VOLA: Let’s Forget About Aid & Let’s Build Entrepreneurs ~ Lanre Olagunju

Without any serious degree in economics or any related discipline, but by mere following the stagnant economy of a country like Nigeria amongst other aid dependent nations, it becomes clear with all the available proofs that aid has failed repeatedly at producing wealth and prosperity for Africa. I strongly feel that at this point, no one should be found arguing the fact that Africa needs less aid.


Foreign aid has never truly acted as economic catalyst like some would have us believe. So when are we going to see the dividend of foreign aid in Africa? If it hasn’t been effective in the last six decades, I think it’s foolhardy to imagine that it’d be of any tangible use in modern times like this. The main question I keep asking when I find myself in similar discussions like this is, where is the estimated over $2-trillion which has been spent in trying to eradicate poverty since the early 50s?  Well, so I don’t pose too many unanswered question in this short piece, one might as well answer by saying that we feel the impact of those heavy grants when we see the launching of hydro dams that never come to life; or when farmers receive fertilizer grants that only fertilize the pocket of the corrupt few, and finally, when roads are practically built on billboards, so we at least can drive on them in our imaginations.


Let’s pause for once and imagine that a few billion dollars that flew into aid dependent countries in Africa in the last five decades were channelled into development strategies with market driven interventions. Sure, African nations and its citizens would have been far better for it.  For the sake of proofs essentially for those who deeply think that Africa can’t but still depend on aid to build its economy, such folks should note that market driven strategies and interventions are the basis for the growth and transformation of emerging economies termedBRIC–Brazil, Russia, India and China.


Truthfully, it might take some time for strategies and policies towards market based interventions to materialize into tangible growth and development, but it certainly will be a lot faster and reliable than continuing to rely on aid.

In the midst of all of these begging and borrowing, African leaders should be mindful that Africa can also contribute meaningfully to the global economy, rather than remain a perpetual beggar and borrower.


African nations shouldn’t be carried away with China’s expanding benevolent role in the continent’s mushrooming economy. Rather than look for what China can do for Africa, African nations should smartly look for what they can do for China, most especially for economic gain.


Nigeria for instance has a massive arable land. As at 1990, report has it that out of Nigeria’s total land area of about 90 million hectares, 82 million hectares was found to be arable. That’s some whooping 91% arable land. Comparing Nigeria’s case to that of China, who has a massive population of over 1.3 billion people who can’t but feed daily, and a arable land of just 7% , Nigeria doesn’t need a soothsayer to realize that Nigeria’s farm produce are welcomed in China.


From the perspective that no individual can beg his way to wealth and the Yoruba proverb that says that “ohun ti aba fara sise fun nii  pe lowo eni” (meaning that wealth made from deliberate and personal effort is more lasting and sustainable), I do strongly believe and agree that aid is not a catalyst for economic prosperity, rather it inhibits growth and development through corruption and bureaucracy, which practically kills entrepreneurial spirit.


That aside, aid aids dependency. We practically can’t keep licking foreign as*** and hope to truly become independent either as a nation or continent. No man can confidently explain or describe freedom in the true sense of it until he’s financially free. The dependency that foreign aid promotes ensures that a nation is under check with the donor country.


I could remember speaking with Mr. Bunmi Makinwa, during a short interview at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa while he was the Director of the UNFPA Africa Regional Office, he explained to me how foreign aid come with conditions, interest and  sometimes intentions that necessarily doesn’t help to solve the problem which the aid was released. That’s one of the reasons aid isn’t solving Africa’s problem!

But the question is: what should aid be replaced with?

Coming from the perspective that you don’t ask an addict to stop an act without encouraging the replacement of a more beneficial practice, Africa must forget about aid and then build entrepreneurs if she must grow and become prosperous. Since it’s a known economic fact that entrepreneurship aids the economy in such a way that foreign aid can’t, be it in a developed or developing economy, African nations must encourage market as a better replacement for this economic addiction that has so far done more harm than good to the entire continent.

Entrepreneurs through innovation create new businesses that generate jobs, first for themselves, and then those they employ, and by so doing they give security to many. Small businesses in the United States for instance provide over 70 percent of the new jobs added to the American economy each year. In fact small businesses represent over 90 percent of employers in the United States.

Entrepreneurs are world changers, basically because their input to a large extent goes far beyond creating jobs and paying wages. At the point of solving problems, they drive quality innovation that enriches the life of the people by making life much easier and enjoyable. They provide us with services and products for needs we never knew we had. For example after the invention of computers and mobile phones, we really never considered that we would need ipads and other mobile tabs, but today, our lives greatly depend on them. Entrepreneurs discover new products and services that open new businesses that broaden citizen participation in the society.

Entrepreneurship by itself has a magnificent way of creating and increasing healthy competition. And in an environment where there’s healthy competition, productivity increases. All these and many more are the basic requirement that African nations need to foster sustainable economic prosperity and development.

Aid agencies should rather look into ways in which their funds can make market efficient in Africa, ways in which small businesses can break barriers and boarders by building permanent structures that connect local producers and exporters to global consumers in international market – something that can actually benefit both parties economically. They can as well be of special assistance to small and medium scale businesses, which ultimately are the building block for growing economies.

African nations must come to the reality that the most powerful tool to eradicate poverty is strengthening local entrepreneurs in the nooks and crannies of the city, towns and villages. All they need is an opportunity and environment to compete. They can bring massive turn around to any poor nation.

Major barrier to the progress of market in many developing nations is overbearing policies and inadequate infrastructure to enhance businesses. Governments need to set the environment to make it conducive for people to innovate and become entrepreneurial.  It was Dr. Cheick Diarra, a former executive for Microsoft Corporation, who made it clear that entrepreneurs can only build wealth only if bureaucratic obstacles are removed. I sincerely agree with him over and over again. Looking into Nigeria’s case for instance, the 2012 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks Nigeria 133 out of 183 other economies. In terms of starting a business at all, Nigeria ranks 116, in getting electricity 176 and then in terms of access to credit 78.

Without an enabling environment, aspiring entrepreneurs struggle and waste so much effort within a corrupt and bureaucratic system and that doesn’t encourage entrepreneurial progress and innovation.  Even when some individuals thrive in such an environment, healthy competition that promotes market growth still remains alien to the entire system.

Out of the over I billion people in Africa, the World Bank says nearly 70% is actually under 30. Nigerian youths constitute a large part of that 70%, since two-third of the 160 million Nigerians are under 30. This large number of youths represents a promising demographic dividend for Africa, provided it will be harnessed for economic prosperity and growth; provided the youths have an enabling environment to develop their entrepreneurial skills.

It starts with education, seeing to it that courses like Business Studies and Entrepreneurship are included in school curriculum. And to those who are not in for formal education, they should be encouraged to get involved in vocational trainings and apprenticeship.

Until all these structures are put in place, asking African nations to drop their begging bowls is like asking a blind man to do away with his walking aid, while he walks alone.


Lanre Olagunju is a regular contributor to the Voice of Liberty Africa Project and a prize winner with African Liberty. Though he holds a degree in hydrology, his passion for advocacy and writing lured him into getting a professional diploma in Journalism from the American College of Journalism. Lanre advocates on several international platforms for the prosperity and absolute well being of the African continent. 

Lanre insists that aid dependency in Africa can be replaced by building entrepreneurs