Marc Andreessen and Jean-Yves Ollivier Could Have a Lot in Common

Marc Andreessen’s frenetic pace on Twitter has fascinated me for the past year. He seems to devour a ton of information and makes nice connections between the current technology landscape and the history and theory that got us to this point. The New Yorker did a helpful profile on him – the kind that makes more human a titan some may worship.

Jean-Yves Ollivier is a new name to me, but one that I will be keeping track of after reading this Bloomberg piece on his energy sector dealmaking in the Republic of Congo. Apparently, he is trying to shape his brand through the media. Perhaps he should get on Twitter and fire off some Tweetstorms like Mr. Andreessen.

There’s a BBC piece on a lake in Mongolia made up of extremely toxic waste from rare earth minerals largely used in our smartphones and renewable energy sources like wind turbine engines and electric vehicle batteries. While the majority of these minerals are mined in Asia, some African countries like Malawi are exploring their potential to produce these minerals. South Africa was a leading producer half a century ago.

The unicorns (companies with $1 billion valuations) for which Marc Andreessen spends his time looking, largely rely on the smartphone. In defending against concerns that we are in a bubble due to the massive amount of money going into funding startups, he points out that the technology sector of 2000 did not have a conductor like the smart phone to enable the growth of the industry, hence the bust. We have the smartphone now and he believes that the software on those phones is eating the world, and the technology industry’s growth is here to stay for quite some time.

The robots that Mr. Andreessen envisions taking over menial jobs, freeing us up to do what we want, will most likely need parts from minerals in parts of the world like Mongolia and Malawi. Unless we come up with clean ways to source these materials, we could see lakes like the one in Baotou pop up in southern Malawi. Brokers like Mr. Ollivier are helping make these deals happen, enabling the creation of the smartphones, robots, and other tools that people like Mr. Andreessen believe will drive our future world. Two men. Two different worlds. Perhaps.

Here’s My Issue with the IMF/World Bank Africa Rising Seminar

When I first saw, the agenda for the Africa Rising seminar at this year’s IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings, I posted a tweet:

Probably not the wisest thing to not provide any context. So, here goes.

My issue with the seminar is the makeup of the panels. I believe there could be a greater representation of African academics and practitioners. Currently, 30 percent of the panelists are African nationals. Considering that the topic is Africa, this strikes me as odd.

Consider the following promotion of the Africa Rising Conference slated to take place in Mozambique next month.

The Government of Mozambique and the IMF will convene a high-level conference in 2014 to take stock of Africa’s strong economic performance, its increased resilience to shocks, and the key ongoing economic policy challenges. The Africa Rising conference will be held May 29-30, 2014, in Maputo. The event is intended to follow up on the 2009 Tanzania Conference, which helped galvanize international support for Africa after the 2008 financial crisis. The conference will bring together policymakers from Africa and beyond, the private sector, civil society, academics, and private foundations with the goal of sustaining the current growth and sharing its benefits among African populations.    

I find the statement in bold odd considering the relative struggles much of the rest of the international community faced after the financial crisis. Furthermore, the statement defaults to Africa somehow being dependent on externally driven development. I think the structure of this week’s Africa Rising seminar could potentially do the same.

Afara Global exists to see a world in which African and Western countries engage economically at an eye-to-eye level. To do that, you need the right people at the table. While the majority of the panelists are quite impressive, I think the right people are not all present – at least not in this seminar.

A few candidates come to mind for future reference:

Amadou Hott runs Senegal’s newly established sovereign wealth fund and chairs the development of the country’s new airport.

Rolake Akinkugbe is Head of Energy, Oil and Gas Research at Ecobank.

Alexander Chikwanda serves as Zambia’s minister of finance. As Africa’s biggest producer of copper, the country has had to deal with global copper prices while driving inclusive growth at home.

Yaw Nyarko is Professor of Economics at New York University and is Director of the university’s Africa House and focuses his research on technology and economic development, and has done work on human capital.

Dambisa Moyo is CEO of the Mildstorm Group and has a global view on economics and development from an African perspective.

Rentia van Tonder is Head of Renewable Energy, Power and Infrastructure at Standard Bank.

Akinwumi Adesina is Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and has earned a lot of attention for his efforts to grow Nigeria’s agriculture sector. He could speak to inclusive growth and structural transformation and economic diversification.

Who are some people you think would make for good panelists?