It is true that some African countries have tried to create enabling environments for businesses to thrive, but it is equally true that many countries on the continent have not designed policies that support entrepreneurs.
As business executives, entrepreneurs, leaders of governments and national training institutions are meeting for a two-day ‘African Entrepreneurship Policy Forum’, in Kigali experts said yesterday that a comprehensive approach to entrepreneurship policy development is essential considering that the business sector is one of the key players in contributing to sustainable development.
Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Fiorina Mugione, the chief entrepreneurship section at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the organisers of the forum, said that Africa is still behind in terms of trading with each other and, to reverse this, conducive environments must be created by governments.
“Young entrepreneurs are increasingly crossing borders. The new generation does not only aim for local market, instead they are looking at Africa as a large market for furthering their services. We believe that facilitating trade across borders is imperative, and this can be done through putting in place favourable regulatory frameworks that facilitate entrepreneurship,” she said.
She added that this would attract investments and, in turn, help fast-track the economic development of the continent.
On the other hand, Alesimo Mwanga, a research director at the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), said if African countries would put in place holistic approaches and new entrepreneurship promotion policies that are better targeted to different types of entrepreneurs, the continent would unlock access to opportunities for its young generation who make up the biggest part of Africa’s populations.
Today, there are about 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 (the youth bracket) in Africa, making Africa the continent with the youngest population globally. The current trend indicates that this figure will double by 2045, according to the African Economic Outlook.
But this dominant population is a great asset if tapped well, and is often touted as a major advantage for the continent, experts say.
Mugione highlighted that countries ought to urgently institute national strategies for entrepreneurship to bridge the missing links and be able to tap into the potential of its youthful population, adding that policies that promote research and innovation also key in driving the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“But you have to simultaneously tackle all the pillars; having a strategy, optimising the regulatory framework, access to finance, entrepreneurship education, technology innovation, and creating the networks and changing the mindsets. But if you only do one thing, you will not get the impact,” she said.
According to the African Development Bank, 22 per cent of Africa’s working-age population are starting new businesses, the highest rate in the world. Similarly, firms with fewer than 20 employees and less than 5 years’ experience provide the most jobs in Africa’s formal sector.
Vir Obe Parminder, the chief executive officer of Tony Elumelu Foundation, said while governments are designing policies to support entrepreneurs, it is critical that they work closely with the private sector in this.
“What we have observed is that policies and frameworks are developed in isolation from the real needs and concerns of the African startups and early stage enterprises. I, therefore, feel that there’s a need to reduce that gap that I believe exists between those that formulate policies and those that are concerned,” she said.
She added that policies and frameworks should be developed with the involvement of businesses, SMEs and, above all, with African emerging startups and entrepreneurs.
Speaking during the forum, Clare Akamanzi, the CEO of Rwanda Development Board, said that Rwanda has done so much at the policy level and other entrepreneurship support programmes, and that the biggest work remains in implementation.
The regional forum attracted participants from 20 countries and it is part of a series of discussions aimed to explore innovative public sector approaches to stimulate new firm formation and growth.