Out of Africa: A Continent of Entrepreneurs
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
We’re used to seeing Africa as poor and helpless, and it certainly has its problems. However, it’s also a hotbed of entrepreneurship, where phone-fixers, DVD hawkers, clothes sellers and internet start-ups are thriving. MANCHÁN MAGAN visits Mozambique and finds a country more suited to investment than pity
IT WAS the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio walks through a bustling African market in the movie Blood Diamond that finally opened my eyes to the surge of entrepreneurial spirit that is sweeping through Africa. I had been seeing evidence of micro-business in Africa for years – bright-patterned mamas selling everything from sunglasses to samosas, phone-fixers poking soldering irons at mobile phones, scribes standing by laminating machines – but I tended to edit them out in favour of more predictable images of children begging, women fetching water or men ploughing.
It suits our tendency towards simple categorisation, as well as the agendas of aid agencies, to see Africa as poor and helpless. The truth is far more complex.
The continent is in fact in the throes of an entrepreneurial revolution. Eight African countries are in the top 20 fastest-expanding economies of 2010. Every village, town and city I visited in Uganda, Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania over the past two years is humming with entrepreneurial zeal to a degree that wasn’t even imaginable on my previous prolonged journey across the continent 20 years ago.
To examine the issue more closely I travelled to Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries with a per capita income of only $350 a year and a ranking of 175th out of 179 countries in the Human Development Index. It’s considered one of the 10 worst countries in the world for doing business in, having emerged from a disastrous Marxist dictatorship and the ravages of 16 vicious years of civil war with a largely uneducated population and virtually no infrastructure.