Yes. Contrary to what the conferences say and many nice speakers and reports postulate, Africa will not Tech, Entrepreneur or Small Business its way to development and prosperity.
This is because all these three things are actually results or if you like they are based on other things. Every single one of them is buzzy and provides nice soundbites for conferences across and outside the continent, but you can’t make the result your starting point.
Small business, tech and entrepreneurship leverages certain things to happen and until we get those right, they will not deliver the type of growth and development they deliver in other parts of the world.
I’ve categorized these things into 4 and each one will require men of vision in and out of government coming to think big. But make no mistakes, the government component is the most crucial. There is a reason why we outsource our collective well-being to people in government — because by virtue of their position, they are uniquely positioned to make the most impact.
So my categories —
Infrastructure. Especially cross-border connecting the big markets across Africa.
Legal framework that builds trust across national borders.
Property rights protected and enforcible within and across national borders.
A government whose currency can be trusted enough to enable Africans trade amongst themselves without recourse to the dollar.
Seriousness with basic education and upskilling Africans.
I’ll talk about infrastructure here and over time talk about the rest.
This first big thinkers everywhere that developed rode on the back of unprecedented infrastructure roll-out. You cannot delineate America’s economic rise from the building of the Trans-Continental Railroad. Africa must find the vision, money, men and collaboration across borders to build infrastructure that will unlock Africa. Infrastructure, crucially transport, efficient ports, power, communications, data centers and internet connectivity that will unify the disparate scattered markets from Lagos to Kinshasa to Cairo and to Capetown. The sum total of infrastructure powered trade between these African markets are what will birth entrepreneurship, small and large businesses that will require tech to facilitate. It will create the ecosystem that will provide both the problems and the rails for tech to build innovative solution and the wherewithal to pay for it. People created innovations like joint stock companies, bonds and Co specifically to finance private trade, warfare and government spending. These innovations were created hundreds of years ago and we still build on them and use them till today. What innovative funding mechanism has Africa created in the last 100years?200years? Africa needs to get creative.
When we broke the mould with something like the African Finance Corporation (which following the trend of the thoughts in this piece required serious vision from governments of the day), the results so far have proven that it is indeed the way to go. We now need to pull the stops in Africa and amplify this “yugely"and indeed open the door to other such funding mechanisms. Crux is, we need to build infrastructure that will unlock Africa. Until then, all our conferences are pipe dreams.