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Trade Not Aid

Africa is receiving unprecedented attention from the West for its health, political, and humanitarian crises. Philanthropists and celebrities have been crisscrossing the continent drawing global attention to African challenges. The musician Bono, in a special issue of Vanity Fair that he co-edited in July 2007, wrote that "Africa is the proving ground for whether or not we really believe in equality." Many important African initiatives are playing a vital role in drawing attention to the plight of Africa's most vulnerable populations. But an unfortunate byproduct of these campaigns is that they also reinforce a perception that Africa is nothing but a continent of war, disease, and begging bowls. This makes it easier to overlook the business opportunities that are also there, and growing.

Although charity is important, it is not enough. Africa, like many emerging economies, has serious problems that cannot be ignored by businesses operating there. Companies such as The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, Novartis, and many others are leading the way in addressing disease, poverty, corruption, and other challenges. Some of these activities, such as distribution of condoms to prevent AIDS, are either the result of corporate citizenship or enlightened self-interest. No company can stay in business for long anywhere without being concerned about the problems facing its employees and customers. This makes corporate social responsibility essential.

Africa's challenges, like any consumer needs, can also create business opportunities. The lack of reliable electricity in many parts of Africa has created a market for generators and solar cells. Unstable financial systems have led to systems for bartering cell phone minutes, microfinancing, and cell-phone-based banking. Health problems from AIDS to malaria have created demand for new treatments, generic drugs, testing equipment, and insurance. Concern about the environment has led to opportunities in eco-tourism. The challenges often require blended solutions of public and private cooperation, leading to successful businesses that address real societal needs while building viable long-term economic value.

Where African nations have been able to create positive and stable governments, their economies have flourished—countries such as Botswana, Mozambique, Mauritius, and even Rwanda, which is best known in the West for chaos and genocide.21 Rwanda's leaders have announced aggressive plans to raise per-capita GDP from $230 to $900 by 2020, using information technology to transform the nation into an "African Singapore."22 Despite the dire situation in Sudan's western province of Darfur, the country is one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent, and multibillion-dollar office towers, hotels, and other additions to the skyline of Khartoum are inviting comparisons to Dubai.23 Next door in Somalia, while the war-torn capital of Mogadishu is a focus of international concern, Somaliland in the north is thriving and stable. Through setbacks, wars, and turmoil, the overall market development of the continent has moved in one direction—rising.

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