The end of the Cold War has had a positive impact that is hardly noticeable from a Western capital. Cold War politics, much like oil or misdirected humanitarian aid, was an external force to which African governments could submit without benefiting their citizens in any way. This is the recollection of Sam Jonah, former CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, the first African company to be listed on Wall Street. Today, he sits on the boards of several state-owned enterprises and is described by Forbes magazine as one of the 20 most influential businessmen in Africa.

Sam grew up in a mining town in Ghana and began his career underground, as a miner in the mines he would later lead. He doesn’t mince words when it comes to the Cold War and the type of leaders it produced: “Look at Angola. Look at Congo. Mobutu was scum, but he stayed in power because he was in the pocket of the Americans. That’s what was happening on both sides throughout the continent.”

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, communism lost its political influence in the world. In Africa, states variously converted to market economies. To quote Sam, “at least we all started speaking the same language and operating from the same assumptions.”

In the eyes of Phuthuma Nhleko, the end of the Cold War was a pivotal moment for Africa. He particularly highlights that the decline and breakup of the Soviet Union gave Africa the space it needed for development, alongside the rise of China and its increased demand:

“To me, it’s clear that the main trigger for Africa’s turn and its positive evolution in recent years was the end of the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, nobody was willing to finance governments that could have a frankly communist agenda. African governments realized that in a unipolar world, they were forced to go through the United States and the West. Marxist governments found themselves in an unenviable position, where the West had the right to demand reforms in exchange for the slightest financial aid. These abominable conditions had the merit of sparking pride in African governments and pushing them to seek their autonomy and financial independence.”

Vimal Shah is a bit younger than Phuthuma and Sam. He started his business while the changes they mentioned were already underway. For him, there was no other possibility for evolution after the departure of the “liberators.” He talked to me about it over a cup of tea in his office overlooking Uganda, where he is planting oil palms on 30,000 hectares:

Today, all African countries are reforming and climbing the development ladder. All are in a capitalist process; I no longer see any countries leaning towards communism. There are no longer ideological disparities. We all speak the same language, not to mention that today’s politicians and business leaders have all studied in the same universities.

Bharat Thakrar also believes that African youth will move away from violence and militancy. Bharat is the CEO of Scangroup, Africa’s largest telecommunications company, which works with sector multinationals such as WPP, Ogilvy, Hill & Knowlton, or Millward Brown. His view of history is influenced by his work with panels of young African consumers; he is convinced that their ambitions are the best bulwark against Mobutu-like dictators:

In my opinion, a civilization is built through a series of trials. The United States went through a civil war, two world wars, and more recently a major terrorist attack. China and India went through communist revolutions, just like Russia. Europe experienced two world wars. Every human society must go through breaking points; for Africa, I think the big turning point was post-colonialism. All countries on the continent experienced trauma at that time, including dictators and civil wars.

So, what does this “awakening of Africa” mean today? To me, it’s to be taken literally: we woke up. We got out of the mess and we can look at our continent with optimism. If you talk to young consumers today, anywhere in Africa (Nigeria, Mozambique, Angola), there is a certain pride among them, and a real desire to leave behind all these absurd political and militia dictatorships. That’s why regimes are democratizing, and there’s no longer room for military separatist movements. If you ask a young African what they think of Al-Shabaab or Boko Haram, they’ll tell you it’s pointless and nothing will happen. Young people are tired of political violence.

Many CEOs share Bharat’s optimism. There are conflicting signs, and the picture is mixed. Violence and instability persist. The Global Peace Index produced by the Institute for Economics…

This text is an excerpt from the book “These Companies Bringing Together In Africa” written by Jonathan Berman.

We invite you to read the following article “THE AWAKENING OF A CONTINENT“.

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *