“For every ‘Jack Ma’ who is celebrated in China and around the world, there is also always an African counterpart that Africans can celebrate and emulate. We have our own Jack Ma’s, like Strive Masiyiwa of Zimbabwe. By this book, I want to stress that the African entrepreneur, despite the enormous challenges and hurdles he or she may encounter is not excused from becoming successful. There is enough narrative when it comes to successful entrepreneurs on the continent. Their lessons should inspire all.”
Gideon Sarpong, an author from Ghana, is a blogger for The Raw Africa and a guest writer and editor for various international journals and newsletters. His main topic is entrepreneurship. Meeting with Africa’s starting businessmen and -women, as well as established entrepreneurs, inspired him to write ‘Entrepreneurship Africa’. A book full of good advice for Africa’s new entrepreneurs, enriched with life and business lessons from the men and women that shape the continent’s current business arena.
Checklists and advice
Sarpong’s book is full of checklists and practical advice in any phase of building a business. The author added an important twist – an African approach to business, with African do’s and don’ts, provided by African business ‘role models’. The author: “It is very important for the African who is in a remote village in Mali or Tanzania to be able to read business literature where the characters are not alien, but one they can easily identify with the characters and the challenges they had to overcome.”
“As an African, I believe we must tell our own stories and celebrate our achievers. Our children should be able to grow up in a world where they can easily equate business success with the African. They must believe that it is acceptable for the African to run multi-million businesses through hard work and determination. Finally, the young African generation must have access to literature on African ‘heroes’ and read about their success stories. We need the African businessman to dream. This book is primarily designed to achieve this.”
Does being an entrepreneur in Africa require certain special skills? “One important bottleneck in business is access to low interest loans or easy access to capital. This challenge means that many entrepreneurs in Africa must develop the skill-set needed to build and forge meaningful partnerships that can enable them pool resources and ideas together. Unfortunately, many small enterprises in Africa do not see the need for mergers and partnerships. Also, patience is required in dealing with bureaucracy. One also needs to carefully navigate relationships with various external stakeholders who may have other interests in business apart from that which is clearly defined in the company regulations. This is often described as a ‘political-risk.’”
Sarpong is optimistic about the current business climate in West Africa. “Many governments in West Africa have put in place radical measures to ensure reduction in the bureaucratic processes. This has made it easier to set up and build a business and attract foreign investments. What the West African nations are lacking is a policy framework that clearly spells out the business-interests of their countries and how they can help groom multi-billion enterprises. African governments must be prepared to see many home-grown multi-billion enterprises competing on the global stage but it all begins with strategies and policies.”
Protection of business
What are the challenges you see for the African start-up? “There is a lack of comprehensive legislative framework geared towards protection of their business interests especially against unfair trade competitions from external corporations who sometimes receive huge incentives from their home governments and have easy access to huge capital in-flow at very minimal interest rates. The easy access to African markets by major corporations outside the continent is collapsing many young enterprises and also discouraging new entrants. African governments must be prepared to put in place protective policies to help start-ups and infant businesses. Free trade should be conducted in an atmosphere of equity and fairness.”
There are three clear actions on Gideon Sarpong’s wish list. “There should be one, integrated market, without internal barriers, where goods from Botswana can be easily accessed by customers in Nairobi or where produce in Malawi can be easily accessed in Nigeria. Governments should commit to take down some of these imposed barriers to facilitate intra-African trade. Access to our own markets on the continent will be a major boost for businesses and employment around the continent.”
“Second: there should be better funding opportunities for entrepreneurs at reasonably low interest rates. It would be a major source of drive for entrepreneurs and business owners around the continent.”
“Finally, entrepreneurs around the continent must begin to take the idea of mergers and partnerships more serious. Especially if they are going to be able to compete with major corporations with deep pockets coming from outside the continent. The future of entrepreneurship in Africa is a very bright and encouraging and I am glad to play a role in creating the desired future of entrepreneurship in Africa.”
Special interview by Air France KLM.