The new wave of Entrepreneurship in Africa

The African malaise

Africa is a continent of diversity rooted in countless shades of culture and tradition, endowed with resources as far as the mind can imagine both in man and material. Sadly, both have not yet been put to effective use.

Africa has been called so many names, borne so many titles and is downgraded by the rest of the world. For many years, we have been called ‘The dark continent’, ‘capital of the third world’, ‘cynosure of underdevelopment’. Unconsciously, Africans have accepted these titles and lived with them. However at the dawn of the information age, thousands of its inhabitants beg to differ, they have (in diverse ways) seized the opportunity to correct the false notion.

In simple terms, Africa faces colossal population dilemma. There’s nothing wrong with having a huge population. In a society like China this has been harnessed and put to use. However in Africa, manpower is often left unattended. Thus, we have millions of idle people on the streets that depend on fate and the government for their survival. The unemployment rate is abysmal. The Africa Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) reports that “about 50% of graduates are regularly unemployed because of the unavailability of jobs.” Unemployment and underemployment pose the greatest threats to Africa’s development today. With idle youths parading, there is an inevitable increase in crime rate which indirectly provides a platform for terrorism as an avenue to vent grievances.

The only viable solution to this problem is entrepreneurship. Merriam Webster dictionary defines an entrepreneur as a person who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business, (in other words a self-employed person). The only way Africa can break away from the shackles of poverty is to promote the practice of entrepreneurship. We must emphasize the need for self-employment and independence from the government’s welfare for survival.

How fast is Entrepreneurship growing?

Travelling from Nigeria’s buzzing commercial hub, Lagos, to the rising city, Kigali, then to the city that never sleeps, Nairobi. It is only visible that the wave of entrepreneurship is rising in Africa. Local technology incubation hubs are reshaping the once dark continent.

In his article, Why African entrepreneurship is booming, Ndubuisi Ekekwe recounts “Last month, I visited my village, Ovim in southeastern Nigeria. I met a painter who also manufactures the paint he uses for his work. According to him, his business nearly collapsed early in the year when he could not access the foreign exchange market to import the raw materials required for paint production. At that time, the Nigerian Central Bank was running a currency control regime which stifled the importation of goods for small businesses. But despite these challenges, the painter came up with new ideas to keep his business going. He created a new type of paint from non-toxic materials, using materials sources locally. The new paint has no smell and dries within minutes of application. I was impressed.”

Creating a niche for herself is Teta Isibo, a Rwandan fashion entrepreneur and founder of Inzuki Designs that specializes in jewelry and home decor that fuses Rwandan traditional craftsmanship and global contemporary design. Teta says, “the whole essence of our business is the fusion of Rwandan traditional and global contemporary, and the traditional comes from the skills of local artisans.” Teta has been featured on many international platforms including Forbes.

Uganda’s Paul Isaac Musasizi is the CEO of the tech company, Kiira Motors Corporation, and the brain behind Africa’s first solar-powered electric bus. The 35-seater ‘Kayoola’ runs on two batteries, one that is powered by solar and an electric one to drive passengers at night. The solar-powered bus is an indigenous solution to unemployment and the transportation problem in Africa. It also supports the climate change action initiative by the United Nations. In an interview, Musasizi explains that “no other country manufacturing vehicles are on the equator like Uganda. We should celebrate that and make a business of it.”

Similarly, Issam Dami is the founder of Lagare.ma, which is Morocco’s first electronic bus station that allows people book bus tickets online instead of standing in queues. The transport app is available in 10 languages and serves more than 25,000 frequent customers.

How Entrepreneurship can grow an Economy

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank suggest that the establishment of small and medium enterprises (SME’s) and the success of entrepreneurship in the third world is the solution to many socio-economic problems. On one hand, entrepreneurship provides economic growth by galvanizing employment opportunities, on the other hand it aids in poverty alleviation which ultimately leads to economic independence. When people are encouraged to own businesses and provide services, the society will be radically transformed. History is replete with stories of how the strongest and richest empires- Timbuktu, Kanem-Borno were those built on trade.

What is the Government doing to help Entrepreneurs?

Speaking on the increase in foreign investment and economic growth in Africa, Ugandan Prime Minister- Ruhakama Rugunda said his government’s efforts to promote entrepreneurial culture have produced ‘remarkable results.’ For instance, the state-run Youth Venture Capital Fund trains and provides money to young people with good business ideas. Meanwhile, Cameroonian government announced the key role entrepreneurship will play in her poverty alleviation strategy in the 2035 economic plan.

Meanwhile, as a means of stimulating Nigeria’s economy, Vice-President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the Aso-Villa Demo Day. It was a Presidential initiative to deploy solutions for Nigeria’s social and economic development.

The Emerging Tourism Industry

Every country in Africa has a number of tourist attractions both natural and man-made. From the Kilimanjaro to Victoria Falls, the Serengeti plains to the Sphinx of Giza, the Okavango Delta to the Valley of Kings, all these sites display the wonders of the African continent. Africa’s rich and cultural heritage can be strategically repositioned to encourage entrepreneurs to leverage on the tourism industry. In 2015, Wikipedia (Free Encyclopedia) reports that ‘South Africa grossed $35 billion, Morocco $34 billion, Namibia $33.80 billion, Kenya $32 billion, Tunisia $31.80 billion. As such, states urgently need to concentrate efforts to grow this emerging industry. 

What more needs to be done to improve Entrepreneurial activities on the continent?

The potentials and opportunities in the emerging field of entrepreneurship are abundant. In boosting entrepreneurship, the public and private sectors must liaise. The biggest contributions African governments can make is ensuring a conducive business environment. Therefore, efforts must be intensified to ensuring constant power supply, constructing new roads and maintaining existing ones as well as ensuring the ease of doing business by adopting flexible local policies that support access to financial and mentorship opportunities.

The private sector should take a proactive role in addressing the structural changes to enhancing business services and providing opportunities for innovation and competition. Furthermore, by adapting to new and emerging technologies it can provide a veritable platform to impact growth and productivity. As the continent presents opportunities for sustainable growth, a public-private initiative should drive transformation.


AUTHOR: Seyi Tiamiyu and Stephanie Okafor, Co-Founders of Initiative for the Development and Enlightenment of Africa (I.D.E.A), a social enterprise poised at telling a different African story. I.D.E.A has a website/blog at ideafricans.com

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