Shopping and Flying in Africa’s Boom Towns

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


As economies across Africa grow, the continent still has a long way to go to create infrastructure to match people’s rising expectations of what a modern, prosperous life looks like.

Africa’s current economic growth has mainly been driven by commodities and oil and gas exports. Critics say this boom has failed to bring tangible benefits to many of Africa’s poor, who feel left out of the prosperity.

Trade has been flourishing not only because of exports to traditional markets in Europe and North America but also because of explosive growth in trade and investment between China and Africa.

Two trends now underway are set to transform people’s wealth and living standards despite the many obstacles caused by the inequalities of current economic growth. The first is the rise and rise of retail shopping options

looking to meet a strong appetite for consumer goods. And the second is the expansion of flying options on a continent notorious for its poor air links. Increasing investment in retail and flight networks will be a source of jobs, careers and wealth for the coming decade.

The aviation sector supports 6.7 million jobs on the continent, according to TradeMark Southern Africa (, and makes a US $67.8 billion contribution to Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP).

But the woeful state of Africa’s air networks means that it is often cheaper for people to fly to other parts of Africa via European airports. And Africa has a long way to go to match air safety standards found elsewhere: there was one accident for every 305,000 flights involving Western-built jets in Africa last year (IATA) – nine times the global average.

But Africa is now receiving the attention of the global airline industry. The Abuja Declaration ( aims to bring the African accident rate in line with the global average by 2015. And it is hoped the added competition and introduction of more global players will also raise standards and make flying in Africa safer, more convenient and cheaper.

The experience of Europe and North America shows that increased air traffic brings a boost to economic growth.

With more frequent, safer and more reliable air routes, business people will be able to move around and strike deals, tourists can get around and traders can cross borders without the hassle of navigating poor road networks.

Airlines are lining up to compete on improving air links in Africa to capitalize on rising incomes and economic dynamism.

The competition to serve the air passengers has heated up with the announcement of numerous new airlines, as well as well-established global carriers making plans to expand routes across Africa. Kenya Airways ( has pledged to reach all of Africa’s countries by 2017 while also launching its own budget airline called Jambo Jet (

State-owned South African Airways (SAA) ( is also starting to expand its network to include every capital city in Africa. SAA will start by adding flights to Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo, making it able to serve 26 African destinations. In the short term, it is doing this by halting flights between Cape Town and London, leaving that route to Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.

Operating out of bases in Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Angola, a new African discount airline, FastJet ( – with EasyJet ( founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou as its backer – is taking over Fly540 ( and adding 15 leased Airbus aircraft. It will launch flights to Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Angola. According to Kenya’s Nation newspaper, the plan is to replicate the success of EasyJet connecting Europe and North Africa with cheap flights in sub-Saharan Africa.

Analysts believe the entry of an aggressive and experienced player like Haji-Ioannou will shake up competition within African aviation.

Other global players lining up to expand in Africa include Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Korea Air, which has already started flying between South Korea and Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. This is being seen as a boost to the trade in electronics goods between the two countries.

The added excitement in the African air industry has also prompted Air Uganda ( and RwandaAir ( to increase their destinations. Qatar Airways ( will start flying in November 2012 to Maputo, Mozambique three times a week, increasing to 20 the number of destinations the airline serves, according to the Nation.

And while Emirates has a 41 per cent share of the African market, African player Ethiopian Airlines ( ambitiously wants to become Africa’s largest airline by 2025.

For shoppers, West Africa is experiencing a boom in new retail spaces being developed, according to a report from Euromonitor International ( ( The advantages of creating and developing modern retail spaces are numerous: hygienic shopping environments with greater safety and security attract multinational and global brands, which tend to create lots of long-term jobs.

Euromonitor International has identified Ghana as the next hotspot for retailers. The country is seen to have the right business environment in place that is attractive to foreign investors. It also has the right mix of political stability, cultural tolerance and rising prosperity.

The country is now being seen as the gateway to West Africa’s market of 250 million consumers. Ghana is able to leverage its position as a gateway into landlocked nations and on its strong ties with English-speaking powerhouses like Britain and the United States.

On top of these strategic advantages, the country has focused on upgrading retail spaces in the capital, Accra. The Accra Mall (, opened in 2007, is considered the most modern shopping mall in Ghana.

Euromonitor found Ghana’s retail industry grew by 14 per cent between 2006 and 2011.

Euromonitor found companies like multinational Unilever and PZ Cussons believed basing their operations in Ghana was a big advantage.

“The presence of such manufacturers provides a good opportunity for retailers as they can source these manufacturers’ products cheaper locally rather than importing them,” it said.

Euromonitor identified three other African countries as potential retail marketplaces. This includes Zambia, a potential agribusiness powerhouse. It is already developing a strong reputation in beef through its Zambeef ( operation. South African companies have done well in Zambia, including Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Mr Price and the Foschini Group. Much of the action is around the capital, Lusaka.

Rwanda is known for its ease of doing business and there is activity going on in residential areas, roads, hotels, offices and retail spaces. The capital, Kigali, has a new modern, shopping mall, The Union Trade Centre, with a 24-hour store.

Angola has been benefiting from peace since the end of its civil war in 2002. Foreign companies have been attracted to Angola from South Africa, Portugal and Brazil. The Belas Shopping Mall ( opened in 2007 in the capital, Luanda, followed by the Ginga Shopping Mall on the city’s outskirts in 2011.


1) How we made it in Africa: A great website packed with inspirational people and stories on business success in Africa. Website:

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