While big investment by multinationals is often welcomed in Africa, not all investment results in favourable outcomes for businesses and people on the continent.
At Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent Investor Conference, multinational corporations pledged billions of rand to the future of South Africa. The hype was intoxicating, crowned by Alibaba chairman Jack Ma’s enthusiastic call for investment in education and entrepreneurship: “For a country to develop, there are three basic things that have to be done that are important. The first is education; it’s always good to invest in education. Investing in people is the best investment in the whole world. And the second thing is trust; build and support entrepreneurs. Make entrepreneurs the heroes. At the top of this is a good and clean government.”
Ramaphosa echoed his sentiments: “We want to make our businesspeople heroes. Let us see them as heroes because they are here to develop our economy.”
This is a dramatic change from the rhetoric of last year, when entrepreneurs were publicly castigated as pariahs pushing against transformation, inclusion and equality. Ramaphosa acknowledged this: “We should … move away from what we’ve become accustomed to how we treat entrepreneurs and call them all sorts of names. We treat them as enemies, with terms like white monopoly and all that. It ends today.”
At the conference, companies like Naspers* promised R6bn to invest in the technology sector and start-ups. It suggests a moment of optimism after years of lacklustre economic performance.
But not all business is good business.
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22 November 2018