Our Top Company rankings this year make fascinating reading. These annual lists are a more concrete and accurate measure of the state of Africa's commercial health than any other statistics. The performance of individual companies reflect, broadly speaking, the overall condition of national economies--although there is at least one exception which proves the rule. More of that later.
The ranking charts which appear in the first half of this issue also reflect the broad spectrum of economic activity on the continent. This gives the lie to the myth that the extractive industries sector is the only viable sector in Africa.
The extraordinary achievements of Nigeria's banking industry have become so spectacular that for the first time in the history of modern Africa, South Africa's supreme position at the top is under serious challenge. North African construction and telecoms firms are among the biggest on the continent while in East Africa, pride of place goes to breweries and airlines.
South Africa is still far ahead of any other country in terms of manufacturing and also in the range of industrial and agro-processing lines but other countries are catching up.
South Africa's economic strength has traditionally been constructed on a foundation of mineral wealth on which a sophisticated financial structure was erected. From this base it was possible to expand both the agricultural and industrial sectors and ratchet them up to world class.
Nigeria, and other African countries, enjoying some of the best prices for commodities in over two decades, now find themselves in a similar position to South Africa in terms of revenues from mineral sources.
Nigeria has moved to the next stage and now has a solid financial foundation. It is also taking the lead in creating capital markets, as are some North African banking institutions. (See African Banker magazine). From here, one can expect a natural expansion into manufacturing. If the country's entrepreneurs are searching for inspiration, they need only look at the career of Aliko Dangote, one of six Africans to make this year's Forbes list of the super rich. His organisation built its empire on the back of manufacturing.
But now to return to the 'exception-which-proves the rule' I mentioned earlier. This is Zimbabwe. Despite inflation running at a ridiculous 100,000% and an estimated four million of the population seeking livelihoods outside the country, 18 of the top 50 companies in southern Africa, if...