After a successful Startup Nations Policy Hack in Estonia, representatives from several African countries met in Rwanda, convened by UNCTAD, to look at impeding policies across Africa and what is possible looking ahead. The event was part of a series of Startup Nations Policy Dialogues designed to facilitate discussions on government-led interventions at local, national and regional levels.

Meeting again at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Istanbul, delegates learned of new opportunities offered by the signing of the Africa Continental trade agreement. The agreement builds a regional market of 1.2 billion people, opening pathways for regional and global value chains. Delegates discussed experiences in Africa in introducing national reforms that are supportive of entrepreneurship and small businesses. The discussion demonstrated success stories from Mauritius, Rwanda and South Africa through the support of the Global Entrepreneurship Network and other international organizations. Various countries such as Ethiopia, Gambia and Zimbabwe have begun to map out areas of focus, identifying capacity and resources to improve entrepreneurship activity in their countries. Provided below is an overview that captures their plans and way forward. 

Mauritius:
Sanjay Mungur, Director of Empretec Mauritius presented the results a diagnostic study of SMEs in the country. It confirmed the existence of 127 thousand regulated economic entities - small and medium enterprises, start-ups , of which 47% employ less than 5 people and turnover is 1.7 million. Less than 4% of these economic entities were operating at acceptable ICT levels. Government support was initially one size fits all thus not stimulating much growth. To make a shift, the SME 10-year master plan was developed to determine factors that influence SME performance and appropriate recommendations to address the challenges face. The main objectives of the Master Plan are: improve SME competitiveness and growth; foster high growth potential; upgrade skills and job opportunities by addressing skill mismatch and upgrading human capital; improve design and value addition by supporting research and develop innovation and increase market access and exports. The country aims to support SMEs with high growth potential in sectors such as ICT, the seafood and marine industry, as well as financial, business and biomedical services. The manufacturing sector is encouraged to move into high-tech and high precision activities whilst tourism will remain an integral part of opportunities for SMEs.

South Africa:
Minister Lindiwe Zulu of the Department of Small Business Development stated that Africa is the next big thing and invited African youth to lead the changes. South Africa national policies are aligned to the Agenda 2063, ensuring that African nations work together to achieve a common goal, with a collaborative rather than competitive approach. Inviting African countries to share best practices, the Minister appreciated the impact of convening the GEC for the first time on African soil. As a concrete outcome of the Congress in South Africa, was GEN Africa and the establishment of 22 on Sloane – the largest incubator and accelerator aiming to engage entrepreneurs with growth potential from the region. The campus aims to encourage African interconnectedness through residency exchange programmes, and meet-ups. Similar initiatives should be brought to the rural areas, to bring inclusion, and empower target groups such as women and youth. The Government of South Africa has successfully employed incentives to secure public procurement form disadvantaged groups. Based on this experience, the Minister confirmed that quota alone do not work if there should be accompanying capacity building and technical assistance for target groups.

Ethiopia:
Mehbratou Meles, State Minister of Industry, is one of the African nations rich in its natural resource and the most populous in east Africa, and second in the continent. Besides the favourable demographic, Ethiopia is one of the fastest economic growths in Africa. For, this great attainment the designed strong polices and strategies played the decisive role to achieve a structural transformation from agriculture led economy to industry. This structural transformation has great value in speeding up the growth of Ethiopia’s economy. Though the country accomplished the first growth and transformation plan, the first growth and transformation limited had limited achievements in the manufacturing sector and job creation. These limited achievements need to be solved in the second growth and transformation plan. The country has already launched the next plan for the coming five years, with the aim to reach the lower level of middle income countries in 2025. To build opportunities for women and youth, the Government is adopting a national entrepreneurship strategy with UNCTAD and UNIDO support, linked to manufacturing development enhancing the performance of existing industrial parks and their connections with local suppliers and ecosystem. The Minister stressed the need to upgrade education and skills development to achieve a mind-set shift among youth as job creators.

The Gambia:
Mr. Lamin Dampha, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Trade, Industry, Employment and Regional Integration, stated that The Gambia’s economy relies on tourism, rain-dependent agriculture, and remittances. For a few years, agriculture was affected by erratic rainfall, and tourism by the spillovers effects of the Ebola crisis in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, as well as by The Gambia’s own political change in 2015/16. With regained confidence in the democracy, in 2016 the economy began to recover, with massive budget support shoring up public finances and investor confidence returning. Although the smallest country on the African continent, it harbours wealth in terms of coastal, marine, and wetland habitats housing bird species of global significance, making it an attractive tourist destination. Due to the convenience of its geographic location on the edge of West Africa, it is also a hub for trade. The new Gambia dedicates itself to the battle against unemployment and creates the enabling environment for youth to unleash their potential. The new government endorsed a National Entrepreneurship Policy, formulated with UNCTAD s support. It will soon trigger its implementation plan.

Zimbabwe:
Ms. Busi Bango. Director of Empretec Zimbabwe, stated that according to data provided by the African Development Bank, in 2018 real GDP growth is projected to be 1% in 2018 and 1.2% in 2019. The economy continues to face structural challenges from high informality, weak domestic demand, high public debt, weak investor confidence, and a challenging political environment. For the past two decades, over two million people have been making their living in the informal sector. Early this year a delegation from Zimbabwe attended the World Economic Forum with the delegation demonstrating prospects of re-engaging with the rest of the world on the economy. The new President indicated that Zimbabwe is open for business, and specifically mentioned that small business is an area that will be reserved for locals. He further mentioned the opportunity to build spaces that focus on artificial intelligence, big data and build solutions based on the block-chain. Innovative thinking and systematic support may be required to accelerate high growth entrepreneurial activity in Zimbabwe to realise growth potential. Concluding Ms. Bango stated that the country is no longer the basket case of Africa.

Finally, delegates stressed the need to strengthening SMEs’ participation in regional and global markets as one of the priorities. Much work remains to be done to address the myriad challenges facing them, improving leadership and governance. Delegates concluded that entrepreneurship education was critical to strengthen African skills development and commended countries that embedded entrepreneurship education in the curricula. Delegates urged the elaboration of regional entrepreneurship policies as a trigger to reforms at national level with a focus on implementation.

Fiorina is an Economist with an MBA in International Trade. She has 20 years’ experience in international organizations, where she has led more… About the author