I read this very interesting article in the New York Times on Europe’s young entrepreneurs, which I suggest you read before continuing: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/31/business/international/europes-young-entrepreneurs.html?ref=technology&_r=0
The easy answer to the title question of this piece is of course we need government. They create the enabling environment for businesses to operate in and so on and so forth. We know the arguments. We also know that many a citizen laments the inability of African governments to provide said environment for wealth creation. They argue that many governments wreck their economies with very small predatory elites living large while the bulk of the population goes poor. African countries like Zimbabwe are poor, it is argued, because the politicians have ruined it.
But, what if? What if you had an idea that defies the state of government? What if your idea was bigger than the ineptitude of your government wherever it is that you live? Here are my thoughts.
The world has never been this connected. “Poor” teenagers regardless of the quality of education that a government gives them know what an app is because they have smart phones. I spend a lot of time in rural areas and have seen them! We also know the well documented story of cell phone penetration in African countries like Kenya.
I am going to use an old buzz word here: paradigm shift.
There is an idea catching fast worldwide. Startups. The big thing with Israeli teenagers is the big idea http://israel.bigidea.co.il/atmosphereeng.pdf and many an Israeli teenager is looking for the next big idea that is sufficiently attractive for google to buy. I mean, how basic is whatsapp? And what about all these companies that google has bought http://www.businessinsider.com/google-acquisitions-2014-1.
Now, given the high levels of education in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana and many other countries, how about a “movement” among our youth that says I AM OBSESSING ABOUT THE NEXT BIG IDEA THAT I CAN SELL TO A MAJOR MULTINATIONAL? I mean why not? Does Malawi really have to be poor? They produced William Kamkwamba http://www.amazon.com/William-Kamkwamba/e/B002BRKQEK and if you really think about it, it was not the Malawian government, with all due respect, that produced him.
If our teenagers, apart from being focused on getting good school results, are also spending their weekends trying to develop the next BIG gaming idea is it possible that we could very well have a teenager earning their country a few billion dollars? Why not? Seriously, why not?
You are getting an education to get a good job. Well and good. How about using that education plus your active imagination actively seeking (I used this word deliberately) the next BIG idea. What do I mean by actively seeking? Calculate the amount of time you spend discussing your favourite soccer team, pop star versus the amount of time, for instance, you could spend talking about how you can develop a new soccer video game or the next pop star app? The difference is subtle; the payoff could be life changing. You do not need money to have ideas. If you and your friends are constantly seeking the next BIG idea you might just find one. How many times have we read about Silicon valley youngsters tinkering in the garage and starting business empires like Apple? That single company has more cash in the bank than the richest country in the world http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/04/13/fun-number-apple-has-twice-as-much-cash-as-the-us-government/. What, your parents do not have a garage, let alone a car to warrant one? Neither did William Kamkwamba’s (William Kamkwamba on Ted Talk).
Of course, it is not easy. Of course! But whether you are a young and very poor Bob Marley actively seeking to learn to play the guitar in impoverished Trenchtown Jamaica or a middle class Elon Musk from Pretoria, you can bring something new to the world that earns you, and your country, massive income. Elon who? Elon Musk worth a cool $7,5 billion AND a youngster who taught himself computer programming and by age 12 was selling his first product for $500! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk
It does not matter what field you are in. What matters is that, regardless of what type of government you have in your country, you can focus from wherever you are on a single or several BIG ideas and stumble across or end up finding what you so earnestly seek.
It is time for a mind-set revolution in Africa and it has started in places. We know this because we like to tell stories of initiatives like Demo Africa. We want to make the point though, that you do not necessarily need to go to a conference (it helps), do not need to own a garage (your bedroom will do), do not need a bedroom (outside was just fine for William), do not need democracy (it is preferable by a long shot), you do not need anything except the idea.
After that, you need to patent it http://www.aripo.org/ and make sure you trade mark it. We do not have the answers at Black Diamonds magazine, just the passion to see Africa grow and we think it can grow through good governance but if that fails, we also BELIEVE that it can grow as a result of your genius. There is one in every country and you could be that person. When will you change and start actively seeking the next BIG idea?
MORE READING (We have a lot to say)
Read the section “In Times Gone By” http://www.rooibosltd.co.za/rooibos-background.php
There is greatness in Africa http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African_scientists,_inventors,_and_scholars
By Albert Gumbo