Why Africa is primed for economic investment

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Africa is on the move. Six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are located on the continent, and 22% of its sizable working-age population are starting businesses. That makes for the highest entrepreneurship rate in the world, and the trend seems poised to continue, according to James Mwangi, group managing director and CEO of Equity Group Holdings, a major banking group based in Kenya.

“Africa provides the world with the best opportunities for investment,” Mwangi said Tuesday during a panel on Fortune‘s Virtual Global Forum. “If we accept that investments are geared to addressing opportunities that are created by solving challenges for society, then those opportunities in Africa are significant.”

The continent, Mwangi noted, “is endowed with significant resources and a very strong labor force.” Much of that labor force is quite young—Africa’s median age is roughly 19 years old. “That means that population is a digital generation. That can be used to leap frog legacy technologies and Africa can avoid the trap of legacy systems, and hence can provide significant returns to investors because of modern technology.”

Not only is Africa’s population young, it’s also rapidly growing. The region is expected to have the highest population growth of any region in the world over the next 80 years, according to a 2019 report from the Pew Research Center.

“That [growth] constantly continues to increase in terms of consumption capability, or consumption power,” Mwangi said. “So, essentially the market will be a growing market for the foreseeable future. We anticipate the African population will have doubled by the year 2050. That shows the scale to which investments can grow.”

Africa still faces challenges when it comes to fighting poverty, or widely distributing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus pandemic. Mwangi said Equity Group and others in the private sector can play a role in helping end COVID-19 outbreaks in the region.

“It is true that there’s a risk of disruption of proper supply chains. But the private sector in Africa has chosen to champion the cause of saving lives,” he said, noting Equity Group’s efforts to invest in personal protective equipment for dozens of hospitals in Kenya.

“That capability of the private sector,” Mwangi said, “will be brought to bear when it comes to getting the vaccine distributed when it’s available for public use.”

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