification; there is a growing suspicion among governments of multinational corporations; the potential for meaningful acquisitions and partnerships has been greatly ignored; supply chain development is slumbering in the African sun; there is very little commitment to intra-regional trade; a stubborn ignorance persists among South Africans about the different parts of Africa; and unskilled workers, poor brand and reputation building, and ownership of property remain key obstacles to overcome.

“Only once you’re on the ground, running a business, does the real Africa emerge; unique in every way and bafflingly complex.”

She said that several investors have failed, over-eager to capitalise on Africa’s commercial opportunities but ill-informed about how to go about doing that.

“In an era of Afro-optimism we fail to see how small and dysfunctional these countries and economies are,” said Games. “The biggest economies could come to a complete standstill overnight.”

None of this should really come as any surprise – after all, Africa’s problems have not suddenly gone away. Both Ogunlesi’s piece and the article above, however, should give people some food for thought. Things are booming, but caution is still necessary.

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