Book Review - Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity by David Fick
Providing answers to business challenges in Africa.
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First published: May 15, 2007
Book: Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity
Written by David Fick
Publisher: STE Publishers
What do you know about Africa as far as business is concerned? For David Fick, Africa is a "continent of economic opportunity" where people of all races can do business and succeed, a place where immense untapped potential awaits the enterprising. Many people, especially those from western countries are often quick to highlight the challenges and problems faced by Africa. Fick, an American entrepreneur and a graduate of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania visited and started studying Africa. He has concluded that Africa is a continent full of economic opportunities. In his book, Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity, Fick gives us a detailed exposition of the business opportunities that can be found in Africa, and how those who have seen the opportunities are taking advantage of them to create development.
Using the perspectives of African leaders, scholars, entrepreneurs, journalists and civil society gurus, he shows that Africa would indeed be the continent of promise if all the opportunities that the naturally endowed continent has were appropriately exploited. The book presents interesting case studies of successful, individual small, medium and large enterprises as well as community projects that have created jobs in Africa. In a method every reader will appreciate, the author divides the book into regions, and then particular countries from which he picks success stories that proove business can boom in Africa.
Several businesses owned by Uganda's James Mulwana, William Kalema, Karim Hirji, Sudhir Ruparelia, Gordon Wavamuno, Patrick Bitature are highlighted. Also identified are people like Prof. Wolfgang Thome of the Rhino Fund Uganda, Craig Esbeck of Mango Tree Educational Enterprises (who use locally available material like old slippers, grain sacks, bottle tops, jerry cans, wire and wood cut-offs to make educational tools and materials), UtraTec which has been promoting the efficient use of energy in Uganda and other enterprises. Fick effectively shows us how a lot is possible in Africa for those willing to put their enterprising minds to work.
The book also presents several projects and policy changes that are, or could be of great benefit for the people of Africa and the entrepreneurial environment that includes tapping traditional African knowledge and cultures in the pursuit of development. What Fick has done commendably in this book is presenting the successes and visions of entrepreneurs, economists, educators, and political leaders who are interested in developing Africa to its full potential for the benefit of Africans and the world. What is more, the book is written in easily understood English, with human interest stories describing how some entrepreneurs are reaping from businesses in different countries. The flowing stories of individuals and projects also make the book interesting to read.
There is no doubt that Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity will become a major resource for those seeking development in Africa, especially through business. Also, by presenting the views of African leaders like Yoweri Museveni , Thabo Mbeki and many others on how Africa needs more trade within and outside it by providing incentives for investors he shows that private sector led growth and regional integration are possible. The works of scholars who emphasize democracy, human rights and accountability of public officers are also noted. The book gives us an intellectual ride with the views of the best practical and theoretical minds on what Africa needs to do to develop.
He quotes all kinds of authorities on what he presents before putting forward his own arguments and this renders Fick's book not only highly credible, but a good one stop package for those seeking to know about and participate in Africa's search for economic prosperity. Africa's development is top on the whole world's agenda (the G8, UN, World Bank, IMF, African government's etc) and this book should contribute some answers or point those interested in Africa's development towards the direction to be taken by the continent to realise its immense potential and fully utilise her people, cultures, natural resources and friends' help.
What is clear in the book is Fick's belief that while many initiatives and debates on Africa's development concentrate on macro economics, it is actually the micro economics (small and medium sized) enterprises that create the majority of jobs or provide income to the majority of Africans. This book also shows clearly that instead of apportioning blame and feeling sorry for her, what Africa needs are individuals or organizations with the ability to spot market opportunities and arrange resources to create viable businesses even in the face of the significant challenges that litter much of the continent.
Yet after reading the book, you may still ask yourself what the book is about. In his own words, the author, in documenting stories about some successful entrepreneurs and their enterprises in the Africa, says he is trying to bring out:
Author David Fick poses with a batik by Ugandan artist Nuwa Nyanzi. The Batik is reproduced on the cover of his book, Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity.
- What the stated enterprise does (establishment, key dates, past, current and future projects).
- Growth of the business and how it has grown (turnover, profits, the number of employees, or anything that illustrates that the enterprise has grown.)
- Marketing strategy (ways used to grow the business e.g. marketing and expansion strategies).
- Hardships or difficulties that might have been experienced, and how they were overcome.
- The management structure of the business.
- Quality certification and awards received.
- Training done within the enterprise.
- Social involvement how the enterprise contributes towards job creation and uplifting the society around it.
While you might agree that the book is good material to read, it does much more than project Africa as a continent full of economic opportunities. It is more of a description of successful businesses and entrepreneurs that the author managed to find. This lack of focus (particularly on showing opportunity) might rile some readers who think they should have obtained the gist of opportunities from the 511 pages of an almost A4 size book. With many readers pressed for time and in need of direct clues to act on, Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity might not be the ideal book to provide this information. The author should probably be thinking about producing a smaller version of the book.
The book is based on Fick's correspondence with people in Africa and around the world who he says are interested in the sustainable development of Africa. It is possible he may have been eager to include all the information he got from them.
But this is not to mean it contains information that may be deemed misplaced, as the details have been utilized well by the author to show through vivid examples and case studies that Africa is full of opportunities. After all, as David Fick says in the introduction, "it is important to also include the secrets of success from successful entrepreneurs that will motivate and help others to start new businesses." By documenting such best practices that exist within Africa, the author hopes they can be replicated in other parts of the continent.
All the same, some readers might feel that many African countries have simply outlined their investment opportunities in this book. They might feel that the book should probably have built on those opportunities to show us how entrepreneurs are actually taking good advantage, or can take advantage, of such business opportunities to develop the continent.
Whatever your take on it might be, Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity is successful in telling the stories of people that are successful in developing Africa and their communities. "It is meant to get across the idea that all ethnic groups (native Africans, Europeans, Arabs, Asians, and Americans) can be successful in Africa, which can, like the Americas, welcome immigrants and prosper through their efforts. All citizens of Africa will benefit and all can become successful in Africa if they have the imagination, education and persistence," Fick says in the book's introduction.
Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity is Fick's second book on business in Africa. In March 2002, he unveiled Entrepreneurship in Africa: A Study of Successes, published by Quorum Books, an imprint of the Greenwood Publications Group. It is one of the best-selling books on Amazon concerning micro economics and entrepreneurship in Africa. And he is not done yet. Fick is already working on his 3rd book; African Entrepreneurs in the 21st Century, which will feature examples of African entrepreneurs that have demonstrated visionary and strategic entrepreneurial leadership across the continent.
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First published: May 15, 2007
Gerald Businge is a media practitioner and features Editor at Ultimate Media Consult in Uganda. He is a graduate of Mass Communication and several journalism and leadership certificates. He has been a practicing journalist since March 2001 and has worked at The New Vision as features writer, and has written extensively for different newspapers, magazines, newsletters in Uganda and internationally. He currently does fulltime media communication consultancy work as well as writing and editing at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd where he is a founding member and CEO. You can get his attention so long as you are interested in and you are working for a better world.