Should African Entrepreneurs be hailed like Heroes of the Past?

By Quadry Olalekan

So let’s get one thing straight here! The ghosts of Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah are not walking through the door at any moment, so we are now stuck with the Buharis, Mugabes, Kenyattas, and Sirleafs to lead Africa out of the never-ending poverty state that now plagues the continent.

Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp at Ohogua, near Benin, Edo State with Lead Nigeria

Despite all the black cloud hanging over, both young and old Africans are gravitating toward entrepreneurship as the means to shift the narrative away from always depending on the government. “Ask not for what the government can do for you; what can you can do for your nation”, a paraphrase of U.S. President John Kennedy that now serves to drive every African from TechHub in Nairobi, Kenya to the Tech city of Yaba, a little famous city in Lagos, where everyone seems to be brimming with confidence that entrepreneurship will lead Africa forward. This seems like the new movement that is creating optimism among Africans both home and abroad. Even social media have taking notice with group like African Diaspora Hub and Silicon Africa, championing this belief that entrepreneurship will lead Africa out of its current predicaments.

Tough Road Ahead

Most African nations face grave challenges, including widespread poverty and unemployment. However, the continent is also home to many of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and entrepreneurs who are spurring Africa’s growth in unique and dynamic ways. A study released in June 2015 by Approved Index, a UK-based business networking group, ranked Africa among the top of the entrepreneurship chart. Today, entrepreneurship is seen as one of the most sustainable job generation tools in Africa. Roselyn Vusia, human rights advocate, points out that Uganda’s youth unemployment estimated to be 83%, according to the African Development Bank’s 2014 report, is one of the highest in Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa experienced a slowdown in investment growth from nearly 8% in 2014 to 0.6% in 2015, according to the new Africa’s Pulse, a biannual analysis of the state of African economies conducted by the World Bank. This sluggish investment has coincided with a sharp deceleration in economic growth in Africa

Unemployment around the continent is also worrying. A 2013 study by Brookings Institution, a Washington DC-based think tank, found that African youth (15–24 years) constitute about 37% of the working age population. The same age group, however, accounts for about 60% of jobless people in Africa.

Corruption is another serious problem as well as lack of sincerity by African governments. It is difficult to get investors ready to invest in new ideas or emerging businesses. As well, we have a very hostile business environment, where government, being the biggest buyer, is deeply tipped in corruption and only those connected can access government contracts.

To put more emphasis on the role of corruption and government: “corruption is the greatest impediment to entrepreneurship in Africa!” It is corruption that drives poor and inconsistent government policies, volatile political environment, sit-tight ruler ship, non-access to project financing, multiple taxation, etc. Remove corruption and the business environment will be cleared up to allow brilliant ideas to thrive. Fair competition and honest productive collaboration can only flourish in an environment where corruption is treated with disdain and trust can grow.

The one and single most important issue in Africa is lack of education. And when I say lack of education, I mean lack of knowledge and lack of good values! Education drives the behavior of human beings.

On the positive side, according to the new Africa’s Pulse, a biannual analysis of the state of African economies conducted by the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa has made great progress in telecommunications coverage in the past 25 years, expanding at a fast pace across both low- and middle-income countries in the continent. Access to safe water has also increased, from 51% of the population in 1990 to 77% in 2015.

Africa is ready to reclaim its place, and that will be done this time in entrepreneurship and innovation. We might hear and read about the next Nelson Mandela or Kwame Nkrumah, and that person will be an entrepreneur.

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Quadry Olalekan is the founder and CEO of Afrika Data Place, a data marketplace based in Lagos, Nigeria.

Twitter: @AfrikaDataplace