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In My View

February 26, 2017

Taking a Moment to Celebrate Africa

Entrepreneur and Innovation Influencer, Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais

Entrepreneur and Innovation Influencer, Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais

In a world dominated by dramatic headlines about President Trump, Brexit, the Chinese slowdown and oil prices, I’d like to pause and take a moment to do something unusual - celebrate the incredible Africa that is flourishing around us.

Of course, it’s not all great and we can’t pretend that many African countries don’t still struggle with widespread poverty and poor living conditions. We know that. The world knows that. But let’s, for a few moments at least, not dwell on the negatives that seem to always hog the headlines. Let’s indulge and take a look at the positives – and imagine the Africa that lies ahead of us.

For me, working in this field, I know the challenges only too well. But, I know how incredibly dynamic and entrepreneurial the African spirit is. I see an exciting, dynamic and breathtakingly modern continent around the corner. We deserve to celebrate the journey made so far.

And it’s not through rose-colored spectacles that we view the new narrative of Africa’s incredible future. It’s already happening. Let’s remember that as the world’s fastest-growing, and youngest population, Africa has unparalleled human capital. Here is a link to a 2016 article in the World Economic Forum’s website. Take a look, the ten youngest populations in the world are in Africa. The report also says that if sub-Saharan Africa provides adequate education and jobs, $500 billion a year could be added to the region’s economies for 30 years.

And this is the central challenge – jobs! Jobs cannot realistically (or sustainably) be created by the State. In most major African economies, governments know this and accept it. So we know that job creation has to come from private enterprise. And that’s why the new African buzzword – innovation – is top of the agenda.

Africa has more entrepreneurs and more young people who want to own their own business than anywhere else on earth. The appetite for success is there in huge quantities, right across the continent. The energy of youth is there too. But what is missing? Money, facilities, and encouragement. Of these, money is perhaps the biggest issue. The annual Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) competition rewards incredible innovations with hundreds of thousands of Dollars every year. And there are other competitions that do the same. It’s incredibly important to use cash as an incentive to bring unknown, commercially unskilled innovators out of the woodwork. And, for those that win, the money helps them get cracking and build a viable business. But competitions aren’t nearly enough.

Education is critical if we are to point young people towards enterprise and innovation and to equip them with basic business skills. This needs to be at the core of the national curricula of every African country. National governments would do well to put business studies on their national curricula. We also need to see more and more collaboration between the public and private sectors. Many governments have created new platforms for innovators and entrepreneurs (such as state-backed VC’s or innovation hubs), and private businesses stand to gain a lot by getting in on the action and investing in SME’s.

Of course, we need to see the region’s financial markets mature. Yes, there have been great strides in terms of anti-money laundering strategies in some countries. But we need governments to help banks overcome their fear of lending to SME’s, and we need to see global private investment continue to rise. Private equity is now the major driver of economic growth and we need to welcome African and foreign private equity with open arms.

African innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders have the capacity to utterly transform this wonderful continent and to disrupt the status quo that will build the Africa we have all been dreaming of. We have the people, the energy, the technology and the political will. For those of us who are emotionally, and financially invested in Africa’s future, it is absolutely right and fair that we should take this moment to smile and cherish the progress made so far. As Africans, we deserve the incredible future that awaits us.