According to the OECD, there are over 7 million expatriates in Africa. The top countries of origin include: France (2.8 million) the US (988,000), the UK 833,000, the US, Spain (423,000) and Portugal (439,000). Overall, international migrants represent close to 1.9 percent of the total population in Africa. While exact expat numbers per country is still hard to come by, the top receiving countries include Algeria, Egypt, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Senegal and Ghana.
In spite of this large number for expatriates and international migrants, there is still very little relocation support on the continent, an even more critical shortcoming in countries where the tourism sector is not developed. And very few companies have a physical presence on the continent. Where it exists, in places such as South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia and Nigeria, the market for relocation is much segmented and it is still hard to find a relocation vendor that has the capacity to deliver full comprehensive destination services to outbound and inbound. assignees.
One area of relocation services that has seen growth is real estate – as construction is booming on the continent, to the point of becoming one of the most profitable business sectors – easily reaching 20 percent rate of return in unsuspected cities such as Dakar, Rwanda and Accra. Even then, it is in most cases loosely organized and operated by individual agents with no formal listing in the majority of the cities on the continent.
And yet, there is no other place where having support is more crucial to new expatriates given the nascent destination service sector coupled with language and cultural challenges which can definitely affect an assignee’s ability to settle in and be productive.
Part of what is at play is the belief that Africa is largely undeveloped with no modern amenities and that those expatriates who go to Africa are rugged adventurers who need little help and can fend for themselves. After all, why would they choose to go to Africa? There is also the (largely incorrect- since movers tend to markup shipment to the continent raking in huge profit margins) business view that there is little money to be made in the relocation and moving business. These misconceptions put a brake on potential business expansions and make assignees leery of moving to the continent. Worse, in the international development arena, these misconceptions actually keep Africa from benefitting from the best minds that, instead, choose to offer their eservices to developing countries in Latin America and Europe.
Africa’s story needs to constantly be retold to balance the views that westerners and even Africans have of her (I will always remember black South Africans referring to a friend and I as “Africans” after a soccer practice- which drew a strong rebuke and a cultural lesson from us!). To begin with, it is good to remember that it is a continent with 53 countries with an incredible diversity- often within the same country- Cameroon being one such good example with over 200 distinct languages and is a full scale representation of the different fauna including a desert, a savannah and a rain forest! And while there is plenty that should be fixed the good story about Africa includes the following facts:
• Several African countries (eg Ghana, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Rwanda) are rated higher than BRIC countries in ease of doing business and corporate governance.
• Africa has 36% of the world’s emerging market countries, 30% of the mineral resources, and will have 20% of the global population by 2050 yet receives only 4% of foreign direct investment (FDI).
• Africa on a relative basis was more resilient than most other emerging countries (not to mention developing countries) in the recent global downturn.
• Africa has had the highest rate in growth of private FDI to emerging markets since 2004 and this is expected to increase by 22% in 2010
• Africa has $980bn in infrastructure requirements over the next 10 years (including power and telecom).
• The profitability of foreign companies in Africa has been consistently higher than in most other regions of the world, reports the UNCTAD study.
Since 1990, the rate of return on foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa has averaged 29 percent, and since 1991 it has been higher than in all other regions, in many years by a factor of two.
All of this prompted Jens Schleuniger, manager of the Deutsche Bank DWS Invest Africa LC fund, to say in a Reuter’s interview. that Africa’s potential is so great that investors should actually prefer it to China because its stocks are significantly undervalued. According to him, “Few know that Africa is the second-most dynamic growth region behind Asia,” he said. Although, as many he admits that, there is a lack of trust as many investors attach too much importance to political risks. I believe this is partly exaggerated.”
As the senior adviser in Africa for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), David Nellor, noted in a report last September, sub-Saharan Africa today resembles Asia in the 1980s. “The private sector is the key driver,” wrote Nellor, “and financial markets are opening up.” War is down. Democracy is up. Inflation and interest rates are in single digits. Terms of trade have improved.
For those who still doubt my sense of optimism about the continent they should have tea with the Chinese and find out what is driving their enthusiasm about the continent. While the old superpowers still agonize over Africa’s poverty, China is captivated by its riches. Trade between Africa and China has grown an average of 30% in the past decade, topping $106 billion last year. Chinese engineers are at work across the continent, mining copper in Zambia and cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo and tapping oil in Angola. “We will continue to have a vigorous aid program here, and Chinese companies will continue to invest as much as possible,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in South Africa in January. “It is a win-win solution.”
Overall, Africa’s wealth, the current economic growth coupled with its economic potential portend well for an increased need for moving and relocation information, support and services required for a smooth relocation and effectiveness at work.