When I was a child there were two types of African businesspeople: a “BigMan” was someone who had started with a small shop in the village and then expanded it into a supermarket (usually in the nearest big town). As I got older the BigMan had ventured into operating buses and Keke (kombi, matatu).
“Strive, if you want to make money one day, you must go into the Whiteman’s business”, my uncle counselled me at the age of 14. “The Whiteman makes money from mining and farming, using our natural resources.”
When I started my career, new areas of entrepreneurship had opened up. We could now get government tenders as long as our own kinsmen were in control. It was a simple compact: Vote our own guys in and they will help us get to the feeding trough!
Moving Africa forward requires us to dramatically change our mindset both as entrepreneurs and also in popular culture that shapes how our people perceive entrepreneurs. Our teachers must be challenged to show our kids what is true entrepreneurship. Our policymakers must be focused on developing policies that encourage entrepreneurship in every sphere of our economy.
In entrepreneurship, there is no such thing as “value addition”. That is an outdated concept. We need to replace that expression with “innovation and entrepreneurship”.
Our oil, diamonds and platinum are frittered away because we have no innovation and entrepreneurship associated with them.
I love that man Aliko Dangote because he has never been associated with pumping oil and exporting it, but with developing products that use Nigeria’s natural resources.
He uses natural gas to make fertilizer, and Clinker (a type of mineral) to make cement.
- What are you going to do with the cocoa?
- What do the people who buy our platinum do with it?
These should be exam questions in high schools in the digital era… which is hurtling us to 4IR, driven by AI and AR. (I make no apology for using acronyms because if you don’t know them by now, poverty is moving into your house!)
We have to move our mindset at school, in the home, and in policymaking to understanding the drivers of the emerging economy:
- Why are Amazon and Alibaba so valuable?
- How do you develop a distribution business in the digital era?
- Why is coding such an important skill?
These are questions for the high school student… I’m not even talking about what I expect the university student to be able to answer!
But two questions are fundamental for that level:
- Can you draft a business plan in 30 minutes for digital business?
- What would you need to scale it?
No pressure… Just remember those famous words from one of my favourite artists:
“The times, they are a-changing”!
And of those things that you hold onto as the basis of wealth and prosperity?
“It ain’t necessarily so…” (words from a famous play called “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”).
The author is Strive Masiyiwa, an entrepreneur and chairman Econet Group. Strive Masiyiwa shares his posts to inspire and mentors the African youth to ownership and charge to drive change in Africa. Follow Strive Masiyiwa for more information on Facebook by liking his page.