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)