A medical Exhibition in Africa with very few African Exhibitors

There is a lot of talk everywhere about Africa “rising“. This is definitely the case in many sectors of the economy in several African countries. There is definitely a rise in the extractive sectors, which has fuelled the consumerism produced by a growing middle class. This is not only manifest in the expansion of Walmart into South Africa and but also in the expansion of Shoprite from South Africa to the rest of the continent. The same phenomenon is also happening in other service sectors. But, as we see this trend grow – one cannot help but wonder how we can rise out of poverty by being consumers only. Where is the associated industrial base of “Africa rising“?

I recently attended the Africa Health Exhibition and Conferences which held for the 3rd time in 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The first thing that struck me was that a 3rd of all the exhibition space available was taken up by exhibitors from China, well organised in the “China Pavilion”, designers and manufacturers of products they had come to sell to African consumers. You could find almost any medical device you can think of, from prefabricated hospitals to surgical needles and everything in between.

But, it was not just the Chinese, but also our old masters and friends. The Germans, our British friends, and even the new superpowers like the Brazilians all had entire pavilions. Other than a few local distributors for international firms based in South Africa, there was hardly any African firm in the entire exhibitor space! In fact the only one, I could find was African Health Placements which focuses on recruiting foreign trained doctors to work in South Africa. I left the bright lights of the exhibition hall deeply worried about how we can “rise” if all we do is buy what others produce. All around the space – we, Africans were walking around, marveling at the products of the knowledge economies around the world, wondering….

But, quickly the thought past ….and I returned to my normal “hustle” mode, looking for opportunities for “sole distributorship” :)….e go better!


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (www.epiafric.com), which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

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