There is a huge hype that Africa is behind and Africa will never develop up to par. I say they are wrong…or rather, their perspective is wrong! I am indeed a 3rd generation child of the industrial revolution, and I grew up EU forming in the 70ties and Oil crisis in the 80ties and I have been one of the pioneers riding on the B2B dotcom ware since mid 90ties.
I have done business consulting in Europe for more than 20 years, yet when I come to my beloved Africa (East Africa in particular) I have to realize my knowledge and experience is not fully applicable. For 4 years I have been working, investing, molding, and funding startups in EA, and as much as Africa has my heart, I also realize the perspective has to change.
Instead of Industrialism, we should talk about "Africalism"! What I mean by that is Africa doesn’t have 100 year to develop and reap output, like the western world had with the industrial revolution. And the later dot.com revolution put China, South Korea and Japan on the map within 10 years only, yet we were just getting the telco infrastructure in place in Africa.
But once established – as of today - there is actually more 4G coverage in Africa than in Europe. And cheapest place in the world to have a mobile app computed is…Uganda. FinTech center of the world is…Nairobi. And the whole liberal movement of free micro-trade with mobile money is setting a pace no one can compete with. I think Africa is the next frontier.
I think the combo of available technology, business opportunity and collaborative scalability plus investors with a mindset for not copying the west but merging the best from all sides. For me THAT’S "Africalism"!
It’s not just technology, knowledge, opportunity and money, it is HOW you strategize, implement and scale! Allow me to share what I think are pivotal factors for Africalism:
- Job-intensive businesses will win
- Serviceable technology is key
- Co-operating / Sharing is a prerequisite for social scalability
Job-intensive businesses will win! We tend to think that when we industrialize, we let machines do the job…well partially true, that is the ultimate outcome of the revolution. But as the revolution goes on, it is intensive. Look at the labor figures in UK around 1900-1940 set aside the wars. It was intense! Reality in Africa is that the more jobs you create, the more successful you become!
Creating wealth only will not sustain you in Africa. The best platform to ensure you against political, non-liberal or competitive challenges, is if you have people engagement. And eventually the more jobs you have created, the more wealth you create for all, and at some point, the wealth you create supersede the wealth “taken” by the workers, and you start making substantial overhead.
However, the catch is to see that the way to big business is WITH people, and not at the COST OF people. The people is the most important asset in your business, yet very few companies in Africa put that focus forward. Good news is that it leaves opportunities for scalable social entrepreneurs like us! Serviceable technology is key. Adapting new technology is tempting, however it has to be serviceable.
In one of my businesses I do bio- briquetting (replacing charcoal), and the machines we use are purely made in Uganda! In Denmark we have a lot of renewable industry and also very efficient briquetting systems, however they are not serviceable on the ground locally in Gulu or Rakai!
And consider that hybrid electric cars might be more efficient and cheaper to drive, but when there is no infrastructure and charging systems, it is not applicable. Here I think modern biogas systems will be able to make adaptable technology and you can use organic waste to drive your car.
Because THAT itself is very applicable in for example Uganda, it holds my vote on "Africalism" Co-operating / Sharing is a prerequisite for social scalability. Sharing is caring we say. Yet all classic textbooks on how to build a business base upon liberalism where the risk is yours and the money is yours too.
And from a point of focusing and monitoring your business, it makes sense. But pursuing success this way requires “someone somewhere” coming up with investment capital for scaling, and I strongly believe this is where most viable businesses in Africa fail! Because there is a build in failure in this equation: You cannot scale if don’t scale socially as well!
The biggest “infrastructure” in Africa is social. The extended family system, the culture of where you actually take care of each other. If you don’t consider that social scalability has to go hand in hand with your business scalability, sooner or later the mouth that has to be fed is more important than the business, and you fail.
Success will be derived by those who understand how to leverage a cooperative or networking model, where not just money, but risks and decisions are shared. In the early days of the last century, Denmark and Scandinavia derived adaptive models from the industrialized Britain, forming some of biggest and longest lasting cooperatives, even working today (Arla Foods, making for example LurPak, which is available in Uganda as well).
As a believer of "Africalism", I don’t advoke for a copy of the model, however I strongly believe there is a strong correlation between cooperative model and social scalability. It’s the only way the risk will be shared in the impact zone, thus the only way it will be sustainable.