Economic Slowdown? How To Do Business in Africa’s Top 3 Fastest Growing Markets

Economic Slowdown? How To Do Business in Africa’s Top 3 Fastest Growing Markets

Recently we hear a lot about the current economic slowdown that is making a new round and its impact on economic growth in Africa. Are markets in Africa really going to be largely affected? So, I thought I share a rather optimistic outlook and insights into how to do business in Africa’s fastest growing markets.

But first a question: Do you actually know which African economies currently do have the fastest growth rate?

Take a moment and have a guess.

Well, we all hear a lot about Africa’s largest economies Nigeria and South Africa, but they are not the fastest growing economies. In fact, after we have celebrated Africa’s resilience during the last global recession both power houses have recently seen a slowdown that I want to quickly bring to your attention:

Nigeria for example has been significantly hit by the crash of the Chinese financial markets and the steep decline in oil prices. South Africa’s economy has shrunk profoundly this year, even raising the fear of a recession. GDP fell and major sectors such as mining, manufacturing, agriculture, and real estate have been hit.

Kenya as the third largest power house has stayed resilient and has largely recovered from the effects during times of local drought and a declining tourism sector after a series of attacks by Al-Shabaab. So this is great news for Kenya and the wider region – Kenya is again on a clear growth path.

But which markets are truly defying all odd and marching forward at a staggering 8% + growth rate? Which 3 top growth markets in Africa are we looking at (source: World Bank 2015)? Let’s start with number 3:


#3 Ivory Coast


Ivory Coast is one of West Africa’s upcoming markets and it is no surprise that it makes it onto place 3 in Africa and place six worldwide. The government is working hard on improving its business and investment climate and in this context a lot of privatisation efforts have taken place.

Ease of Doing Business: Doing business in Ivory Coast is not easy. Having said that it is among the top 5 countries worldwide this year that introduced reforms to make doing business easier. It improved the following:

– Starting a business

– Trading across borders

– Registering property

– Getting credit

– Protecting minority investors

These are welcoming developments, and although doing business in Ivory Coast remains a challenge, it climbed up in the World Bank rankings for ease of doing business from a bottom place at 189 to a 147 in a single year.

Having said that be aware that a number of hurdles remain, public enterprises are still largely insufficient, and that French is the official language, which means you will face added problems if you are an English speaker.

Opportunities: The best opportunities are currently large found in agriculture, in particular commercial cocoa, palm-oil, rubber, coffee and fruit production. There is also a big demand in housing, and the construction and real estate sector is providing new opportunities for investors.

There is now also a one-stop shop for the private sector and investors, the Investment Promotion Centre in Côte d’Ivoire (CEPICI). To have such an institution in any given market in Africa is usually of great help to your undertaking, especially during first time market entry. Make sure you make the most of such a strategic partnership option.


#2 Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)


The DRC is the world’s third fastest growing economy and stands currently at place 2 in Africa. The DRC is in my view one of Africa’s most intriguing places to do business in, as it is a huge market with amazing opportunities that remain largely untapped. However, doing business in the DRC is not for the faint-hearted and if you are relatively new to Africa the DRC won’t be a smart choice. Having said that, those who are brave and resilient enough, who own enough capital to make market entry successful (the lengthy process and corruption will cost you!), or who are local and well familiar with the country will be looking at an amazing pool of opportunities on the continent that is hard to match.

Ease of Doing Business: Doing business in the DRC remains a difficult undertaking. Although it is among the top ten economies this year worldwide introducing reforms to make doing business easier, running a venture in the DRC is risky and difficult. Infrastructure is extremely poor, red tape and corruption are ripe, and regulatory processes are uncertain.

Opportunities: You will find great untapped potential in the mining sector and agricultural sectors, both of which are largely untapped. The DRC has a huge population of over 70 Million, and is importing most of its food products and consumer items. Just recently the government has marked thousands of hectares for commercial agriculture in the form of some mega-plots and is hoping to attract related investors into the country. Most sectors remain underdeveloped and DRC’s capital Kinshasa has a variety of needs that are poorly met including local food processing, manufacturing, finance & banking options, and ICT. Starting in cooperation with smaller, but already successfully established Congolese businesses can be a good way forward in avoiding some of the bottlenecks.


#1 Ethiopia

addis rail

Yes, that’s it. Ethiopia is currently Africa’s fastest growing economy! Oh wait, there is more: Ethiopia is – according to the World Bank 2015 –  the WORLD’s fastest growing economy and you will feel the pace when you step into the country’s urban areas! Many Ethiopians from the Diaspora have returned to open and run successful enterprises, infrastructure projects are shooting out of the ground, and investing in Ethiopia has without a doubt become a fast increasing trend over the last couple of years.

Overall, Ethiopia remains by and large a closed economy, which can make market entry and expansion difficult for established companies, especially in more controlled sectors such as banking and mining.

However, Ethiopia has made amazing leaps forward and this is noticeable to anyone who is following developments in the country or regularly visiting. The face of the country is changing and as Africa’s largest non-oil producing economy, Ethiopia is not only impressing with figures on the balance sheet, but with vision and hands-on progress accelerating by the day.

Ease of Doing Business: Doing business in Ethiopia needs both resilience and enough capital reserves to get you started, because market entry and business start-up processes do take considerable time and that can be costly – make sure you include that aspect when you start planning. Aspiring entrepreneurs and investors however, who start from scratch and with a low-key plan that feeds into the wider development context, will be able to start more promptly and grow considerably; many of such success stories have been told in agriculture, leather and food processing, ICT, the service industry, and fashion.

Opportunities: Ethiopia has a range of sectors that are extremely profitable if you get in and take the right approach. They include: commercial agriculture & leather industry, manufacturing, construction, and renewable energy among others. One focus that is clearly and ambitiously driven forward by Ethiopia’s government is the increase of exports based on agricultural and manufacturing sector developments – so if you are interested in doing business in or trading with Ethiopia your focus on export opportunities will be a smart strategy in an effort to realize market entry and galvanize support of local strategic partners long-term.

There is also the possibility that Ethiopia finally decides to join the East African Community which is growing into a powerful regional trade zone.

Well, I think we really do have a list of intriguing markets in front of us attracting with huge and largely untapped potential, yet at the same time presenting considerable risk. Risks can to some extent be mitigated, but you will still need an extra amount of resilience and perseverance when operating in these markets.

So, if you are looking for alternative markets that are simply safer, more open, and easier overlooked while providing an equally optimistic outlook in terms of economic growth rates, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Kenya should be on your list. All three of them also made it into Africa’s top ten of the fastest growing economies.

We would love to hear your feedback and questions!

If you are interested in Africa market entry or expansion and you need some support in this regard, feel free to contact me or visit my site for further details.


Dr. Harnet
Dr. Harnet Bokrezion is the Founder of and co-author of the book '101 Ways to Make Money in Africa'. She coaches individuals and consults existing companies assisting them to make smart and strategic business decisions in Africa’s new emerging markets faster and more confidently. Dr. Harnet also regularly writes for the renowned DHL powered publication Get in touch to inquire how she can be of assistance to your own Africa business endeavors:

User Comments ( 9 )

  • Tigabu

    Dr. Harnet,

    I follow up your articles and it is worth reading! I appreciate your effort to promote African businesses.

    The world is changing so does Africa. Many businesses are recognizing the business potential of the continent but still many are not aware of it not just because there are not opportunities but being in the shadow of wrong perception. Yes, the decline in oil price has affected the growth of some of the countries in Africa but if you see Ethiopia for example it is rather a favor for the economy.It is a matter of identifying the countries where growth has been happening, as you said.

    Ethiopia is well aware of the barriers for doing business, poor infrastructure being one of them. That is why the need for investment in infrastructure for many years with a lot of capital. Some of the biggest infrastructures are coming to operation and will assist the trade logistics in general. Moreover, I do believe, the way businesses approach African markets better be local rather than expecting a kind of developed markets as any where else. With decently calculated risk, there is a lot of reward and it is just happening. Thanks to technology, there is also an emerging local expertise to support the doing business efforts in the continent if approached properly.

    I was actually surprised when the Addis Ababa light rail way line(the picture in this article of yours as well) hit the headlines of the media while it is the smallest achievement among the many biggest project ongoing. It is just the reflection of the expectation of the continent by the people outside of Africa.

    • Dr. Harnet

      Dear Tigabu, thank you very much for your valuable feedback and insights. This is much appreciated and I fully share your optimism.
      Regarding the city rail way – it is just such a rare occasion for Africa, so I have to confess it is one of my favourite news even if it was a small project in relation to others. Having said that we are looking forward to more positive development and industry news from Ethiopia.

  • Bizuneh

    Dr. Harnet,

    This is a great article. Thank you.

    One area that Ethiopia is seriously working on, which is highly contributing to its fast growth, is investment in infrastructure. The investment on infrastructure, in Ethiopia, is not limited to the roads, dams, railways, etc. it is also there in financial/banking sector.

    A critical infrastructure under implementation in the financial/banking sector and is due to start operation soon is the National e-Payment Switch infrastructure by EthSwitch S.C (which is established by shareholding of all public and private Banks in Ethiopia including the National Bank of Ethiopia). The national e-payment switch infrastructure is going to create interoperability among financial institutions and their payment systems, paving a way for providing wider access to financial services. Wider access to financial services brings in more money into financial institutions through deposit or other services thereby availing more money for investment. One other important thing that EthSwitch is now working on is establishing a Domestic Payment Card Scheme which will be accepted anywhere in Ethiopia. Such payment card scheme bases itself on global standards issued by EMVCo and ISO.

    If neighboring countries work on similar initiative now (i.e. National e-Payment Switch and Domestic Card Scheme), when we reach a stage that Ethiopia joins the East African Community we can be able to create bilateral connections between our National e-Payment Switches or we may establish the East Africa Regional Switch through which we create connection among our payment systems, thereby bringing in a regional payment platform which would highly facilitate trade among the countries and creates more opportunities for investment.

    Ethiopia is truly a country of great investment opportunities.

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Bizuneh

      Thank you so much for your feedback and for taking the time to share some valuable insights into opportunities in Ethiopia. This is very much appreciated.

      I absolutely agree with you, in fact, I raised the issue of opportunities in e-banking and finance in Ethiopia in last month’s Africa Business Intelligence Report (the one people can sign up to for free on my home page). I think this area has great potential for many talented entrepreneurs in tech and it is good news that a National e-Payment Switch is being launched.

      A warm welcome to our Africa Business Jumpstart Community here and I thank you again.

  • Zizi

    Thanks for your write has really opened my eyes to a lot of oportunies.i reside in Nigeria and i’m thinking of going into original and synthetic leather handbags,shoes&jacket.pls I would be very grateful if you can link me up to a genuine source in Ethiopia where I can get leather to buy or even in nigeria.Thank you

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Zizi

      Thanks for sharing your business interest.
      Leather handbags is gaining a lot of interest lately and there are some great stories of Africans designers who have been very successful with it after starting just a few years ago from scratch. What came out of these success stories is that they are serving the upper market in Africa and the export market, this means that they are producing high-value leather bags (not synthetic), with great eye for detail and finishing.
      I do not have any contacts to leather producers in Ethiopia, but you should find enough sources in Nigeria, importing the leather may drive up your cost too much at this early stage of your start-up.

      Ask the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) (link: if they can provide you with contacts of leather producers.

      I wish you all the best and a warm welcome to our online community!

  • Gene Henley

    Not a reply,but a question. There are several small US business owners in my area from Ghana. I shop at one of them.
    I chat with both owners and find an interest in free enterprise. These are persons and like,that I have interest. So, I ask,
    I understand Nigeria is progressing nicely,but what of Ghana?
    Thank you for your commentary
    Gene Henley

  • Jenipher

    Thank for the information provided on this form. what are the tourism/business opportunities in Uganda?

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Jenipher
      Welcome to our forum! The business opportunities in Uganda are certainly there in particular around agriculture, energy, ICT….and yes, tourism is another area of focus for the Ugandan government, so it may be a great time to start going, as related activities at your end would still face relatively low competition. Uganda is an emerging market with many opportunities, however the business climate can be challenging, so be prepared for a not so easy ride. Having said that, Uganda is already part of a strong trade region, the East African Community where tourism is high on the agenda, which would work in our favour. Wishing you much success for your endeavours!