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Forget Ebola

December 6th 2014

I’m counting on the fact that you donated your pennies during the Ebola crisis appeal over the past weeks. In Holland we’re at € 8 million and counting. Or did you go all out and bought the 2014 version of Do they know it’s Christmas? Every little helps to stop the West African epidemic. Yet all these images and initiatives put us on the wrong foot as well. Africa actually, isn’t just a continent of troubles and relief aid but one of great opportunity. Especially for Africa itself, but also for the Netherlands.

During the past year, I spoke about the international growth potential for SMEs at the Dutch Entrepreneurs week in five cities. I started with the same question every time: which economy, do you think, has the highest growth rate? China and India! Wrong. Even after showing the dark coloured national football team the audience was, with Brazil, still on the wrong continent. The winner, with 11,1% growth in the first decade of the 21st century is Angola. According to the Economist, the average African country will grow faster than the average Asian country in the coming five years.

Rwanda is also making great headway. Which, after the bloody genocide of 1994, is nothing short of a miracle. The small, densely populated country of a thousand hills has ambitions as high as the 4507 meters high dormant volcano Mount Karisimbi.

On 22 November the Dutch Financial Times, in their article ‘Rwanda gets serious about its future – but they need to hurry’, covered this extensively. KLM contributes by flying direct from Amsterdam to Kigali, the capital. The Netherlands is also well represented in neighboring Burundi. In the capital Bujumbura on the Tanganyika Lake beach, you’ll find the Bora Bora bar, a seriously trendy place to be with large lounge cushions that carry the Heineken logo.

Actually, there is no place in the city where that logo is not present. Two hundred kilometers to the north, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on Lake Kivu lies Goma. The Netherlands Ltd. is established here as well. In this megacity, the trendiest fashion store has a pristine white façade with ‘Vlisco’ painted on it in gold lettering. It is the name of a textiles company from Helmond, a city in one of the Dutch southern provinces which grew in turnover from €170mln in 2009 to almost €300mln in 2013. Vlisco’s pet name is ‘Africa’s Fashion Titan’.

Dutch companies are already capitalising well on the enormous economic opportunities in Africa. In the last quarter, Heineken grew with 6.5%.

KLM-Air France adds African destinations to its network almost on a yearly basis, allowing you to fly direct to 45 African cities from Paris or Amsterdam.

In the meantime, the Africans themselves start to realise they can do more than just deliver raw materials. They can also create services and manufacturing industries.

Last Wednesday for example, another Dutch paper published an article stating that Cote d’Ivoire is about to surpass the Netherlands as the main cocoa processing country. The Dutch Moyee is doing good business in coffee. This company makes the production chain more transparent, takes out some of the middlemen and moves the production process as much as possible to Ethiopia. All this under the ‘Fair Chain’ brand.

What does the Dutch government do? It closes embassies because

it wants to concentrate development co-operation in less countries. This is a down right silly policy if you look at it from an economic potential perspective. Bye bye network and foot in the door. With the amount of people expected to double from 1 to 2 billion in the coming 35 years, there are enormous opportunities for multi-nationals, SMEs and entrepreneurial individuals. I therefor urge you to look beyond conflict, illness, poverty and aid. Consider Africa to be a continent of hope and opportunity.

At the same time don’t close your eyes to injustice. Stability comes with oppression of the local population. In the long run this will lead to bloody incidents. This week, The EastAfrican reported an 8% increase in African weapons expenditure, on its front page. On the other hand, maybe this is exactly your business: The Netherlands ranks in the top 10 of weapons exporters and has been for years. Rather you than me.

Nevertheless I remain hopeful for an African mix of economic prosperity, peace and democracy. That way we can forget about Ebola again as soon as possible.

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