Since Adam Smith wrote his classic, in 1776, the Wealth of Nations, to upend the mercantilist system and setting forward the basic foundations for modern classical economics, we have seen corporations come and go. The core pillars of productivity and division of labour have been the tenets in the organization of firms which thrived. The free market system provided the cement mortars for states.
Andrew Carnegie lived. John D. Rockefeller lived. Aliko Dangote is living. Bill Gates is living. Jeff Bezos is living.
These men are icons of their generations, pursuing the noble cause of entrepreneurial capitalism – aligning assets and knowledge to provide services where fictions exist between those that want and those selling. Corporations exist to simplify that interplay of demand and supply and these legends and others thrived in providing solutions that eliminate most of the frictions. They pursued different levels of innovations for scale using productivity, specialization and uncommon vision.
In our contemporary time where the Wealth of Nations is largely the Technology of Nations as technology has become the enablers and pillars that underpin most of the elemental constructs postulated by Mr. Smith more than two centuries ago. Technology enables productivity and has become critical in eliminating the information asymmetry, making markets freer for both buyers and sellers. It has also fascinated the capacities of states to enable market forces to drive competition and the realignment of capital.
Technology has increasingly dismantled the notion of core competency because the world has become increasingly integrated, morphing into a society of people, firms and nations with exceedingly high level of connectivity. This means that hitherto unrelated areas can be linked together, at scale, previously impossible, because the cost of doing so is low.
An e-commerce giant can move into grocery; Amazon. A search empire can become a car company; Google. A digital village square can inspire to become an internet service provider; Facebook. These companies are increasingly showing that the world is nothing but a sector and classification into sectors like banking, insurance, and transportation is simply to help tax purposes.
Amazon bought Whole Foods – an American supermarket chain that sells foods without artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats. Amazon itself is the world’s largest e-commerce empire in revenue and other metrics.
Amazon today is a bank, lending to small companies that sell on its platform. It is also a transformation company with expertise in logistics in the air, sea, and road. With its networks of empires, anyone can live in the Amazon America, eating food from Whole Foods, watching moves from Amazon, reading on the Kindle, buying most things from Amazon. The list goes on. Its impact permeates industrial sectors and anyone it touches, it secures it as Napoleon Bonaparte did when it conquered nations in the 18th century.
This Amazon with this deep experience in marrying the digital world and the meatspace is what Africa needs.
In 2015, Amazon surpassed Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the United States by market capitalization. Amazon is the fourth most valuable public company in the world, the largest Internet company by revenue in the world and the eighth largest employer in the United States. In 2017, Amazon announced their plans to acquire Whole Foods Market for $13.4 billion by the end of the year, vastly increasing Amazon’s presence as a physical retailer.The acquisition was interpreted as a direct attempt to challenge Walmart as a physical store
Africa Needs Amazon
Today, we have Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other great American brands across Africa. These are iconic companies with demonstrated results of innovations for decades.
However, they are marginal in our current African needs. They are digital companies and are good in that space. Facebook connects the world, digitally, provided you can be in the digital space. Google gives you information, digitally, provided you can get there. Microsoft sells products, mainly digital in nature. They feed on the incremental progress in Africa. But they will not redesign the architecture of the continent linking the meatspace and the cyberspace. They are digital companies and they live therein.
But Amazon is different.
Amazon, if it comes to Africa, will invest in logistics which small businesses can use to improve e-commerce. Amazon will become the modern postal systems in Africa. In Nigeria, where none practically exists, Amazon will build one, for itself as first customer, and then open it up to enterprises to use in order to support its business. Most of the Amazon fulfillment centers in America are used by Amazon sellers. Africa needs that.
Amazon, if its makes it into Africa, will bring efficiency in the food delivery system. It will invest in preservation and storage of food, making sure that waste is reduced. Amazon is vertically and horizontally integrated and understands the meatspace more than any of the present operating peers in Africa. It will find a way to source local food items in local farms and will touch the lives of farmers. The vision of Whole Foods will be the one for Africa.
A content creator, unlike Facebook, Google and others that aggregate and feed on others, Amazon will invest in local contents for Amazon. You will see it build up Amazon Prime Africa with local contents that will give jobs to artistes and others. Instead of asking you to do it, Amazon will do it with you, providing the money.
Amazon will massively put money in local carpenters, apparel makers, etc to make sure they can produce enough to meet the demand in its ecosystem. It will lend money as it does in U.S. to those doing well.
Above all, Amazon will make sure that Africa intra-trade works. We rarely trade among ourselves because our trade routes are still linked to the colonial masters that built them. Amazon will provide a digital trade route that will decouple us from those colonial routes and offer a true emancipation.
The question is this – who can get Amazon, an evolving important company in the 21st century with increasing deflationary power in the U.S. economy to think Africa. It is the real deal because of its mantra of big and bold vision. Amazon may even build new airports across African cities to make sure its businesses work. Sure, you may say Amazon will dominate but the good news is that with its ecosystem business, it can only succeed when the locals are succeeding. That is why it is different.
I see a future, if Amazon makes it into Africa, for Amazon Africa virtual wallet to become the singe African currency, because if everyone trades on Amazon, we can simply use its wallet to settle obligations across borders. This will work because Amazon is both a meatspace and cyberspace business, unlike any other.
Amazon. Come here – the load to Africa is business and investment. We want you. (Of course, Google, Facebook, Microsoft etc, please stay; love y’all.)