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AFRICA: Harnessing AfricaÂ’s Opportunities


Recent Gauteng Business News

At a speech in Ghana, US president Barack Obama said: “The 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra, as well.”

Africa is on the rise economically, and has been for the past few years. During the last decade, Africa has outgrown the world economy, albeit off a low base, and, despite the recent financial crisis, this trend is projected to continue in the future. For some technologies Africa even exhibits the highest growth rates in the world, mobile communication being the most prominent example.

However, many South African companies are losing out on the opportunities the continent offers through a reluctance to look north. Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings, explains that MIPÂ’s strategic decision to approach Africa as a growth opportunity is providing new prospects for the company on a regular basis, and is even enhancing the way it does business, in some cases.

“The stereotype of African business no longer applies,” he says. “The continent is fast reaching maturity, and its increasing democratisation is changing the way business decisions are made. As African countries are advancing, business is moving quicker and becoming more competitive. As a South African-based company, we are better-placed to provide tailored solutions that will work within African constraints than companies from the US, Europe, or the East, and we are seeing increased interest in our solutions for that reason.”

Providing a subscription-based software offering to financial services clients across all verticals in the sector, MIP delivers solutions that meet the specialised needs of medical aids, employee benefits, life insurance, treasury, lending, collective investments, wealth management, short-term maintenance and warranty. Through its Itemate division, the company is able to provide these services on mobile phone platforms too.

This is providing an extreme competitive advantage for MIP, in light of Africa’s mobile revolution. “Because computers are so expensive, affordable mobile phones have become the ubiquitous form of communication. Africa has the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, with almost two-thirds market penetration,” says Firth. “This has led phone users and developers to be more resourceful, and African mobiles are being used to do things that the developed world is only now beginning to pick up on.”

While merging financial services with cellular telephony devices is an approach that a few companies from outside the continent are trying to establish in Africa, MIP’s understanding of the unique factors affecting business in African countries – such as bandwidth constraints – is establishing the company as the leader in the field. “Our systems are appropriate for both first and third world markets, and our only competitors are companies who do not understand the particular business and technology constraints that Africa presents. Because MIP systems are built in South Africa, which still has a relatively low bandwidth penetration, we are able to operate in Africa the same way we do in areas in our own country that have little or no connectivity,” Firth says.

He adds that Africa looks set to become the next economic giant in the world. Much like the China and India of today, Africa is the future. And MIPÂ’s footprint on the continent will be well-established when that day comes.

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