By Oluniyi Ajao/DavidAjao.com
Many of Africa’s youth are hungry for business opportunities. The myriad of challenges notwithstanding, a lot of young people are hungry for information on how to run their own business and the financing to get started.
I was privileged to attend the first BarCamp event in Ghana in December 2008, and also attended the 2009 edition. In both cases, I joined break-out sessions related to entrepreneurship, being an Internet Entrepreneur myself. The striking trend in both years was the overwhelming attendance. Check both scenarios:
In the 2008 entrepreneurship break-out session, the participants were so many that there was only time for introduction. The moderator had asked that the participants introduced themselves and their businesses one after the other but by the time the introduction went round the room, one of the Barcamp organizers walked-in to remind the group we had only a few minutes left to round-up. Although a paper went round taking down names and email addresses, there was no follow-up.
In 2009, a similar bout of introduction ate into much of the time. However, some useful exchange of ideas and experiences was squeezed-in this time. This particular session also attracted a huge number of participants.
It is obvious from both events that a lot of young people are keen on learning useful lessons about entrepreneurship, in a bid to launch themselves into the harsh business world.
Too many African countries suffer the burden of poor social and economic development. Whilst the reasons vary slightly from country to country, the common trend is the large rate of unemployment. Thus, young people are increasingly being guided in the direction of entrepreneurship. Whilst the big universities are slow in adapting to the realities of day by offering undergraduates some entreneurship training, newer higher institutions are more complaint. Ashesi University College in Ghana is an example of the latter.
Technology, especially mobile telecoms and the internet, have fast-tracked some aspects in our part of the world. The revolution started with the now-ubiquitous mobile phone, placing the power of telecommunication in the palms of the average Kwame.
Communication is pivotal to business. Solving the communication issue not only created direct jobs for millions of people across Africa, but have aided smart business owners to explode their operations due to the convenience offered by mobile phones. Nigeria’s communication revolution is a classic example cited globally.
Despite a slow start, the internet is increasingly becoming an integral part of our daily lives in Africa. Whilst most daily processes are still manual, more people than ever, are now attached to the use of the internet as their primary means of communication, information and entertainment. Despite the expensive and not-so-fast connectivity, Africans are already making some impact on the internet in terms of adding local content. Never mind even if much of it is to Facebook and to a lesser extent, Twitter. The next phase of connectivity in Africa is already far advanced. The number of fibre optic cables linking the continent to the rest of the world has increased over the years. For example, West Africa which had been served by a lone cable (as well as thousands of expensive VSAT terminals) for 9 years is now being served by 3 active submarine fibre optic cables: SAT3, MainOne and glo-1.
The opportunities presented by the internet as the ultimate tool of connectivity can only be limited by one’s imagination. Putting the “global village” theory aside for a moment, a lot of opportunities still existing within the national boundaries of several African countries when the Internet is utilized effectively. Add regional trading in the various economic blocs, then pan-African trade before the full-fledged international trade and you would get the full picture.
In addition to the trading opportunities, the internet is an invaluable learning resource, home to an overwhelming number of credible learning sources. The smart entrepreneur who wants to stay relevant would constantly tap into the resources.
It is not yet uhuru though. There are still a lot of challenges for the African entrepreneur:
- Erratic power supply is still prevalent across the continent. Communication equipment are powered by electricity.
- Government red-tapes and bureaucracy: the concept of e-government is still alien in this parts (despite a few exceptions like Mauritius, South Africa). Thus, the exercise of business registration, registration with the relevant government agencies/authorities can thus be very frustrating especially if corruption is a factor.
- Raising capital: this single factor seems to be the biggest challenge to starting a business, most of the time.
Whilst the above-stated are only a few of the challenges, Africa still presents a mouth-watering buffet of opportunities to the resilient, ingenious and hard-working. Leveraging the power of technology effectively, millions of African youths can be pulled out of the cycle of excruciating poverty.
Oluniyi Ajao is an Internet entrepreneur & technology enthusiast with strong interests in web design & hosting, mobile communications technologies and blogging. He is the founder of Web4Africa.