By Phillemon Sithole
Developing countries and poor countries are teeming with entrepreneurs. We see on the streets of most poor African countries, you will meet men, women, and children of all ages selling everything you can think of, and things that you did not even know could be sold. Men, women and indeed young people do set up stalls on street corners. After all: its survival, for most Africans.
In contrast, most citizens of rich countries have not even come near to becoming an entrepreneur. They mostly work 9-5 jobs companies, doing highly specialized and narrowly specified jobs, implementing someone else’s entrepreneurial vision. Their governments are effective. Their leaders put the interests of their countries first and serve the interests of their nations.
It is a well-documented fact that traditional avenues of job creation are dying and thus we need entrepreneurs to provides alternatives. However, at the same time we need to be critical and ponder upon why these traditional methods are failing. This passage seeks not to trivialise entrepreneurship but rather to bring to the surface some shrouded and invisible hazards of the entrepreneurship advocacy. The benefits of entrepreneurship are huge for the socio-economic wellbeing of any country.
Much of entrepreneurship in African countries and entrepreneurship in Euro-Western countries are binary opposites in their nature, although to a larger extent obviously, they share characteristics. The former is mostly for survival, due to dire unemployment and poverty whilst the latter is mostly driven by for innovation. It is partly due to this reason that we need to take into consideration the differences in contexts, as well as the silent intention of the “entrepreneurship” mantra by the political authority in Africa through their rhetoric and political ipsedixitism.
In EU countries for example, the US, and Japan, governments encourage and support the type of entrepreneurship which is at the cutting edge of innovation. The European Union has various SME support programmes and business schools across the EU offer specialised programmes on Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
We have witnessed a surge of philanthropists flocking to Africa to “promote” entrepreneurship. The question is “why”. Answers vary. The Obama administration initiated and hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya in 2015. It sounds like a noble programme, but once the US government (or any foreign government) gets involved we ought to ask ourselves what it implies for us and whose interests are advanced.
The fact is that Africa is rich in resources and Africa is poorly managed and social entrepreneurship, even by billionaires like Oprah and Bill Gates, cannot replace the resources of a nation and its leadership. Observably, it appears that there is a direct and indirect nexus between the surge of entrepreneurship and economic/leadership failure in a country. The dire the state of economy due to chronic mismanagement, corruption and faulty policies leads to increase in employment and consequently there is an increase in entrepreneurial activities especially in the informal sector.
Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) reports that African countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia are some of the most entrepreneurial countries. This is positive, considering the benefits that comes with entrepreneurship. It is not surprising either, considering the high levels of unemployment in these countries, which is a result of rampant corruption and poor government policies. Uganda’s youth unemployment estimated to be 83% according to the African Development Bank’s 2014 report.
We therefore ought to hold our leaders and governments accountable for the mismanagement, misappropriation of public funds and corruption to prevent further unemployment and job losses. At the same time, we should promote the kind of entrepreneurship that is sustainable and innovative.
Governments across the African continent have come up with numerous programmes to support and promote entrepreneurship. The irony is that even the funds intended for these initiatives are often looted. The intended beneficiaries of these programmes are mostly the youth and women, which is great. Entrepreneurship must be encouraged and supported to ensure growth and sustainability.
The danger, however, is that this could have unintended and silently intended consequences of shifting the attention of young people from mainstream socio-economic politics of the country to entrepreneurship. This phenomenon may lead to a deficit in leadership in years to come. Advocates of entrepreneurship ignore the fact that African unemployment is rooted in nomenklatura, runaway corruption, mismanagement of resources, looting, cronyism, and selfishness.
Thabo Mbeki’s report on illicit financial flows in Africa informs us that the resources of African countries are flouted under the noses of our mostly selfish, arrogant leaders. Africa’s youth need to hold governments accountable on this massive financial loses which could have been otherwise used to develop our own continent, create job opportunities, support business, invest in education and skills etc.
A little problem however may be that the youth have been told that “entrepreneurship is a driving force in Africa” (which is partially true) and had their focus redirected from mainstream socio-economic politics to entrepreneurship. It should be reiterated here that this is in no way to trivialise entrepreneurship.
The point here is we ought to look at entrepreneurship advocacy through critical lenses. It will be suicidal to advocate for entrepreneurship in order to address issues of unemployment, whilst neglecting the root causes of unemployment. This is vital considering the very same causes of unemployment appear to bedevil the efforts of stimulating entrepreneurship which is meant to address unemployment.