Amidst all the controversy about nationalisation and whether it will or won’t be government policy in South Africa over the next few years, I read a book recently which just may contain within it, a key solution to the many problems that face not only South Africa, but Africa as a whole. The book, written by Moky Makura, is titled, Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs. It highlights and celebrates some of Africa’s greatest entrepreneurs and it is entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship which I believe has a key role to play in solving most of Africa’s great problems.
Entrepreneurs develop products, ideas and systems, that solve the problems of society and because the solutions that the entrepreneurs come up with to society’s problems are so effective they often end up becoming extremely wealthy. Africa has many problems. Entrepreneurs by definition are problem solvers and so by default, Africa needs entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial spirit in order to overcome its many challenges. If we are going to see Africa develop, grow and progress in our century, we need to turn the 21st century into the century of the African entrepreneur.
In the foreword to Moky Makura’s brilliant book, world renowned entrepreneur, innovator ad business leader, Sir Richard Branson, has the following words to say about entrepreneurship and Africa, “entrepreneurs have been the driving force for growth in countries around the world. Their ability to see opportunities where others only see issues has helped transform communities and economies. One of the most exciting places where this entrepreneurial spirit is alive is across Africa. I’ve had the great privilege to be involved in several new businesses in Africa and I’m constantly amazed by the incredible, determination and innovation coming from entrepreneurs across the continent. They give me great hope in a bright future for one of the most incredible regions of the world.”
The good news for Africa, as Branson clearly states, is that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Africa. It’s already there within us, amongst us. We just need to nurture it, harness it, promote it and celebrate it. We need to make heroes out of our successful entrepreneurs, so that the rest of society can look up to and be inspired by them. Entrepreneurship drives innovation, inspires creativity and is founded upon problem solving, so it’s clearly key to Africa’s future. We need a new paradigm that looks to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship for solutions to society’s problems, as opposed to looking to government. The reason why societies like South Africa are still toying with ideas like nationalisation, is because they haven’t shifted paradigms and embraced the way of successful societies, entrepreneurship as opposed to statism. Entrepreneurship is also key to Africa’s future because it is empowering. It is the individual and society taking charge of their own destinies, instead of looking to government.
Moky Makura’s book (which I recommend you get if you haven’t read it already), is brilliant because it introduces us to a whole range of successful African entrepreneurs, who provide a glimpse of what the future could be for Africa if we all embraced entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit. Now of course, we cannot all be entrepreneurs, but we can all embrace the entrepreneurial spirit, which is all about: innovation, invention, creativity, problem-solving, risk-taking, dedication, commitment, hard work, long term planning, taking the initiative as opposed to being passive recipients, taking charge of our own lives and the direction they take etc.
Let me introduce you to some of these great African entrepreneurs from Moky Makhura’s book and hopefully this inspires you.
- Wale Tinubu from Nigeria who is the founder and CEO of Oando, an oil and gas company. Oando is a leader in the African energy sector, with a market capitalisation of US $2 billion and a presence across most of West Africa. Tinubu has grown Oando from a downstream petroleum product marketing company to a diversified oil and gas company with interests in oil exploration, refining, gas distribution and power plant development. Since 1994 when he started the company with two friends, Tinubu has steered the company towards massive growth. Oando is now the largest publicly quoted oil company in Nigeria and one of the top ten Nigerian-controlled companies quoted on the Nigeria Stock Exchange. Here’s some wise words from Tinubu, “government can’t create jobs, that is the private sector’s role. I am a firm believer that they should just collect taxes and regulate.”
- The late, Miko Rwayitare from the DRC, owner and founder of Telecel. Born in Rwanda and later to acquire Congolese and South African citizenship, Rwayitare was truly one of Africa’s great, visionary business leaders. He built the first Pan African mobile operation on the continent. When he died in 2007, he still had a dream of building an African Academy of Excellence, a world class university that would develop and nurture the next generation of future leaders and thinkers on the continent.
- Nigel Chanakira from Zimbabwe, founder and CEO of Kingdom Meikles Africa Limited, worth over US $600 million. Chanakira’s business is in the financial services, tourism and retail sectors. His ambition is to build a Pan African banking group and to expand its interests to other parts of the world. Some words of wisdom from Chanakira, “our role as business is to exercise our influence on politicians. Political power without economic power is so discouraging. Africa is too rich to be poor but our politicians don’t have the wherewithal to run economies well. New leadership is needed…Africa is full of poor structures, poor institutions and poor strategies.”
- Gordon Wavamunna from Uganda, owner and majority shareholder of the Spear Group, which has interests in the car, manufacturing and tourism industries. Wavamunna is one of Uganda’s best known and most successful entrepreneurs. He’s been thrown into jail twice, survived and thrived under six changes of government, survived one coup, a civil war and extremely hostile business conditions and yet he’s still managed to build one of the largest conglomerates in Africa. He achieved all this success without the benefit of tertiary education or business school. What’s your excuse? For those who are proposing nationalisation and more state involvement in the economy, in places like South Africa, here’s some wise words that we can heed, from Wavamunna, “socialism kills individual enterprise and initiative, it discourages innovation, creativity and investment…and in any case, in Africa people only have poverty to share.”
- Geoffrey Mwamba from Zambia, the executive chairman of GBM Group, who owns and runs Zambia’s second-largest maize mill, a transport company, a brewery that specialises in traditional beer and a trading company that supplies basic foodstuffs.
- Ghana’s Kwabena Adjei, CEO of Kasapreko Company Limited. His company brews Alomo Bitters, Ghana’s best selling herbal alcoholic drink which has 98% market share of the drinking bars and pubs in Ghana and is the flagship product of Kasapreko Company, which produces 11 drink brands, many of which are market leaders in their categories.
- Reginald Mengi, from Tanzania, the Executive Chairman of IPP Group, who’s the most prolific owner of television, radio and newspaper content in the East African region. Here’s some words from Mengi, “I would like to be remembered in two ways. First, as a person who was able to show that black people can, and not only can, but sometimes do better and secondly as a person who cared for the poor and underprivileged.”
- Ndaba Ntsele of South Africa, the CEO of Pamodzi Holdings, which is an investment holding company that goes for controlling interests in any business it invests in. Ntsele started Pamodzi with Solly Sithole in 1996 and they went on to raise R16 billion of which R12 billion comes from offshore fundraising. Ntsele’s dream is to list Pamodzi on the New York Stock Exchange, to prove to black people across the world that it can be done. A few words from Ntsele, “commercial warfare is greater than political warfare.”
- I could go on with the list, but I’ll allow you to buy Moky Makura’s book if you want further inspiration, and of course no list of African entrepreneurs would ever be complete without the business genius that is, Mo Ebrahim. Whilst still working as an engineer for British Telecom, Ebrahim led the team that invented the first truly mobile phone network. He founded a Telecoms company, Celtel, a Pan African mobile operator, which he sold in 2005 for US $3.4 billion. He went on to establish the Mo Ebrahim foundation in 2006, which offered the world’s biggest prize, US $5 million and US $200 00 a year for life-to a different African president every year, with the aim of promoting good governance and democracy on the continent. Ebrahim also produced one of the first acknowledged mathematic models for prediction, which was how mobile networks were planned. The model was named after him and is still in use today. Let Ebrahim himself speak to us, “the important thing here is that we are African and this is an African Foundation with African money. This is Africa taking care of its own business. We cannot just sit there and expect the world to do things for us.”
I hope you have been inspired and that you become part of the solution by imbibing the entrepreneurial spirit. Let’s end of as we started, with some wise words from Sir Richard Branson, “A massive opportunity lies ahead on the continent for entrepreneurs and those who follow in their footsteps. The opportunity is not just about making money and acquiring wealth; it’s a unique window to provide communities and nations access to new products and services that can transform lives and uplift economies nationally and on a grassroots level.” Entrepreneurship not nationalisation!