Sanjeev Gupta
Sanjeev Gupta

The World Cup of destiny

If continents were companies, Africa would be an investment banker’s delight and a consultant’s playfield. It would offer real opportunities to unlock a host of obvious synergies and realise its true potential through careful restructuring and timely intervention into human egos and vested interests. And 2010’s Fifa World Cup could well be the perfect catalyst. This really should be the year when Africa’s leaders take cognisance of the opportunities that beckon them and agree that Africa’s deliverance will have to come from within. But will this happen?

2010 is a special year for Africa. Not only because the World Cup comes to this beleaguered continent for the first time ever, it is also a year when as many as 17 nations are celebrating 50 years of independence. Interestingly it also marks 125 years of the infamous Berlin Conference which pretty much set the rules of combat and division of Africa for the benefit of the great European powers.

But the continent continues to struggle to create workable economies amid the harsh legacies left behind by decades of colonial and / or minority rule exacerbated by its own distrust and ability to self-destruct. It continues to attempt to battle sickness, disease and mistrust in sporadic bursts; with little tenacity to finish the job off. It remains home to the largest numbers of the world’s illiterate, and impoverished masses; those very same people that make up the electoral majority in each country in Africa’s new-found ethos of ballot-based yet largely one-party democracies. Issues of race, prejudice and past hatreds continue to flare up and colour the issues as populism and the inevitable blame-sharing, rules the roost in all campaigns.

These issues, which can only be effectively dealt with through economic thinking and sensible governance, keep getting confused at the altar of political expediency and serve as ready ammunition to be loaded for altruistic gains in the name of electoral promises. Indeed the ills that Africa has had to contend with for time immemorial has hardly found any salvation at such new-fangled platforms called democracy and rule of the law.

What Africa needs is unity and in consultant speak “critical mass”. It needs introspection and it needs trust and cooperation between countries to enable prosperity and sustainable growth. The world will not accept one Africa easily and there will be many a hurdle to cross, but unless Africa creates its own will and thus its very own African Union; which speaks with one mind on issues of economy, foreign policy and trade, life in Africa is unlikely to change.

It is up to us to heed the call and rally behind the imminent soccer-led frenzy across the continent to start taking meaningful steps toward “unity in diversity” and self-development. It is in this context that the economic, commercial, political and military primacy of South Africa needs to recognise its own experience and pre-eminence and therefore its ordainment to spearhead the continent into its rightful future.

Events and experience in South Africa point clearly toward the need to infuse highly committed levels of energy of inclusion and cooperation to within SA’s own borders as well as beyond across the Sahara. Only then will the world see the intent and Africans can feel and believe in the power to forget, forgive and forge ahead.

To show generosity of spirit and sincerity of effort to utilise the opportunity that the Fifa Cup provides to unite Africa under one banner is a godsend. Africa’s gain is everyone’s gain.

Facilitating and bedding down a process of commonality of vision, purpose and execution to underpin an African renaissance where there is not merely political but intellectual and spiritual union of thoughts should be South Africa’s destiny and duty.

Today there are countries in Africa which have savings and financial surpluses while there are countries which have markets with demand but that require development capital. Today there are countries from where existing skills are being exported yet there are countries where skills are in short supply. Today there are countries which have natural ports and access to the main trade routes and there are countries which are landlocked. Today there are countries which enjoy preferential treatment with other nations globally while there are countries which are simply not heard at all and suffer in solitude and silence.

It is time for Africa to unite and get serious about unlocking its potential through a spirit of cooperation and camaraderie. Countries in Africa have united and supported each other in times of struggle; peace time should be no different as the task of nation building needs neighbours to support and contribute

Time to start acting on this so that the future generations of Africans can say that their leaders did not let them down.

Sanjeev Gupta is head of SIM Emerging Markets and is based in Dubai. The views expressed in this article are his own.

(Originally published in Business Day on April 29 2010)

  • Stephen Browne

    So, do you have some sort of running bet on how many times you can use the words ‘unity’, potential’, ‘diversity’, etc in one article?

    Continent wide unions work SO well, like the E.U. Oh wait. We are nowhere near the point where we could have a ‘commonality of vision.’ To use an apt phrase, most African governments couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery. This is assuming that they haven’t nationalised all the breweries.

  • Nii

    What Africa also needs is an impetus to develop its own creative and technological industries; less paranoia about the West and zero tolerance for irresponsible leaders.

  • X Cepting

    I totally agree with your sentiment. Only a united Africa can stand strong against the rest of the world. But it is also internal unity, the populism problem that is stopping unity from happening. The gap between the haves in power and the have nots with no voice is widening alarmingly. For example, on Monday 10 May public transport in the form of trains will cease to exist for an indefinite time. The have nots have been told to “make their own arrangements” during this (indefinite) period. Obviously none of the haves (who must all travel by car) have thought this important enough to comment on and the inconvenience and in some cases loss of earnings suffered by the have nots seems not to matter to the haves at all. Perhaps this is what needs to change for unity to start happening, the callous disregard of “the masses'” needs must change.

  • Rich Brauer

    Go ask the Germans how they view their “unity” with the Greeks, Spanish and Portuguese. And report back.

    And then tell us how, exactly, a continent with countries that have a GDP per annum per person of nearly US$14,000, like Botswana, should celebrate their “unity” with Ethiopia, with their per capita income of less than US$1000.

  • World Meltdown

    Sanjeev, if continents were companies then investment bankers would be short-selling Africa until there was nothing left to sell.

    Ex-investment banker

  • Benzol

    “Interestingly it also marks 125 years of the infamous Berlin Conference which pretty much set the rules of combat and division of Africa for the benefit of the great European powers.”

    This has been (and to an extend it still is) the major stumbling block for African Unity.

    Berlin divided Africa in non-homogeneous population blocs. Tribes (=language, culture, family ties, economic unities etc) were cut up and different tribes were put together within colonial borders.
    African countries today still have straight border lines. Such (unnatural) border lines do not exist in Europe.
    African countries today are still encouraged to fight tribal wars within their country to the benefit of the small arms industry. Oil and other resources do the further damage.
    It took Europe over 2000 years to come to some form of unity…and they still fight and argue. The last serious war was only 60 years ago.

    Only if African leaders can take a stand against the bribery and corruption offered by international corporations, do they have a change to survive.

    125 years Berlin is not a reason to celebrate anything.

  • Nibbed Off

    Once again colonialists are largely to blame for Africa and the bribery and corruption is entirely one way. Its easy to pontificate and talk bull when you are being paid by a fat cat company which is itself a product of colonialists. Interesting surname surely not related to the family from India who are helping the Prez and family to hone their magnificient business skills? Probably in a 1000 years time it may be acknowledged by the morons inhabiting this continent that the blame for most of the ills lies clearly at their own doors and their acceptance of incompetent and or kleptocratic leaders etc. Agree with Melt Down sell short

  • Josiah


    Incredibly interesting perspective on Africa, I would love to learn more about your experience investing and developing talent in the South African economy. Coming from the Management Consulting background you mention in your article I have seen what “critical mass” can do when I spent a summer working with a local tech start-up in Argentina through a fellowship program offered by the non-profit Endeavor ( The impact that organization has had on the local entrepreneurial culture by partnering with the existing local business talent toward a common goal is incredible. Endeavor has built such positive momentum across South America that now they’ve expanded to Africa with offices in South Africa and Egypt.

    I am actually planning to spend the fall in Cape Town working with a local entrepreneur and learning more about the South African entrepreneurial business climate, I’d love to meet you and hear any words of wisdom you can provide on how to make the most of my time there!