To spur continued economic growth, West Africa countries are focusing on two D’s: Diversification and Digital. U.S. companies have opportunities to satisfy both.
In March, the U.S. Chamber led a visit to Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria. Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs Myron Brilliant and I, along with U.S. business leaders, talked with local chambers of commerce and senior officials from each government including the Prime Ministers of Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, the President of Cote d’Ivoire and the Finance and Information and Communications Technology ministers of Nigeria.
It was our first trip to the region since the launch of our U.S.-Africa Business Center in December 2015 and our U.S.-ECOWAS Business Initiative in September 2015.
Here’s what stood out from our conversations:
Diversifying Beyond Energy
Oil and natural gas play an important role in the economies of all three countries. Nigeria is the thirteenth-biggest oil producer, and a major natural gas field was recently discovered off Senegal’s coast.
But in a time of low oil prices, government and business leaders seek economic diversification. They realize that oil-driven economic growth is mostly a thing of the past and sustainable growth needs a broader base. That hunger for diversification is an opportunity for American companies.
One way to diversify is encouraging the development of a digital economy. This is seen as the future of many of the West African nations. Nigeria, for example, has 93 million Internet users (out of a population of 200 million), and 15 million monthly active Facebook users. Opportunities for offering ecommerce and digital services will grow as more people go online.
But the growth of the digital economy will be stymied without adequate security. We heard from many people that cybersecurity needs to be addressed. West Africa governments realize that this is a real threat to their security and economies and they would like to work with U.S. companies. We recommended that each government form an international advisory committee on cybersecurity, and that the Chamber could help them get the relevant companies and experts to sit on these committees.
“The private sector must be the driving force in advancing the commercial relationship between the U.S. and Africa,” Brilliant said before the trip. By better understanding the West Africa economies, American companies can see how they can work with these countries to build stronger commercial ties.