Ory Okolloh is raising dust, kicking ass and taking no prisoners with her. Firstly, on twitter and more recently at the Quartz Africa Innovators Summit. Essentially, she’s saying that Africa cannot entrepreneur itself out of its basic problems. There has been an uproar in some circles because she’s throwing cold water onto the fire that has been set ablaze all over the continent.
Ory should be one to speak. She’s but one of Africa’s foremost entrepreneurs. The platform she founded (Ushahidi) has been deployed up to 90,0000 times in over 159 countries. Her company makes over $750k in consulting fees! But I think Ory is right albeit speaking harshly. It is time someone said it and there’s no one better placed than her.
This entrepreneurship song is largely being pushed by many African governments because they want to shelve the responsibility of developing their economies back to their citizens. Yes, I agree that the Rockefellers , Fords and ilk largely drove the economy of America but this was in an environment fostered by good governance. Our governments don’t want to be held accountable. Simple. For example, many countries in Africa grapple with a problem of counterfeit drugs and there’s plenty of apps coming up to deal with this. This is not an “innovation” you would find in the developed world because their drug authorities work and work well. Something as delicate as the integrity of health care should lie with a public office not an ingenious 20 year old. This is equivalent to your parent failing to pay your school fees and telling you to go find a way to get your tuition. It’s the parent’s responsibility to have their children educated.
Uganda was recently lauded to be the most entrepreneurial country. This statistic did not bring me much joy. We are entrepreneurs not by choice, with an unemployment rate of up to almost 80%, there is simply nothing else to do. We are not enterprising. We are surviving! This is why none of these endeavors last longer than a year, because they are born out of desperation.
Another thing that this entrepreneurial song and dance forgets is that not all of us are built to be entrepreneurs, Just like any other profession, it is not for everybody. So what will the ones who cannot be entrepreneurs do. We have to make demands of our leadership. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand. We pay taxes. We vote. We are owed. There’s a proverb in my language that states that a child who fails causes the mother to be shamed. Our enterprises are not doing as well as they should and this is because our governments are failing us. We must shame them. We cannot let them abscond from their duty. For these entrepreneurial activities to make any sort of sense, we need infrastructural support, security, stable economies and favorable policies. For entrepreneurship to prosper, it needs good governance.
“A good system shortens the road to the goal.”- Orison Marden
Mandela Washington Fellow 2015
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