Thought Leadership Article

Africa: the giant IS awakening – seriously

September saw the respective international conferences of two major supply chain management industry bodies – that of the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA, in Taipei) and that of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT, in Dubai). At both gatherings there was substantial African representation and, at the CILT Convention, Africans were in a clear majority. What does this imply for African businesses?

The greater majority of delegates at both of these events were either senior executives or business owners.

Discussions with those from Africa revealed that most were participating for two reasons:

  • To network and find new business opportunities, both within and outside of Africa
     
  • To seek ways of doing things better through innovative systems and the upliftment of staff.

In the area of upliftment there is a significant, emerging trend in Africa: whereas before there was a considerable reluctance to train staff for fear of their being poached, this has been replaced by a deep realisation that the way to increased profitability is through increased professionalism. The results are clear to see: Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to grow by 4,5% in 2015 and 5% in 2016, mainly driven by agriculture, extractive industries, construction and services on the supply side. On the demand side, the boost has come from private consumption and infrastructure investment.

In terms of world GDP growth, this is forecast at 2,8% for 2015 and 3,3% in 2016.

For Africa, all of these growth areas require increasing levels of competency: all of these areas require increasingly efficient management of supply chains. What is striking is how many of the countries concerned are meeting these needs: both CILT and FIATA are the awarding bodies of qualifications that are directly related to the management of goods whilst at rest or in motion.

For the qualifications awarded by these bodies, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of African education and training providers who are accredited to offer programmes aimed at these qualifications as well as the number of graduates. It is probably not too much to speculate that the other two supply chain management professional body ‘majors’, the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) and APICS, are seeing similar growth increases in Africa. It is also worth noting that, for the past two years, FIATA’s Young Freight Forwarder of the Year competition has been won by Africa-born Africans – both of whom are women!

Whereas in the recent past it was only possible for African students to acquire these qualifications through very expensive overseas study, this is no longer the case for many: the training is available on the doorstep and the courses have been adapted to reflect local conditions. In addition, there has been an increasing availability of online courses from prestigious, well-recognised institutions of higher learning, coupled to the expansion of Internet cover and bandwidth. This access to far wider education and training choices to African students can be expected to result in significant improvements to the performance of supply chains across the continent.

This is a good time to note that, for any business in Africa, the rules are changing – survival and growth are no longer reliant on an established organisation only: they need an established organisation that employs highly skilled and specialised people who can creatively address increasing complexity and so create new business models for a sustainable and profitable future. Education and training are therefore not something we do to comply with Government transformation measures: we do it because it is essential for growth.

For any entrepreneur seeking to expand his business across African the implications are clear: there are a growing number of facilities on the continent available to train staff to the levels of competency needed for international competitiveness. In utilising these to the fullest, the greatest benefits of intra-continental diversification can be realised.

Written by: Charles Dey
Date: 15 October 2015
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