THE AFRICAN ENTREPRENEUR
September 27, 2013 Editor 0
Francis Stevens George. Written in 1993. Has not been updated
The question of economic motivation is fundamental to economic development. This has become more so when we the vibrant, almost succeed or die attitude of the Hong Kong Chinese, Taiwanese, South Koreans for example. Although the factors are complex, few would argue that this relentless zeal for individual economic prosperity has created the very high living standards enjoyed by these peoples.
Therefore in the context of Africa’s economic development, some have pointed to this so called lack economic motivation as a source of much of the continent’s problem. The charge is often that Africans are lazy and they point to amount of leisure compared to the amount of work. These charges are unfounded. There is absolutely no truth in it. If only one considers the often hard and heavily manual work that Africans do in Europe, then you see why I argue that these charges are wholly untrue. As with any other economic man, the African economic man needs incentives. There is no good working hard only to have crippling inflation eat into your wages. There is no point been creative when there is no reward system or when foreign ideas and products are excelled over local products. There is no point being entrepreneurial when you are discriminated against-all the more in your own society. This is particularly the case in countries where you have Lebanese merchants.
It is therefore not the absence of economic person that has put Africa so far behind. He has lived there for millennia and will be ready to open the road the economic prosperity when he is recognised as so. Nevertheless the decades of neglect has affected this person.
One damaging side of this neglect is that today that economic person has simply become an opportunist. He or she does not plan beyond six months and is only interested in quick, short term profits. They do not make or enter into long term commitments. All too often they do not see beyond the present-anything that does not present an immediate opportunity is not done. This has therefore created an attitude of “eat today for tomorrow you may die”. In other words go for the quick deals.
There is thus lacking in Africa today, a culture of goal setting; systematic planning, and commitment. If Africa is to succeed, then its people must learn these rules.
What we need therefore is training in this area. Aid could be given by the developing countries to train budding and aspiring Africans in Business Management. At the end of the day the only path to economic development will rests in our own hands. The progress been made by former Communist countries in Eastern has largely been propelled by its entrepreneurs.
Already, there is what I believe is the future of Africa. Today across Europe, there are large numbers of young Africans, with business and economics degrees and successful at their jobs or enterprise. These young men are now realising that it is then that can solve the problems, by bringing with them their skills and contacts. They are trusted and respected by their Europeans counterparts unlike their forefathers who are largely discredited for excessive corruption. It is time to admit that apart from a handful, most of Africa’s leaders since independence have been semi-illiterate, half baked men with no idea of political and economic configurations. They were simply there for personal aggrandisement. They lacked little in the way of policies for development except-”my family, my home town and tribe comes first”.
However, today Europeans see this new African as his peer. He has lived in Europe and knows as much about the continents history as his European counterpart. He shares his culture and even participates in it in the form of marriage, work, education and activity. This new African now realises that his life could never be fulfilled, until he sees a different image of his home. We all feel awfully guilty when the images we get of our land is one of starvation, disease, war, corruption and human slaughter. This burden is even heavier on those of us who are well educated, living in Europe and making a contribution to that society in which we live in. There is the growing sense of guilt that we are making what is already made and neglecting our own land. At a more psychological level, there is the matter of race; you will always be seen as Black first and that more often than not means been seen as an African. Thus no matter how much you are integrated into European society,those images that are portrayed of your people is what you will be seen as. Thus with your education and multi cultural background and in some cases your proven track record in Finance, Management and Accounting- you begin to feel the need to make a change in your land. Above all, there are far many more opportunities that exist in Africa than there are in Europe in terms of Joint ventures, manufacturing and investment management.
Africa is still the richest continent in terms of mineral resources. It is still one of the most attractive markets in terms of size and penetration. However, because of the weak leadership and the absence of the entrepreneur, many ventures and opportunities are missed. It is a fact that most European firms would welcome the prospect of investing in this emerging and resourceful market. However, because of perceived “we” and “them” and the lack of trusts which stems from this attitude, Europeans shy away from the continent. Those you are there are very strongly tied to the political system. Their presence is ensued by the close relationship with political establishment. This is a situation that most business would not desire.
It is therefore to this New African that the future of the continent lie. He knows the conditions that will attract the kinds of investment that are needed for long term growth. He knows the rules and regulations of the game. His European counterparts are in Industries and in key positions where they have enormous influence with regard to trade and investment policies. Some of them are his friends, others are associates. Nevertheless, they see the New African as an equal; he understands their ways; he or she can be relied upon to manage their funds; they can negotiate with.
It is this new African with access to International finance, modern methods of communication that will be the key to the development of that continent. What this man needs more than anything is the incentive to move. This individual accepts the African society with all its ills. That in the least deters him or her. What this individual wants is the freedom and equal opportunity. Freedom to pursue his economic activity without hindrances or obstacles in the forms of bribes, family alliances, political intrigues etc. etc. Equal opportunity is a major source of worry. In some countries, tribal kinship usually determines your share of the national pie. If you do not belong to the right clan your access to information and funds will be severely hampered. Another aspect of the equal opportunities problem is that you find large numbers of Indians and Lebanese communities in some of these countries. These groups are discriminated in favour of the locals. Import Licenses for vital commodities in Sierra Leone for example are in hands of Lebanese and Indian businessmen. Why? Because they bribe heavily. Your African will try the prescribe way or will use his family connections. Often the prescribe way is not the right way! Moreover, even if the relevant authority is a family member, he would prefer the Lebanese or Indian because the sight of cash is more appealing than family ties. This again illustrates the point about the economic person has simply become an opportunist, who can no longer see beyond the present.
It is this system that has got to stop. It is the knowledge that you will have to come up against these kinds of frustrating encounters that is deterring a lot of otherwise able and capable individuals.
To stop these sort of practices will take bold initiatives. Indeed some kind of revolutionary rethink which might entail some sort of authoritarian rule will be necessary. If it sounds like I am advocating authoritarian rule, yes I am. The kind of authoritarian to enact free market policies; the kind that would understand the needs and importance of the New African in achieving economic prosperity; the kind of authoritarian to let free market ideology reign over sectional or party ideology or tribal for that matter; the kind of authoritarian that would allow the individual to pursue his or her economic activity(within the law) without harassment, corrupt practices from relevant authorities; and the kind of authoritarian that would not hesitate to favour economic sound management over political sound manipulation or at least be able to achieve some balance between the two.
Ghana, with its military rule(call it whatever you want) made that country something to be proud of. And it was not by interfering and distorting prices. That country already has budding New Africans educated at the London School of Economics; Harvard- running a stock market and creating new and exciting business opportunities! For example, Michael Oppong Appiah runs Micap Computer Services Ltd., which has developed Africa’s first locally produced Uninterrupted Power Supply(UPS) unit. That is the road to prosperity.
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