Business leaders across five rising African markets – Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – appear optimistic about their future business situation, according to the first Africa List Business Barometer report. It says some business heads intend to expand investment, despite challenges such as a shortage of skilled employees.

The report, produced by the Africa List in partnership with the Wheeler Institute for Business and Development, reveals business confidence, investment, future economic performance, potential risks and opportunities across the five countries after surveying 357 business professionals.  

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The survey found a general optimism among respondents toward the business environment in these African growing economies: 27% of respondents perceive the current business situation of their company as good, while 54% regard it as satisfactory. Additionally, 58% of business leaders predict their situation will improve, while 29% forecast the situation will stay stable. 

Growth expected

Investment intentions are in line with the anticipation of business growth across all five markets. More than half of the business leaders expect to increase investment in their companies over the year ahead. In fact, 27% of respondents intend to maintain their current investment levels and another 59% to increase them in the next year. 

Ethiopia leads the way on investment intentions, with 81% of respondents intending to increase their investment in the country, followed by Uganda (75%), DRC (62%), Tanzania (54%) and Zambia (32%). 

“Economically, there is opportunity in almost every sector in Ethiopia,” says David Solomon of Friendship Business Group, a company that works in the business of guest houses in Ethiopia. “We see a lot of FDI investments coming in the garment sector – large multinationals such as the clothing company PVH set up a massive factory in this industry, as large population of labour is  great for manufacturing.” 

Leaders in the healthcare sector expect three times the amount of growth of those in the telecoms sector when it comes to revenue growth predictions. “We are now heavily reinvesting. I want to continue investing more in  technology such as dialysis machines to meet patient demand,” the report quoted Kawalya Kanyerezi, executive director of Kampala Hospital in Uganda, as saying.  

Customer first

In terms of investment opportunities across the five African markets, more than half of leaders focus on satisfying customer demand by further developing their services, given Africa’s share of global population is projected to grow to 25% in 2050 by the UN's World Population Prospects 2019 report. 

Yet regulations, government policies and the political environment are also identified as the potential biggest threats to business growth. Difficulty in hiring qualified employees is also a concern for business leaders, with 62% saying they lack skilled staff at middle management level. 

“Risks will be commensurate with returns. Economic stability and policy stability are what people are looking for, and that gets risks. So it's not just how much what the returns are, but how you can provide some assurance about risk,” says Rajesh Chandy, professor and chair at London Business School.