Recently, sitting in the auditorium at KICC, I could not help but notice how each brilliant speaker was yapping about the importance of Entrepreneurship to an already converted audience. DP William Ruto who started by selling chicken to now a multi-billionaire, our own home-grown designer Akinyi Odongo, Hilda Moraa who had just sold her three-year-old startup WezaTele for a colossal amount, Danson Muchemi of Jambo pay and Suzie Wokabi of Suzie Beauty all had one message, “Africa must support its Entrepreneurs”.
Vusi Thembekwayo, an Entrepreneur per excellence from South Africa emphasized that if there are two things that will save mother Africa from her perennial poverty and strife, then those two things are an entrepreneurial spirit and a radical shift in the way we are governing Africa.
Vusi gave an example of a small boy who goes to his uncle during a funeral gathering, and says, “uncle, give me one dollar to buy sweets for me and my friends”. And the uncle replies, “no, I won’t give you any money, however, this is the deal, find any other person in the gathering who can give you one dollar and come back to me and I will match it”.
The young boy is puzzled, “uncle, you are the only one around here with money because you wear a suit, where will I get anyone else with cash”? The uncle calmly replies, “that’s your dilemma to solve, just go and find the cash”. The boy bolts off and in two hours comes back excited and exclaim, “look, uncle, here is the dollar” to which uncle quips, “where did you get it from”, and the boy responds, “I agreed to carry grandmas luggage and she handed the dollar to me”.
Uncle has no option but to match the dollar, the young lad now has two dollars, capable of buying him twice the number of sweets. The uncle then asks him, “What are you going to do with the money?” to which the boy proudly replies “buy sweets for me and my friends”. “And what are you going to do with the sweets”, the uncle queries, “eat them”, the boy quickly answers.
We are all guilty of eating opportunities, right? The uncle challenges him, and says, “how many of your friends are playing around on the street?” He responds, “six or so uncle, why?” “What if you bought the sweets and instead of eating them, you sold them to your friends and see how much money you will make”? The boy scratches his head and dejectedly walks away. But as he strides off, his uncle’s suggestion clearly pops into his head and he decides to try it.
After two or so hours, he comes back with three of his friends, jumping up and down and excitedly tells his uncle that he has sold all the sweets, of course, he must have eaten some, as the color on his mouth suggests. Uncle then asks, “How much money do you now have”? “Six dollars uncle, six dollars”, the boy responds. “Where, show me”, the uncle demands, and he quickly pulls out the cash from his pocket and lays it in front of his uncle.
This is the entrepreneurial spirit; it infects individuals and plants seeds of unfathomable stubbornness to succeed in business. It is that thing that obeys no formulae and leads to near irrational behavior by the infected. It causes them to believe beyond the expected, to believe that when it’s failing that is when it is in fact succeeding, and gives the converts staying power and hope to push their idea through no matter the odds.
If you meet a young lad, who has no idea where his next meal will come from and is probably living off his girlfriend and is talking large about this and that risky but high return idea, watch out, that could be an entrepreneur. For seven months, Vusi slept in the back of his car that was being sought for repossession by the bank and lived off his girlfriend before his ideas finally paid off.
Kenya is experiencing rapid growth in the levels of unemployment. Large business organizations have failed to keep up with the production of goods and services to serve the whole population which has left low-income sectors completely un-served. Due to this, fresh graduates are being nudged towards entrepreneurship in order to employ themselves and also their peers, while serving their fellow mankind.
Entrepreneurship is about finding a need in the community, developing and implementing ideas on how to fix them, and in the process earning loads of money as the reward for the effort and risks assumed. It is about being innovative, disruptive and unconventional. Most of the entrepreneurial ideas will come from diagnosing problems that the society is facing, yet many more ideas will simply pop from disruptive minds where individuals question the existing knowledge and embark to change and do things differently.
Once a Kenyan Entrepreneur has identified the need that he wants to fulfill, he has to overcome Kenyan challenges that include
As an entrepreneur, it is difficult to get past a public official and get your permit or tender processed without you being placed on an ethical dilemma. This is because our public system has been corrupted for so long that it has become ethical for a 50-year-old public official, on official government paycheck to ask for a bribe from a 20-year-old trying to supply 10 rims of printing paper to his office. What a shame!
- Lack of basic infrastructure.
Roads, internet, and electricity are factors that speed up the process of production. In their absence, the production cost is tripled or production curtailed altogether. A Kenyan entrepreneur must sort infrastructure issues daily, while his counterpart in China, Europe or America already has these sorted for him by his government. Why have a government anyway?
- Lack of Financing.
Startups worldwide start with little or no capital and require external funding to survive and grow. Kenyan startups have very limited access to funds because traditional sources such as banks have unmanageable collateral requirements while government funds earmarked for entrepreneurs have been stolen through corruption, leaving the entrepreneur with no option but to die.
- Political instability.
In Kenya, you start campaigns 5 years to the next election, vote on August 8 and bungle the election. Continue abusing each other in the name of campaigning for another 60 days and vote again on October 26 and go to court again, all the while continuing with negative political activism in your strongholds, torching businesses and making it completely impossible for entrepreneurs to operate. Yet you still expect entrepreneurs to survive? What a joke!
- Half-baked Regulations, Policies, and Gender bias.
A politician stretches his hand to receive a bribe of Ksh10k to defeat a report intended to preserve the sugar industry in Kenya at the whims of only 10 or so sugar barons. The sugar industry supports the population of more than two huge regions in the country. Entrepreneurs in those regions are expected to eat all their sugarcane, literally, because the market is overflooded with imported sugar for the next 3 years.
The government pens down half-baked interest rate laws that are intended to support the lowly on the economic pyramid but end up hurting him most through complete lack of credit and the mushrooming of mobile lenders charging an arm and a leg.
Atwoli, through a leaked audio, stops his wife from pursuing her dreams because she is a woman.
All this under the watch of a government claiming to support its entrepreneurs.
To be an entrepreneur is not a walk in the park. It requires a mind of steel, a determination of an ox, and the perseverance of a penguin. Above all, support of the government not through word of mouth at political campaigns, but through real action in addressing the five challenges above.