Industry opinion
5 min read

Entrepreneurship opportunities for Africa’s population require not just capital, but policy innovation

This is a special two-part guest blog from Dr. Diana Wangari Gitau, 2020 MBA alumna and former Skoll Scholar.

In the first article of this two-part series, I mentioned the foundation of Kenya’s successful tourism sector, which led to mass scale job creation and local, if not regional, economic development. The key factors included a training programme to increase skilled manpower; a tax levy to drive sustainability; infrastructure development and leveraging technical expertise from global players. All these were integrated into Kenya’s national policies and decades later, led to the creation of Kenya’s Tourism Fund, amongst other ring-fenced funds and institutions, that maintain one of Kenya’s leading industries. 


While it was a case study from the post-independence period, Kenya’s tourism sector development, provides valuable lessons for most African countries. In the same way, Africa’s rising youth population creates an opportunity to harness the potential of its young people and drive socio-economic development through innovation and entrepreneurship.

Matriculating into Saïd Business School at Oxford University, as a doctor, a journalist, and a healthcare entrepreneur, I believed in the promise that entrepreneurship was a crucial generator of jobs in Africa. I left Oxford, wondering if providing access to capital would be the next frontier: How could I support Africans, more so, Kenyans, to unlock capital for innovation and entrepreneurship? Should I join a team to set up an investment fund?

After three years, having fought and gathered battle scars, I can say that I was wrong. Not on entrepreneurship being key to local economic growth. In this, be it entrepreneurs or investors, we, are captive to policymakers. We require foundational policies that facilitate training of skilled manpower; critical infrastructure; robust regulatory and legislative frameworks to ensure that above all, outcomes are sustainable.

Thinking of Kenya, I would say that where we seem to get it right, in creating an enabling environment for a sector to thrive, we have invariably ended up with a surplus of manpower


If I may give another example from Kenya, I would point to the public health sector, where there appears to be a surplus of manpower, more specifically, our nursing labour force. There exist, multiple public and private institutions for training nurses, and in most referral hospitals, where they might not train doctors, they certainly, would offer nursing courses. Kenya has plenty of trained but unemployed nurses, and is thus, able to send nurses to seek employment opportunities in countries in the region and abroad, including the UK.

The question is, have we set up the legislative infrastructure that allows for entrepreneurs to thrive and create economic opportunities? Put simply, even job creators, need an enabling environment.

I will make a reference to Magatte Wade, a famous West African serial entrepreneur, and a thought leader on Africa’s prosperity who calls attention to the obstacles of job creation in the continent. 

If jobs and incomes come from business, shouldn’t we make it easy for entrepreneurs to start businesses?

In one of her newsletters, she writes: 'I will give you Magatte 101: Where do most people earn an income? Jobs. Where do jobs come from? Business. (If you say government or NGOs, where does their funding come from? Taxes on or donations from business and individuals). If jobs and incomes come from business, shouldn’t we make it easy for entrepreneurs to start businesses?'

In Kenya, very many young people speak of their ‘passion’ to create solutions, make a difference, and hopefully make some money in the process; they, aspire to career paths in entrepreneurship and innovation.

The problem is that passion on its own does not go far, if not coupled with guidance, regulatory frameworks, institutional support, and structures to create impact. The kind of mass scale impact, that collectively transforms economies, and which has led to Kenya’s technology ecosystem, being referred to as the ‘Silicon Savannah.’

In my opinion, we have the potential of being the Silicon Savannah, but we are not there yet. In recent times, we have witnessed some of Kenya’s top well-funded startups navigate through storms, and with some having to shut down entirely. Different hypotheses have been put forth. I mourned the jobs lost.

Once again, I found myself wondering, if we had laid a solid foundation to develop and sustain entrepreneurship within the innovation and technology sector? And I found that I was not alone in wondering about this. 

As we continuously advocate for the need of local models to drive community adoption and foster business integration, where is the policy framework for sustainability?

This is my obsession.

The government wants it to happen; young people want it to happen; investors want it to happen; there is an entire ecosystem that is passionate and yearning, for entrepreneurship to create economic opportunities for the young population of Africa.

(For more on policies needed for the renewable energy sector in sub-Saharan Africa read Energising Africa - Three ways to encourage a sustainable future)


Why then, does it seem, from where I sit, that we are running around in circles?

I was fortunate to have received the Skoll Foundation Scholarship which opened the door for me to not only interact with some of the top thinkers in the world, but to undergo the transformational experience that was a master’s in business administration course of study at Saïd Business School at Oxford University.

I learned from Oxford that I should not stop thinking; not stop challenging conventional wisdom; not to console myself with widely accepted generalisations; and to always let my thinking and planning go where the empirical data leads.

I have since then come to see that any evolving sector requires facilitating infrastructure. This can only be created when governments have in place, foundational policies, and regulatory frameworks, which can serve as reference points for the success and failures, after all, it is a high-risk investment.

Be it public or private sector, success is built on a foundation of institutions and facilitating mechanisms which by necessity must be legislated for.

While I have not finished thinking this through, I will state, as I did in the first article, change is a constant. One thing is clear to me, if we are to create sustainable outcomes through entrepreneurship and innovation, African countries and their local governments need to be at the forefront of policy innovation.