Chinese investment in Africa

One business book from my Christmas list that I’ve just finished reading is The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment Is Reshaping Africa, by McKinsey consultant Irene Yuan Sun. This book highlights in great detail a trend that is noticeable across several industries, including pharmaceuticals – fast-growing investment in Africa by Asia-Pacific marketers. China is leading the way, especially in terms of expanding Africa’s manufacturing base, but there is a wider trend (encompassing OTCs) of companies across Asia-Pacific looking for growth opportunities in Africa.

Irene Yuan Sun’s book highlights two important economic fundamentals:

1) Over the past quarter century, China has gone from generating 2% of global GDP output to 25%
2) Over the next decade, 8 out of the 10 fastest-growing economies are projected to be on the African continent

The author makes the case that, from the start of the Industrial Revolution in Britain in the 18th century, economic prosperity has always followed where new factories are built. Citing the theory of the flying geese paradigm (see video below), the book examines how manufacturing shifts across countries and continents, as labour costs rise and competitiveness falls. Today, it is China that has reached this inflection point and it is Chinese entrepreneurs that are driving business investment in Africa.

Focusing on four countries (Nigeria, Lesotho, Kenya and Ethiopia), the book is structured in two main parts: the first about the reality of these factories being built, and the second about the economic, political and social possibilities. The author points to the irony that, despite high demand across the continent for certain drugs, notably antiretrovirals, Africa’s pharmaceutical firms are small and in some cases on the verge of collapse.

In Ethiopia (population: 100mn), there are just 9 pharmaceutical manufacturers, while Germany (population: 81mn) has nearly a 1,000 pharma manufacturers. With the exception of South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, most African countries have no more than a handful of manufacturers. Kenya is the standard bearer in East Africa (40 factories, but generally of low quality), while Nigeria has about 40 too, the leading number in West Africa, but again few meet GMP standards.

There are reasons to be positive, however. South Africa, Kenya (national plan to encourage domestic production) and Ethiopia (similar plan) are all taking steps to revive pharma manufacturing in their countries. A few years ago, GSK showed showed interest in building a local manufacturing plant in Ethiopia, but after two years of deliberation the company decided not to go ahead. This is leaving a space that Chinese pharma companies appear more willing to fill. For example, in 2016 Humanwell decided to invest US$80mn in a manufacturing facility near Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Having seen rapid economic transformation in their own country with their own eyes, Chinese entrepreneurs are perhaps better placed to recognise the potential for similar change in Africa.

Next week on the blog, we’ll take a closer look at how several Asia-Pacific OTC marketers are looking to expand their operations across the African continent.

OTC DASHBOARD remains your best port of call for the latest consumer healthcare trends in the Middle East & Africa. In the coming months, we will be updating our reports on 11 countries across the region, including Nigeria and South Africa. 

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