The first aspect I learnt about research, for which I am not perfect, is to build the grassroots indicators. In this sense, know what the problem really is. I cannot think of any person who today, from any part of the globe, can visit any part of Africa and draw to the conclusion that Africa is a continent of immeasurable opportunity.
But what is the problem? We have an energy crisis, underscored by the fact that we do not have decent educational systems over the continent and lastly in my summation, a lack of adequate – not superior or world-class – just adequate health care.
I am a child of the African soil. And tomorrow I will awake – maybe with a dream of being a pilot. One day while walking in the hot sun on my way to school I saw an aeroplane at 40 000 feet above the ground. So my dream is to be someone who flies one of those. I have never seen one up close, neither have I been inside one. Actually, I have never ridden a donkey or been inside a car.
All my life I have walked, bare-feet, either in hot sand or in the wet mud. My dreams are made up of vague concepts of what I have been told or somehow seen in torn books and magazines. I have seen various beautiful pictures of things that must somehow exist but not on my continent. My only natural experience is with nature and culture as the foundation to my upbringing.
Many days I go to the make-shift school without having anything to eat because both my parents have no work. When I do have something to eat in the morning, this is what remained from the previous night, and merely means I am fortunate enough for this day – but likely I will not eat in the course of this day.
And now, with 14 years of consulting experience in entrepreneurship, I come along and want to foster a culture of entrepreneurship for a people that in many regards, depending on location, really do not even know that they are poor. Life is just what it is.
To fix a problem, everyone needs to know the problem and the consequential obligation of our thoughts must fester in the reality that “new” – to a particular space in time – does not mean a new life, new day and a new world. It has not happened in more than 60 years and is unlikely to be supercharged ahead of schedule in the life times of many African youths.
A dim picture – yes – but a single candle still stands out in complete darkness. This was explained to me one day most aptly by a former World Bank executive, Dr. Frannie Leautier who highlighted that development cannot take place with one leg lagging behind the other.
There is a funny video clip of a baboon what picks up a mirror, and as it looks at itself, it gets a huge fright and is scared off – dropping the mirror. I associate this concept with many of the initiatives attempted in Africa. Introducing new concepts over years of traditional routine and in many situations –hardship – that is just a way of life will not always work, scaring the prospectives whose lives we are genuinely trying to enrich.
So what is this philosophical argument about? Simply, it is about understanding that entrepreneurship for rural Africa is not understood and neither do we as experts and specialists have solutions for local economic development – that will grow local economies. My apologies, we need to have one before we can grow it!
In recent years, several African countries “experienced” economic growth – but not necessarily generating decent or sustainable jobs. Unemployment remains high among youth and the adult African population. Very little “understood” attention is paid to the informal sector in fostering growth and creating jobs.
A fact: “the informal sector contributes about 55 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP and 80 per cent of the labour force.” Nine in 10 rural and urban workers have informal jobs in Africa and most employees are women and youth. In many countries, child labour is prominent. The critical value of the informal sector across African economies stems from the opportunities it almost guarantees the most vulnerable populations such as the poorest, women and youth.
The unbanked market form informal revenues runs into billions of dollars in Africa. This may present the first opportunity for segmented growth prospects on the continent where “modern” entrepreneurial solutions have failed to stimulate economic activity in the form of entrepreneurship. Hence the next question, “Does the informal sector need to be transformed into what we know to be and understand as entrepreneurship?”
Some of these questions we don’t have to really answer, yet we still need to find the alternative solutions that will yield an economic growth node that betters the lives of extreme poor communities across the continent.
I presume most who took to reading this article thought some genius solutions will be presented. The reality of economic development is that from the industrialization of the US, the concept was not rocket science. There was a need to transport metal, steel, ore, finished goods and thus rail systems were systematically built. This then translated to transit by water and the US after buying the failed attempt at the Suez Canal, finished and completed it – cutting down the cost of bulk transport via sea.
The last aspect I chose to deal with is the reality of economies of scale. Each poor community cannot generate economies over short periods of time. Neither may these areas generate any larger economic activity than what is needed locally. Here we find that a tailoring mechanism will always be needed, even more so in the global economy that impacts with supply shocks on the continent – irrespective of the amount of resources that we have. Despite Africa’s shortcomings, we have the opportunity to create an entrepreneurial economic system that will suit poor communities – like nowhere else in the world.