By Amr Kamel, General Manager for the West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands (WECA) region, Microsoft
If the future of African economies rest on the shoulders of Small and Medium businesses, why don’t we get serious about enabling this growth?
“Africa is not just a place; it’s a million places. It’s a million voices,… we felt no photograph could capture the mystery, the diversity, and the surprise of Africa as it moves forward. “says Chris Johns…
I would say it’s all an opportunity….
Africa is filled with a vibrant collection of people, languages, cultures, cuisines, folklore and sport that bring us together in a way that we know makes us special.
We have 54 diverse countries and speak between 1500 and 2000 languages. We can boast with the longest river in the world, the Nile, at 4,132 miles/6650 kilometres, as well as the largest desert in the world, the Sahara. We are the hottest continent on earth (but we know thatJ), and serve as home to the largest land animal in the world, the elephant. We have the world’s tallest animal, the giraffe, and to end off the boast about the Nile, also the world’s largest reptile, the Nile crocodile! We have some famous Africans that have changed the world as we know it. Think Elon Musk, Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Baba, Kofi Annan. Then we have a number of inventions that come from African soil that we cannot leave behind to mention.
Did you know that the first touch-screen medical technology in the world was invented by a Cameroonian entrepreneur, Marc Arthur? The technology enabled the patient to be diagnosed through electrodes placed on the patient and connected to the tablet. Data could then be transmitted from a nurse to a local doctor who then interpret and diagnose patients who were not otherwise accessible.
Another interesting innovation that came from Africa is the e-waste 3D printer. After the advent of 3D printing in the world, entrepreneur and inventor, Kodjo Afate Gnikou, from West Africa designed a 3D printer, all from discarded electronics, as he had a dream to give young Africans hope for the future and entice them through technology. It can now be created for less than $100 per unit, and provides a solution for some of the massive electronic waste issue in Africa.
Blood transfusions are very problematic throughout the world. Dr Out Ovadje from Nigeria designed a solution where the patient’s own blood from internal bleeding can be safely reinfused into the body within 24 hours after a haemorrhage. And all of this using gravity! His invention is now used by many medical staff to save lives.
And then there is M-Pesa, one of the most innovative solutions in the world for the unbanked people who so desperately need payment options. Although the debate continues to this day on who can claim the invention, the reality is that the invention changed the way Africans transact financially, and is one of the best inventions today.
So why am I sharing these success stories with you?
You will find numerous numbers being quoted, and articles penned about the importance of small and medium (SMEs) sized businesses as the future of Africa’s growth. They contribute greatly to most GDPs on the continent, and are the highest percentage employers the inhabitants in most of the African countries. The success of Africa’s future economy rests solely on the maturing and growth of the SME sectors across the African countries.
Various governments are in various stages of implementing policies to guide the approach to take in ensuring enabling environments for entrepreneurs, whilst other African countries are starting to show growth and expansion based on the initiatives they have rolled out.
Several African countries are working hard, through dedicated programmes, to become emerging economies. Only through relentless focus; removal of red tape and bureaucracy; being really serious about SME growth; putting the provision of infrastructure such as communication and electricity as priority; enabling access to finance in a way that does not look at traditional methods of funding; and legislating clearly what percentage of spend from big organisations and governments should be with SMEs, will the dream of growing the economy of the continent be realised.
It is not only up to governments, but it is a concerted effort, required by private and public sector alike to achieve this critical mission.
We need to put our heads together. Actually, we must also put our hearts together. We need to realise that every successful entrepreneur contributes their small part to changing the lives of the one or two or more families’ dependent on the income from these businesses, by giving their labour. This in turn contributes a small part to the economy of their neighbourhood, which branches out into the economies of villages and towns. Into cities, into regions, into countries and ultimately the economy of Africa as a whole.
If it is truly that obvious, although not easy, why would we not want to change our future?