By A.D. McKenzie
PARIS (IDN) – Africa is the world’s most entrepreneurial region, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but “manufacturing is receding”.
To discuss solutions as well as highlight some of the challenges facing the continent, the organisation’s 17th International Economic Forum on Africa brought together government leaders, businesspeople, civil society and others in Paris on October 4, with a focus on entrepreneurship and industrialisation.
“Of the 25 countries with the strongest economic growth between 2004 and 2014, 10 were African,” says the Paris-based OECD. Yet, “not enough jobs have been created for the rapidly expanding youth population” and “growth has not been inclusive enough,” the organisation adds.
Among the participants at the conference, Guinea’s Prime Minister Mamady Youla stressed that the continent faces “multi-dimensional challenges” including globalisation and industrialisation. But he said the latter should also be seen as a real opportunity for Africa to move forward sustainably.
“We have to utilise entrepreneurship as a lever to speed up the process of industrialisation,” Youla said, speaking on behalf of Guinean president Alpha Condé, who is also Chairperson of the African Union. “The industrialisation and structural transformation to which we aspire is based on clean, abundant, stable and affordable energy,” he added.
Overall, the major theme of the forum – organized by the OECD and the African Union Commission, in partnership with the French Development Agency (AFD) – was how to create environments in which entrepreneurs and young people can thrive and gain access to financing.
“Entrepreneurs need support with structures,” said Dorothy Githae, founder and chief executive officer of the Kenya-based 360 Degrees International organisation. The company works particularly with women and youth entrepreneurs, and Githae said there was still “a lot of training and capacity building necessary.” In an interview with IDN, she said one of her main concerns was how entrepreneurship could be utilised to make sure everyone is included.
“A key issue is that youth don’t feel included enough,” she said, explaining that often information about access to financing is prepared in such a way that guidelines are incomprehensible to average readers. This needed to be broken down so the main points were understandable, she added.
“When people get the information, they’re more empowered,” she told reporters. “Entrepreneurs need that motivation.”
She gave examples of “capacity building” with small and medium-sized companies, describing for instance how a woman entrepreneur was assisted to develop a company that buys shea butter from Ghana. The entrepreneur then packages the product and markets it to Kenyan consumers.
“We need to set up entrepreneurial schools, to set up structures, and to put policies in place,” Githae said, explaining that intra-Africa trade has huge potential.
Githae was one of four women panellists among some 23 speakers at the conference, a gender imbalance that an OECD official acknowledged. This low representation was especially ironic as the OECD had said in the forum’s concept notes that “gender inequality is also negatively impacting industrialisation” in Africa.
Most analysts agree that “women really are the engines of development growth across the continent,” as Somachi Chris-Asoluka put it.
The head of policy and external relations for the Tony Elumelu Foundation – an Africa-based and African-funded philanthropic organisation – Chris-Asoluka also called for increased assistance to youth and young entrepreneurs. “People are looking for opportunities and support,” she said.
She told the forum that governments had to be concerned about the number of young Africans crossing the seas seeking jobs, with many “losing their lives” during the journey. “Africa will be the youngest continent [in the future]. We need to support youth,” she said.
For Chris-Asoluka and the Tony Elumelu Foundation, economic growth in Africa is not enough. “We need to change the way we’re growing,” she declared. “We believe that only an entrepreneur-driven economy can transform the continent.”
She called for the implementation of appropriate policies to achieve greater inclusion and to promote entrepreneurship. “Without appropriate public policies, even brilliant ideas cannot take root,” she noted.
Some state representatives at the forum touted local production for local consumption as one of the keys to development. This approach may help to alleviate unemployment and poverty, according to Wiseman Magasela, special advisor to the Minister of Social Development in South Africa.
“The readiness and eagerness and commitment are already there,” he said of South African government policy, which includes measures that focus on the informal sector.
According to the OECD, the “large majority of Africans, youth in particular, has integrated into the informal sector.” The organisation says that this is “partially the result of the formal economy not creating jobs commensurate to the economic growth”.
“Youth in the continent are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults,” the OECD said, while the forum’s participants stressed the need to “harness” the informal sector.
“Informal does not translate to ‘not decent’,” Magasela stressed.
Regarding youth involvement in the economy, the winner of the OECD’s video contest on entrepreneurship, Yvan Soufaly of Madagascar, urged his fellow young people to “stop waiting” to see what their countries could do for them.
“Let’s take action,” he said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 9 October 2017]
Photo: Dorothy Githae, founder and chief executive officer of the Kenya-based 360 Degrees International. Credit: A.D. McKenzIe.
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