Barack Obama, President of the US, on entrepreneurship in Africa: Viewpoint

Africa is on the move. It is one of the world’s fastest-growing regions, people are being lifted out of poverty, incomes are up, the middle class is growing and young people are harnessing technology to change the way Africa does business. That creates opportunities for Africans and for the world, growth and trade that creates jobs in all our countries. It is good for all of us. This continent needs to be a future centre of global growth, not just African growth.

Kenya is leading the way. Today, it is the largest economy in East Africa. High-speed broadband and mobile connectivity are on the rise, unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of even more Kenyans. Every day around the world, millions of people send and save money with M-PESA – a great idea that started in Kenya. From Zimbabwe to Bangladesh, citizens work to keep elections safe using the crowd-sourcing platform Ushahidi – a great idea that started in Kenya. In Nairobi, start-up incubators nurture new businesses every day, each with the potential to be the next great Kenyan innovation. The good news is that I am not the only one who sees the promise of Africa.

One of the advantages of this technological revolution we are going through is that it can be adapted to different countries, environments and circumstances, in some cases enabling countries to leapfrog over old technologies, to individualise what is done for a particular market or a particular need.

There is a recognition that through these technological platforms, what might have previously required huge investments of capital – and as a consequence, significant barriers to entry – now you can get a start-up moving, and if it is the right idea, it can travel as fast as you can text. I think that this makes a place like Africa, or Croatia, or any countries that historically may not have been viewed as being right at the centre of the global economy, suddenly they can compete on a level playing field. If you have a good idea in Zagreb or in Abuja, or wherever, now you potentially have access to a global marketplace in ways that you have not had before.

For us to take full advantage of this we have support programmes so that our young people are being trained in this technology, so that there are no barriers for girls to be trained in this technology. If half of your team is not playing, you’ve got a problem. In too many countries, half of the team – women and girls – are not participating enough in this.

We need to invest in human capital so that everyone has the opportunity to access this information. There has got to be the right framework in place for access to capital. Regulatory barriers also need to be reduced, businesses should have the ability to start up effectively, and governments need to act as facilitators of entrepreneurial efforts.

The good news is that we are seeing that recognition in more and more governments around the world. Not all of them are always practicing what they preach, but it is a start when governments feel obliged – through initiatives like the Open Government Partnership that we started through the UN – to acknowledge that they have got to get these rule of law, accountability and human investment issues right. That gives us a lever to start continually improving the environment for operations.

I think that it is very important for established business leaders to understand that this is still a neglected market, and that accessing capital for entrepreneurs here is still too difficult. We can help, but some of this is about exposure and people having a vision of what is possible. When I was in Nairobi 10 years ago, it looked very different to how it does today. Given the incredible progress that has been made, imagine what could happen if more and more of our global business leaders and global capital paid a visit and actually had a conversation, as opposed to just being blinded by some of the stereotypes that are so often promoted. This thing could move even faster.

Anchor text: 
Barack Obama

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The Report: Kenya 2016

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