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Editor's letter: Africa under the spotlight

Nicola Maher, The Accountant editor

Everybody loves a story where good people triumph over adversity: Spiderman, Batman, Disney, Star Wars - it's the overriding theme of the stories we all grew up on.

While we haven't quite got super heroics and space battles in store for you this month (the magazine is called The Accountant, after all), we do have the inspiring story of a man who, from the age of 12, walked eight miles a day to get to school, and went on to brave attending university during Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's brutal rule, to get to the top of his profession.

The man in question is Ugandan Capital Markets Authority chief executive Japheth Katto, who tells us this month about his journey from his home village to a place at the top of one of East Africa's most important financial services entities (See: Japheth Katto profile)

As we noted in last month's world survey report, and as Katto confirms during his interview, the profession's spotlight is now firmly planted on Africa.

The many countries that make up the continent have endured a constant stream of unbalanced media coverage for decades due to civil war, poverty, environmental disaster and political unrest.

But as many African nations have stabilised and grown in strength, they are looking to thrive on the vast and relatively untapped resources of the region. As such, Africa is becoming a hotspot for international investment. And where industry goes, so too must accountants.

A barrier to break through
However, one major economic issue faced by Africa is a lack of qualified accountants. They are increasingly vital for the development of the economy, and their scarcity stands to be a severe limiting factor to growth if the issue is not tackled now.

A number of international accounting bodies, such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, have been in Africa for a number of years, training accountants where no local body exists, and acting as a trainee partner or consultant to local accounting bodies.

But despite these efforts, there is still a large gap between the number of qualified accountants present and the number required in countries such as Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Angola.

I expect there will be an influx of internationally trained accountants into Africa in the coming years, particularly in countries with accounting professions still in the early stages of development.

But Africa's untapped resources are not just natural - there are huge reserves of human talent on the continent, from which can be drawn a surfeit of qualified accountants given the application of the right training and guidance.

These people can be found, but there is no doubt outside investment from international accounting bodies and firms is required if this is to work. Influence in the adoption of international accounting, auditing, ethical and training standards will also help to plug the ever growing talent shortage.

The continent is certainly one to watch in the next few years in terms of investment opportunities, and I feel certain it will remain a big focus for the global accounting profession for the foreseeable future.

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