Fixing the Poverty Challenge in Africa: One tested solution – Chiyembekezo Lyson

Africa’s unemployment rate is on the rise. Most employees, both in the public and private sectors, are not satisfied with what their jobs are paying them. As a result, protests and strikes are becoming the norm of the day.

The unemployed are protesting against governments for not creating jobs. As the employed are striking, demanding salary increments from their respective employers so as to meet the high costs of living and sustain their families.

Although this is the situation on the ground, universities are producing thousands of graduates every year. Mostly, these graduates are either adding to the number of the unemployed, or to the group of unsatisfied employees. Politicians, on the other hand, are taking advantage of the situation by coming up with promises to curb this problem, only to change the tune after getting voted into power. This has left the African continent to continue sailing in abject poverty. Despite receiving massive amounts of aid for decades, Africa’s economic status is worsening.

As much as we may need our poverty situation to transform, we cannot expect our governments to bring the change. And it is obvious that most of the aid money does not benefit the poor, making aid not to be the solution either. Therefore, since our governments are disappointing us, the employers are struggling to raise salaries, and foreign aid is hurting us, what can be the way out of poverty?

It is unmistakably clear that the hope for Africa’s economy lies in entrepreneurship. Venturing into entrepreneurship has proved to be the most powerful tool to poverty alleviation so far. Some may argue that not all of us can be entrepreneurs; people still have to work for others. While this is very true, it is also evident that even when you are employed, you feel some sense of being economically independent when you at least run some small scale businesses that add to your income.

Some countries outside Africa have blossomed economically because of the people’s involvement in economic activities. However, it is sad to note that just a few decades ago Africa was economically ahead of those countries. Said Kim Tan: “growing up in Asia, seeing the Asian tiger economies that 30-40 years ago had a lower GDP than Uganda or Kenya transform themselves through enterprise, not through aid, not through philanthropy….” Likewise, Africa can regain its economic glory.

The problem many people have in Africa is that when they think of starting a business, what immediately comes to their mind is capital. They become too obsessed thinking about capital that in the end they get discouraged and give up. This comes about because they visualize the big businesses they come across daily.

We can start small scale businesses that do not require much capital. Even if it means saving for some time, it is worth it. We can start small, using the readily available means around us, and with time, our businesses can grow. Some of the most successful, big businesses around the world today started small. The Late Komlar Dumor once said: “anybody who has achieved great things started small; Bill Gates, Michael Dell…they started small but became big.” We can start small but with big plans.

We need to believe in ourselves that we can make a difference. Our own Aliko Dangote puts it: “once you say that, yes, nothing is impossible; it means that you can actually achieve that target.” Time has come for Africans to get rid of the fear for unknown whenever we think about starting a business and prove to the world that we are capable of turning things around. After all, we have all the necessary resources to help us achieve our goals.

The fact that good governance contributes to the success of the private sector cannot be denied. However, we cannot just sit, waiting for our governments to make things right for us since most of them have failed to create a free environment for us.

We must wake up as what Prof. George Ayitteh calls ‘the Cheetah generation’ who are “not gonna wait for the government to do things for them.” The future of Africa depends on the actions of today’s Africans who are eager to change things, not the political leaders.

If Africans venture into entrepreneurship, families and communities will develop greatly and move out of poverty. If others countries made it through enterprise, we can also make it and change the African story, our story.

 Chiyembekezo Lyson wrote in from Malawi

Photo: Business Call to Action