Is Africa the next global success story or still an impoverished corruption hell? Weekly spoke to Dr. Auguste Ngomo, who is attending the ongoing conference of the United Nations’ Economic Commission of Africa’s Southern Africa Office (UNECA-SRO-SA) in Pointe-aux-Piments.
What do you hope to achieve through a conference on the blue economy?
We hope that the conference will make African countries wake up and see the ocean economy for the huge opportunity that it is. The ocean is vast – only some 5% of it has been explored properly. The blue economy’s global contribution to the GDP is €2.2 trillion. Compare that to all the African countries’ combined GDP of €2.8 trillion! Mauritius, for instance, is not a small country when you take its huge maritime territory into account. You can be a leading force when it comes to this section of the economy.
Is Mauritius capable of leading blue economy projects in Africa, in your opinion?
I think so. Mauritius is a country that already sees the ocean as its partner. The country has already implemented good disaster management strategies when it comes to, for instance, handling cyclones. It adapts its buildings so that they can withstand cyclones. That is knowledge that can be shared. Also, it would be possible for Mauritius to initiate regional projects that can be co-financed by other African countries. Mauritius alone will not be able to act in a way that has a real impact. But what about Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania and other countries together?
Why has the collaboration between Mauritius and other countries been relatively limited up until now?
It’s because of an attitude to Africa that dates back to the colonial days. Mauritius has one leg in the Indian Ocean close to Asia, and another leg in France for historical reasons. I was shocked when I learned that one of the main sectors in Mauritius is sugar and that the island used to have a good deal with Europe that has come to an end. Why didn’t Mauritius even consider the idea of exporting sugar to Africa after that?
But isn’t the sugarcane industry on the African continent big enough already?
It’s not sufficient. There is still a big market for exporters to explore. And the failure to take African markets into account is not restricted to sugar. Take tourism, for example. Where do most tourists who visit Mauritius come from? Not from the African continent for sure! They are from France and the rest of Europe. Yet, there is a growing middle class in Continental Africa that wants to travel but is not necessarily considering Mauritius an option because there have been no efforts to create a product for them.
So would you say that Mauritius wrongly underestimates the rest of Africa as a business partner and potential tourist provider?
Completely, just like other African countries underestimate each other. We develop tourism products for Westerners and Asians, but not for Africans. Currently, the African middle class consists of some 300 to 400 million people who have money to spend. But when they travel, they go to places like Dubai and Europe – not to other African countries.
So what can Mauritius do to attract more tourists from other African countries?
Firstly, change your customs officers. (Laughs) They are not very friendly, nor very welcoming towards African visitors. Also, direct your marketing efforts at African countries that have a growing middle class with a high purchasing power like South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Nigeria. You have to be selective. Also, a dream holiday for an African tourist doesn’t necessarily match the European idea of a dream holiday. A European tourist might feel comfortable relaxing on the beach all day, but the typical African tourist prefers more action, and more life. We enjoy festivals and a good party. We immensely enjoy good food, good conversation, entertainment and nightclubs. Europeans may want to rest but Africans want to dance and interact with people.
A major worry when it comes to doing business with other African countries is the element of corruption that seems to be omnipresent. Is the fear exaggerated?
Africa is not going to be free from corruption, but we should reduce the proportion to a level that does not jeopardise our development. Currently, it is too high, but it still doesn’t prevent businesses from operating. There are international companies and governments that have activities in Africa in spite of the corruption scourge. Also, corruption exists all over the planet – the president of South Korea just resigned because of a corruption saga involving Samsung. Did that stop Samsung from doing business? No. Japan has a prime minister that has been involved in a land corruption issue. Did that stop businesses in Japan from operating? No. We need to fight corruption, but we shouldn’t shy away from investing in Africa because of that.
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