PROFIT MAKING is often vilified as unafrican. Africans have embraced collective economies as extensions of village culture and rebuffed notion of the profit maker as noble.
However, looking at modern day Africa, one can make a strong claim that not only is entrepreneurship embedded in African behavior but Africa has the best entrepreneurs.
During the period of liberation movements in Africa many of the founding fathers ‘turned east’ and molded economies with socialistic tendencies. Much of this was due to the geopolitical dynamics of the cold war and leaders simply looking to relinquish the economic shackles of the colonial occupiers.
Of the first black African nations to gain independence (starting with Ghana in March of 1957), none embraced liberal market economies. African socialism became the dominant economic policy doctrine throughout the continent. Many of these nations’ such as Tanzania and Uganda suffered from poor policies which led to decades of disappointing economic performance.
That said, a trip to a trade market in Africa displays some of the greatest understanding of supply and demand concepts. The changes in prices and an understanding of market dynamics are grasped by all.
There can be a strong argument made that many of the traders, who tend of be women, have the same keen insight of changing financial forces on their goods that Wall Street traders take years to develop.
Visitors to Rwanda are often taken aback by the customer service displayed by motorcycle taxis. Now while Rwanda is working hard to improve this, customer service is not Rwanda’s strongest attribute.
However, motorcycle taxis are not only often friendly, conversant, but have an uncanny sense of honesty. Part of this is that there is little differentiation between the service they provide from that of their competitors. One can simply take another ‘moto’ if they feel the person is rude or expensive. Their behavior is, in part, market driven.
An NGO worker visiting a village in DRC commented how the children were able to create toys out of the material at their disposal. These children will take wire, a can of coke, some rubber, and turn it into a toy car. Even the brightest western child would be hard pressed to be this innovative.
Herein lays the duty of modern day African leaders. Some of the children are the next mechanical engineers who will invent a solution to change Africa’s infrastructure issues.
One of the ‘moto’ drivers is capable of running a workshop on the benefits of good customer service or even educate others in the service industry of the cost/benefits of assessing prices.
Government programs like TVET provide Rwandans with the skills to take advantage of their natural abilities. A plumber who is taught business skills becomes an entrepreneur who employs other Rwandans.
One Acre Fund (Rwanda was one of its pilot nations) provided farmers with loans and training. The program has been able to swiftly show that once given the skills, farmers not only flourish but become independent quickly.
Africans need to ignore the skeptics in the west. While everyone has something to learn, Africans don’t need to learn about entrepreneurship because it is inherent in the population.
The need of the population is to gain the skills to take advantage of what is already there. Africa has the arable land, the competitive labor costs, and natural resources; there is no reason African can’t be the continent filled with entrepreneurs building new markets and innovating new practices.
The writer is an economist based in Washington DC