Ambitions in Africa

Marrakech market at night

Economic forecasters predict Africa’s average gross domestic product should outpace the world average in the next few years

In Africa, the lights don’t just go out early. For millions, they don’t come on at all. Likewise clean water and secure jobs.

Yet all of a sudden, people are talking about Africa as if it’s the new kid on the block, the continent of untrammelled economic opportunity, where previous scarce investment has just opened the door to leap-frogging technology today. How about Kenya, with its millions of mobile phones being used not just to chat with friends, but to move money between bank accounts, pay bills and to check out seed prices for small farmers.

Sure, there’s inequality and corruption, bureaucracy, and all those other things. But the real picture, of course, is somewhere in between – or is at least much more selective. Just take access to electricity: if you live in Egypt, you can almost certainly flick a switch and an appliance will work. Down in Uganda, by contrast, less than one person in 10 has access to electric power. Even hip South Africa, the continent’s up and coming industrial power, provides electricity to only about three in four of the population. In Africa as a whole, about 560m people have no access to power at all.

But things are changing. Just take these two recent projects from ABB, which show how industrialisation is boosting many peoples’ quality of life through easier access to water, power – and jobs.

In Zambia, already the world’s eighth biggest copper producer, work is underway for the continent’s biggest copper mine, in a scheme that should significantly boost employment in the north western Zambezi Basin area, including an entirely new town.

Over in Botswana, plans are advancing for a vast 360kms water network to meet growing demand for supplies from new mining ventures, power sector developments and – not least, the spiralling population around the capital Gabarone.

ABB is prominent in both, with a $32m contract for a new electricity substation and the upgrade of an existing one at the Kansanhi mine, and a major order for instrumentation, control and electrical equipment for the water network. Both deals come on the heels of the decision in May to start making solar inverters in South Africa from next year – supporting Pretoria’s drive to boost solar power and reduce dependence on polluting coal.

Economic forecasters predict Africa’s average gross domestic product should outpace the world average in the next few years as both industry and households seek more power. A survey last week claimed the continent boasts 55 billionaires – far more than previously thought – thanks to nearly 10 years of intense economic activity. The minerals sector alone has a massive – and expanding – hunger for electricity to power all those huge crushing machines and the massive hoists that lift heavy minerals to the ground and lower miners to their deep shafts. Africa’s mineral resources account for almost 33% of the world’s total reserves and by 2015, the continent is expected to account for 13% of world oil production, creating immense opportunities there too.

Editor’s note: this article was written by freelance writer Haig Simonian and published by Gregory Hollings. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of ABB or its employees.


Image credit: Grand Parc – Bordeaux, France under a CC license via Flickr


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Gregory Hollings

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