If you live or travel in Africa these days, there’s a phrase you’ll hear a lot: this is Africa’s time. It’s an expression of a rising sense of optimism about the potential for the African economies. Within Africa and around the world, there’s hope that modern technologies and market-based systems will help to provide the boost that they need to become more successful.
IBM shares the optimism. It sees the potential to work alongside its clients and partners to play a leading role in Africa as it becomes a vibrant player in the global economy.
The company displayed its commitment to Africa today when it announced the opening of a new subsidiary in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania—a continuation of its geographic expansion on the African continent. This is the third subsidiary to be established this year, following those Ghana and Senegal. IBM now has employees in 20 African countries. More branch offices are coming.
IBM has long done business in Africa and launched an expansion three years ago, but a deal to provide mobile communications carrier Bharti Airtel with technology services in 16 African countries announced last September brought new focus and urgency to the company’s activities on the continent.
Expanding in Africa comes with a unique set of challenges, however. Before IBM can hope to sell a lot of products and services, it must aid in building the capacities of Africa’s people and institutions—including knowledge, technology infrastructure, business sophistication and governance.
This dedication by IBM to capacity building isn’t based on altruism. The company is convinced that there is enormous growth potential across the continent, but that potential won’t be realized unless the underlying physical, economic and societal infrastructures that permit markets to develop and endure are in place. Only through a patient, long-term approach will Africa become a substantial market for IBM’s products and services and an important source of employment talent.
Along side its day-to-day business of providing advanced technologies and services to clients in Africa, IBM has deployed an array of programs aimed at building economic capacity. They range from the employee volunteer program Corporate Service Corps, which is modeled on the U.S. Peace Corps, to university relations programs aimed at improving math and science education, and to scientific research collaborations designed to solve vexing problems that are of particular importance in a country or region. IBM will adapt these programs to fit Africa, and will invent new programs that are tuned to Africa’s challenges and opportunities. Indeed, IBM’s entire Smarter Planet agenda, embodied in an ever-expanding set of concepts and technology solutions, helps governments and businesses make complex man-made and natural systems function more effectively. IBM’s Smarter Planet vision is in line with the national agendas of many of the countries of Africa.
IBM understands that fundamental improvements won’t come quickly. Progress takes courage and determination and a long-term view. Also, progress won’t come unless the interests of citizens are taken into account. A dynamic economy requires the participation of many stakeholders.
In spite of the many challenges, IBM stands ready to be a partner in progress alongside African government, business and non-profit leaders—and the people of Africa.
To read an in-depth essay explaining IBM’s approach to doing business in Africa, click on this link.