Many people have written about Africa being the last frontier; some African countries labeled as the African lions set to outrun the Asian tigers; Africa rising etc. Whereas there has been criticism about what aspects of Africa rising are being felt by the ordinary people, I do believe in the narrative that Africa will soon take its place among the global economies. A lot of arguments have been raised about the impact of aid in Africa. Continued overreliance on aid from developed nations has caused lack of innovation capability by the people. In addition, majority of the funds channeled as development assistance go through the government institutions and some of these institutions are more accountable to the donors than their own people. There is also the issue of corruption which is a major threat. Therefore despite billions of dollars being advanced to Africa, it has not really solved african problems in a big way. As noted by Wangari Maathai aid in Africa is not directed to solving the root causes. For example, money donated goes towards provision of mosquito nets, feeding the already undernourished people and not to solve the root causes such as how to improve food security and elimination of threats in the first place. This is not to say however that all aid is bad. There are instances where it has played a big role in preventing disasters.
However, if funds are made available to undertake profitable ventures, there would a slow culture shift towards ‘we can do it’ mentality. This can be done through own government funding, venture capital funding and other government to government engagements. I believe the challenge for us the young people is to see how we can convert the challenges we face into opportunities. For example, in agriculture, healthcare and provision of services. With more resources and emphasis on research, innovation and technology, we have the capability to leapfrog development in a much shorter period of time. If people are empowered to be creative and innovative, we can develop local solutions to many things. In this article, Bitange Ndemo talks about World Bank advanced to kenya $15b for youth programs and suggests new ways that the government can adopt. Investing more in strategic activities in agriculture, light processing industries, value addition would go a long way to ensuring more sustainable methods.
One of the co-founders of Andela, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji puts it clearly, “Technologies that used to take decades to come to Africa now can be available in Africa at a very fast speed”. The challenge is to ensure we don’t just copy paste them but use the knowledge to meet local needs. For example, majority of Kenyans went from not having any means of communication to owning a mobile phone, skipping the landline phase. In addition, some have gone from being unbanked to having mobile banks accessing money through mobile phones within a short period of time. What could be next? Healthcare, logistics maybe?. Credit Suisse Head of China research notes that what Chinese are doing is that they are focusing on inefficient sectors of the economy and turning them into business opportunities. He notes that areas such as distribution networks can offer business opportunities. I do believe this is also the case of kenya today. There are a lot of inefficient sectors as well as high amount of imports while exports still remain low. Value addition for locally produced goods could do well in tilting the scale. Those who venture into such areas are likely to make it if they are resilient. I also think looking at areas that are likely to be profitable in future is viable.
But also for all this to work, the government must provide the infrastructure necessary. For example internet services, mobile connectivity, water, farm inputs, roads, electricity etc. Moreover, focus should be on ensuring there is market for locally produced goods. As Ory Okolloh says in this article ‘We cannot entrepreneur around bad leadership, bad policies etc. “. The government should actually not be pushing for people to become entrepreneurs while they fail to provide even the basic services to the people. There is a risk if we try to excuse the government for not doing what it is supposed to do the first place. But we can still do both and this can lead to an even faster rate of transformation. All in all, i believe the next 20 years will be radically different and the nations that will be able to invest in young people will experience rapid transformation if they can be able to harness the the energy, creativity, talent and innovation in the young people. Even as young people, we need to share more, back each other up etc. We can therefore be able to believe in ourselves more and play a role. Also to note that even as we talk of startup funding, there are few kenyan investors willing to invest in ideas and make them work. But there is a slow change towards that direction, i guess we need to believe in ourselves more.