Big African markets remain a priority, but smaller markets get more attention

As economic growth across global markets improves, a lot of executives at Western multinationals (MNCs) are facing pressure to achieve both profitability and growth. Sub-Saharan Africa has long been perceived as the engine to deliver growth in the short-term and as a region that holds significant future potential.

Large markets, notably South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, remain top of mind for executives. Improving political and economic outlooks are attracting a new wave of investment. South Africa, with the election of reform-minded Cyril Ramaphosa is finally witnessing an uptick in GDP growth (at 1.6% YOY in 2018, from 1.2% in 2017). Kenya has emerged from a political crisis and drought that dampened investor sentiment in 2017. Nigeria, with a more stable currency, better oil revenues and growth, is also generating renewed interest despite heading into an election in 2019.

There are also a handful of smaller rising stars that executives are eyeing closely. Zimbabwe has come into focus since Robert Mugabe was ousted from power. A new government keen to turn things around, decent infrastructure, a strong skills base, a relatively large consumer class (Southern Africa’s second largest!) are all factors that companies should be aware of. In addition, infrastructure links to South Africa make this one of the region’s best kept secrets. While 2018 may not be the year where growth will accelerate in a meaningful way as challenges persist, it may be the year to explore options, and prepare the business for when growth does take off.

Mozambique, another Southern African market, is attractive to MNCs because it sits on large gas reserves. Once these come online, the size of the economy could increase significantly. However, the country is still comparatively underdeveloped and is in the middle of a fiscal and economic crisis, meaning that operating conditions remain difficult. The opportunity there may be overstated in the short-term, and while there are new projects related to gas exploration and supporting infrastructure that MNCs can tap into (housing and healthcare) companies need to carefully assess the opportunity beyond the headline news.

To help our clients stay on top of developments in these less-explored markets, our team has been interviewing executives and politicians on the ground in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Watch the videos from Mozambique and Zimbabwe or read our latest feature in Harvard Business Review.

As MNCs execute their 2018 Africa strategy, it’s important to pressure-test assumptions and revisit the go-to-market approach. Changing operating environments and an uptick in competition means it is more important than ever to understand how to react to change and how to adapt strategy.


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