'Speak Spanish?'

Africa and Latin America are trapped on a desert island and neither is helping the other.

 

This is an opinion piece based on a variety of sources linked at the bottom of the article. After proof-reading it a few times, I do have to admit - it is written from a mainly African perspective. So, trigger warning, I guess.

 

From sharing what is essentially the same history, to reaching what seems to be a similar fate. Latin America and Africa need each other now more than ever. For perspective, both continents are great sources of natural resources and giant pools of affordable, young labour. I could go on complaining about how corruption, the world order and general politics are keeping a tight chokehold on both regions and while that would be accurate to a degree - it would also be scapegoating.

 

If you've ever read American business magazines and papers, you'd think LatAm and Africa are on the rise. You'd be forgiven for thinking they are the new land(s) of opportunity with tech startups on every street corner [1]. The reality is very different. And by that I don't mean there are no tech startups, there are some rising global businesses. While their stories may be littered with fairytales of rags to riches, they're mostly founded by the upper middle class in those regions. Someone like a then teenaged Palmer Luckey [2] is hard to come across. A boy genius who wears flip flops, Nigerian robes and only bathes once every so often isn't taken very seriously in the South. The business environment is a spitting image of the West fifty years ago. To get that investment, or to even get to pitch there are fees that not too many can afford most of the time [3]. I think you're starting to get the picture. A gated community where only the 30% may enter and even they are not guaranteed much success, if any.

 

This is the part where I have to come clean, my knowledge of LatAm cultures and business environment is fairly limited. So I am really relying on my sources here. Why am I telling you? We're going into the numbers part. This is a far less sensationalist article than my previous one, which you can read here (https://www.startupapp.africa/read-blog/120_here-039-s-why-sa-039-s-unemployed-gen-z-is-your-problem.html).

 

The World Bank tells us this, from 2005 to 2019 - we're just going to include 2020. It's a fair assumption since the pandemic happened. From 2005 to 2019, Sub-Saharan Africa's economies have taken a huge hammering. The region's average growth of 6.5% tumbled to less than 2.5% YoY [4]. Our Latin American friends didn't fare much better, in fact they went from a smidge over 4% to less than 1% in the same period [5]. It's clear, there are parallels to be drawn. Two continents that if we are to believe the textbooks, were once one are essentially sharing a similar trajectory. Granted, this fairly limited comparison that aside from giving us a somewhat skewed picture of where they're going doesn't take into account the absolute economic values as well as other factors that may influence the continents' decline.

 

This is the nailbiter. What can be done to leverage the top mentioned characteristics of either region? I mean, they both have cheap labour, fertile land and loads of minerals. These three factors alone should be good to sustain either individually if all is considered except for internal cultural differences and borders. I personally think it starts with competition, nothing in my opinion nurtures strong and independent nations like competition. Russia is a great example. During the Cold War it was their strong competition with the US that kept them well-armed. If both regions focused their efforts on outdoing each other in international trade and competing for similar markets like how Chile and South Africa's Western Cape are in the wine sector, that would be a great first step. Post that we can look at technology. Both regions have a severe shortage of patents and aren't very well-known for innovation. LatAm is famous for cocaine and Africa is famous for the Nigerian Prince [6]. This is a really important step as the world finds itself in a position where mobile phones are essentially frozen, they've been screen on the front and some buttons on the side since 2007. Cars are transitioning to clean energy, which does not have to exclusively mean electricity.

 

These technological changes put the established global supply chains and industry titans in a vulnerable spot. The next billionaire will probably be the person who builds a reliable EV charging infrastructure or brings us the next iPhone moment -  and seeing as Steve is dead, it won't be him. Culture is also a great area to get started. Gen Z is doing its own thing with pop music, we have never seen a time where rap music is this subdivided into so many subgenres. As this happens, it creates an opportunity for trailblazers to come in and infuse Africa and LatAm's rhythm into the global heartbeat. The same is true for fashion, globalisation and lack of protectionism cobbled together with the sudden urge to produce eco-friendly clothes provide unbelievable opportunities. And lastly is cuisine, to be honest we are all a little tired of Mario's pizza and Bob's (un)ethical burgers, yes I do mean American fast food. There's a strong need to present new tastes, new flavours from these regions could provide great markets for competition and eventual growth.

 

At the end of the day, it comes down to the people's vote and political will. If people continue voting as if they're drunk instead of actually questioning their favourite political leaders, there really won't be much change. It will only happen when the masses wake up from their slumber.

 

 

Sources:

1) CNN - https://edition.cnn.com/specials/africa/africa-tech-rising

2) The Smithsonian - https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-palmer-luckey-created-oculus-rift-180953049/

3) Tshimologong Startup Workshop - https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-palmer-luckey-created-oculus-rift-180953049/

4) World Bank SSA Economy - https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?end=2020locations=ZGstart=2005

5) Wolrd Bank LatAm Economy - https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?end=2020locations=ZJstart=2005

6) Check your email spam folder

 

 


James Baloyi

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