Examining Technology & Entrepreneurship as the panacea to poverty in Africa

Many of Africa’s youth are hungry for business opportunities. The myriad of challenges notwithstanding, a lot of young people are hungry for information on how to run their own business and the financing to get started.

I was privileged to attend the first BarCamp event in Ghana in December 2008, and also attended the 2009 edition. In both cases, I joined break-out sessions related to entrepreneurship, being an Internet Entrepreneur myself. The striking trend in both years was the overwhelming attendance. Check both scenarios:

In the 2008 entrepreneurship break-out session, the participants were so many that there was only time for introduction. The moderator had asked that the participants introduced themselves and their businesses one after the other but by the time the introduction went round the room, one of the Barcamp organizers walked-in to remind the group we had only a few minutes left to round-up. Although a paper went round taking down names and email addresses, there was no follow-up.

In 2009, a similar bout of introduction ate into much of the time. However, some useful exchange of ideas and experiences was squeezed-in this time. This particular session also attracted a huge number of participants.

It is obvious from both events that a lot of young people are keen on learning useful lessons about entrepreneurship, in a bid to launch themselves into the harsh business world.

Too many African countries suffer the burden of poor social and economic development. Whilst the reasons vary slightly from country to country, the common trend is the large rate of unemployment. Thus, young people are increasingly being guided in the direction of entrepreneurship. Whilst the big universities are slow in adapting to the realities of day by offering undergraduates some entreneurship training, newer higher institutions are more complaint. Ashesi University College in Ghana is an example of the latter.

Technology, especially mobile telecoms and the internet, have fast-tracked some aspects in our part of the world. The revolution started with the now-ubiquitous mobile phone, placing the power of telecommunication in the palms of the average Kwame.

Communication is pivotal to business. Solving the communication issue not only created direct jobs for millions of people across Africa, but have aided smart business owners to explode their operations due to the convenience offered by mobile phones. Nigeria’s communication revolution is a classic example cited globally.

Despite a slow start, the internet is increasingly becoming an integral part of our daily lives in Africa. Whilst most daily processes are still manual, more people than ever, are now attached to the use of the internet as their primary means of communication, information and entertainment. Despite the expensive and not-so-fast connectivity, Africans are already making some impact on the internet in terms of adding local content. Never mind even if much of it is to Facebook and to a lesser extent, Twitter. The next phase of connectivity in Africa is already far advanced. The number of fibre optic cables linking the continent to the rest of the world has increased over the years. For example, West Africa which had been served by a lone cable (as well as thousands of expensive VSAT terminals) for 9 years is now being served by 3 active submarine fibre optic cables: SAT3, MainOne and glo-1.

The opportunities presented by the internet as the ultimate tool of connectivity can only be limited by one’s imagination. Putting the “global village” theory aside for a moment, a lot of opportunities still existing within the national boundaries of several African countries when the Internet is utilized effectively. Add regional trading in the various economic blocs, then pan-African trade before the full-fledged international trade and you would get the full picture.

In addition to the trading opportunities, the internet is an invaluable learning resource, home to an overwhelming number of credible learning sources. The smart entrepreneur who wants to stay relevant would constantly tap into the resources.

It is not yet uhuru though. There are still a lot of challenges for the African entrepreneur:

  1. erratic power supply is still prevalent across the continent. Communication equipment are powered by electricity.
  2. government red-tapes and bureaucracy: the concept of e-government is still alien in this parts (despite a few exceptions like Mauritius, South Africa). Thus, the exercise of business registration, registration with the relevant government agencies/authorities can thus be very frustrating especially if corruption is a factor.
  3. Raising capital: this single factor seems to be the biggest challenge to starting a business, most of the time.

Whilst the above-stated are only a few of the challenges, Africa still presents a mouth-watering buffet of opportunities to the resilient, ingenious and hard-working. Leveraging the power of technology effectively, millions of African youths can be pulled out of the cycle of excruciating poverty.

Views and questions are welcome in the comments area.

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Avatar of Oluniyi D. Ajao
Oluniyi D. Ajao is an Internet Entrepreneur and Tech Enthusiast based in South Africa. Follow him on twitter @niyyie for more tech updates.

7 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree any less with you. Entrepreneurship is going to be the backbone to further development and poverty eradication in Africa. Entrepreneurial education should be given priority in our institutions above all else. It’s so disgusting to see people going to school because they’re hoping to get a good job or work with this company someday…. This won’t get Africa ahead in any ways. Ashesi is doing is great job I agree, instilling a sense of responsibility in its students which helps them thrive (and not survive) once they’re out of school. I’ve seen a good number of their alumni go forth and start promising businesses. It all starts with changing the mindset of the young black boy/girl.

    I was at BarcampAccra 2010, and I was dazed by the turn out of young guys and girls their doing (or wanting to do) stuff. It’s impressive, I think it gets gets better with time, we’ll see more of us springing forth and seizing the opportunities presented us (by virtue of our motherland) and do great stuff not withstanding the challenges.

  2. ‘Niyi,

    This was a thoughtful post. Thanks for sharing your 30,000-foot birds-eye perspective across African nations, as well as your experience “in the trenches”.

    Here’s the question.

    With the problems being so well defined, and well known… what entrepreneurs have found innovative ways to reduce the negative impact of those problems?

    1: What start-ups are doing a good job of “surviving” inconsistent electricity? Is it NairaLand? Is it BellaNaija?

    2: Who has “hacked” the byzantine red tape and layers of bribes necessary to register one’s company? If people crowdsource it, and start sharing their personal pitfalls when they went to register, whoever is coming behind them will at least know to avoid those same pitfalls.

    3: What of this lack of access to capital?
    Here’s the question: If people had all the capital they wanted, what would they spend it on? I would suggest that lack of capital is not a terrible thing for MOST startups. Particularly in the tech sector, we techies have often mastered the technology, but not necessarily the finance.

    A lack of finance may cause a shift to focusing on business models that don’t require a lot of capital to start.

    For example – starting a blog should be very close to free. One could then build a personal brand, and win over followers and supporters for the actual company the individual is blogging about.

    Imagine finally getting access to a Venture Capitalist, and having a years worth of well thought out blog posts on your product concept. Versus just having a very professional (and theoretical) business plan.

    Lack of resources forces innovation, for those who can be innovative.

    This is a fantastic post, and I hope it spurs lots of dialog!

    I, for one, would love to discuss this much more.

    Thanks, Niyi.

  3. Thanks for the post. You perfectly articulated what I was thinking. IT and entrepreneurship are a very sure escape route from our current sorry economic state. And despite obstacles mentioned in Bolaji’s comment above, to me, there is no better way out. Or which other sectors are going to require less of those stresses or resources?

  4. I think V.P. Mahama has it right…the future of this country lies in agriculture…not elitist internet start-ups by university grads who would be out of Ghana in a flash if the opportunity arose.

    Now if only value could be added to agricultural products here in Ghana, but alas when is the last time you saw a Kingsbite chocolate bar….or have you ever seen a made in Ghana sugar cube…

    And, if only the government would protect the land of Ghana from foreign nationals who are here growing food for their populations or bio-fuels to reduce their energy costs.

    Grads, use the internet to expose the harsh realities of life here in Ghana. Expose the corruption in doing business here. Celebrate the valiant efforts of small businesses producing here in Ghana.

  5. How can we justify the assertion that,entrepreneurship is a panacea to the world of unqual opportunity?

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