It’s high time Africa sees more value from sourcing

29 May 2013
As the sharp-eyed among you might have noticed, my byline last week was injected with a little more glamour than usual. I was not merely ‘Adam Leach’ but ‘Adam Leach in Accra, Ghana’, as I reported from the CIPS Pan-Africa conference. Thanks to a two-hour delay that resulted in a missed connection, what were meant to be my first hours under the African sun were actually spent in Frankfurt airport. But during this brief German sojourn, I was provided with my first procurement insight of the trip. It came from a Scottish man who worked in the oil industry and held views on sourcing from Africa that are completely at odds with the modern era of sustainability and adding value to the areas your business impacts on. In far nicer terms than he actually used, his description of his role in Africa was to get in, get its highly prized reserves as quickly and cheaply as possible, and get out, leaving little or nothing of value behind. Despite the crass terms, he had hit on a key issue that Africa continues to grapple with. It is rich in a range of valuable resources, such as gold, cocoa and oil, but it sees only a slither of their overall value. As Bola Afolabi, general manager at Nigerian National Petroleum, told delegates at the CIPS Pan-Africa conference, the continent suffers as a result of commodities being exported in their raw form only to return as finished products, accompanied by profit margins for all the foreign processors. His point is supported by a recent report by the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union Commission, which estimates that as much as 90 per cent of the income from the cocoa is derived outside of Africa. The solution, according to the report, is for the continent to work more closely together to build the infrastructure and industry to enable it to not just mine the materials that others want, but also apply the finishing touches. This will rely on the various governments and their openness to collaboration – but it will also rely heavily on big business. In this era of responsible business, CSR reports and greater transparency, companies are more incentivised than ever to do well by those impacted by their operations, so I would like to think that tipping the scales a little more in favour of Africa is a realistic goal. But the talk in Frankfurt was an unwelcome reminder that not everybody is ready to cast away attitudes that should be extinct. ☛ See the June issue of SM for a more in-depth feature on inter-country trade in Africa
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