Jim Rogers. Image: Twitter.
CAPE TOWN - I am not an expert at actually creating technology, but I know it’s great and has the power to re-shape Africa, providing countless opportunities for new businesses and profits,” says veteran investor, businessman, traveller and author James Beeland Rogers jn, as he chats via Skype from his home in Singapore.

Rogers and the makers of the Marvel film Black Panther clearly know a thing or two about technology in Africa and its potential. The film has done much to catapult the African continent into mainstream consciousness, but while its portrayal of a technologically advanced African country - Wakanda - is fictional, it also underscores the possibilities the continent has presented for savvy investors such as Rogers and billionaire businessman Richard Branson, who have been active on the continent for decades.

Indeed, Rogers has been investing in Africa since the early 1990s when he first dropped in during a motorcycle circumnavigation of the globe. Arriving in Tunisia, travelling down what he calls, “the heart of Africa” to exit through South Africa, Rogers’ escapades also included being held hostage in the Congo. As life affirming as this particular incident may have been, it awoke in Rogers a realisation of the great future that awaits Africa - “when you are that close to the ground, you can see what is false, what is real and what has true potential.”

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This potential was once again confirmed while driving around the continent at the dawn of the millennium on another of his world trips. This journey gave rise to his bestseller Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Road Trip. Though currently bullish on capital markets in China and Russia, Rogers believes Africa as a whole could be the ultimate adventure.

While he has often been linked to his bullish outlook on agriculture, Rogers is equally firm about technology and the opportunities it has for creating long-term prosperity in Africa.

“Through what Amazon and Google have done in other countries around the world, they have pretty much laid the blueprint for Africa. Companies with a footprint like Sagarmatha Technologies, with their expertise and leadership, are now perfectly positioned to apply these learnings to what is essentially virgin territory. There’s a market of at least 1billion people across the continent, all hungry for information, with the ability to transact and they are primed to be unlocked. It’s a very exciting time.”

Supporting his optimism and that of other smart “fortune-tellers” who have been watching this space for a while and seeing how fast things are moving, is the well-supported fact that Africa has leapfrogged straight to mobile (M-Tech). Unencumbered by legacy infrastructure and technologies, and following examples such as China, Africa is expected to unlock its real potential through its aggressive adoption of a fully inclusive mobile economy - buying and selling everything, sending and receiving of information, making appointments, transferring funds and more - all in an instant.

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How things have changed: “When I was 16-years old I worked in a grocery store. I was happy. It was the world as I knew it. But, everything we think we know today will no longer be relevant in only a few years’ time, possibly even as little as a decade from now.

“My daughters are 10 and 15 years old and they will probably never go to a bank or a post office or a doctor. We won’t be able to send letters or cash a cheque as these institutions will simply cease to exist. We will operate in a totally cashless society.” (By way of progression, think how in World War I there were aircraft that could just about fly, now there are clever folks working on regular space transportation and travel.)

Cashless

When asked about Blockchain and the opportunities for Africa, Rogers agrees that these represent one of the biggest game-changers - cross border payments, commodities, fuel, airtime as settlement methods. The transition to a cashless society is imminent.

“Blockchain is changing everything and because Africa is coming straight to it, it will instantly change everything we do.”

This switch-over will also be accelerated by the fact that governments the world over recognise they have better control of their citizens and the flow of “money” through the internet and the data sets that are created, than via cash.

“We might not like this particular aspect but it’s a reality, already,” states Rogers, who also expects to see a raft of new policies and legislation to further enable the mobile economy.

Rogers is no stranger to spotting new markets or in speaking out - his views on financial markets are often controversial. He first went to Russia in 1966 and remained pessimistic for the next 48 years for example. But today he is upbeat on Russia, China and South Africa, but less so on more established markets like the US and Europe.

And, now that South Africa has ascended to the chairmanship of Brics, with new leadership heading the country, he believes South Africa is in the right place at the right time - for Africans and for investors.

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(President Cyril Ramaphosa takes over the chairmanship of the Brics Summit in July, while Dr Iqbal Survé takes over the presidency of Brics Business Council with immediate effect.)

For Rogers, South Africa has the ability to leverage the greater Africa for Brics, introducing the continent to global capital, markets and expertise.

Not to detract from Africans doing it for Africans, but rather to enhance this burgeoning promise. It also helps that South Africa has an existing good working relationship with China, which has also spotted the growth potential of connecting the continent - in a big way.

For investors looking to get in on “the next big thing”, Rogers has some sound advice: “If you can find competent management in African-based companies, jump in with both feet. The sky will be the limit. Africa as a continent, is under-developed, but has a gigantic innovative and extremely hard-working population who are hungry for advancement and who are prepared to grab it with both hands. They are primed and ready to push the right buttons.”

- BUSINESS REPORT