Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New news (Part 1)

I am constantly amazed at how little of the good news -- or what I prefer to call the 'new news' -- about Africa is getting through.
-Charlayne Hunter-Gault

It's not a well kept secret that a majority of the news covering the continent of Africa is negative. Stories of disease, corruption, violence, terrorism and the like seem to easily strangle out those of success, opportunity, hope and achievement. As a spokesman from the Red Cross recently said, More than 75 percent of the stories in Africa were negative. And research firm Media Tenor echoed the same concern: Africa received the worst overall rating of positive stories versus negative stories of all the continents.

Although there are undoubtedly many overwhelming challenges facing the continent (a few of which are mentioned in this blog), there are also countless rays of light and beauty to be discovered. So, in an effort to unveil just a fragment of this beauty, I plan to highlight the stories of several entrepreneurs that are making the continent a better place through their tireless efforts.

But first, a few thoughts on entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship has been recognized as the foundation to economic development, stability and poverty alleviation in Kenya (and in most developing countries). As a government official recently noted, No country will realize sustained economic growth without supporting small business ventures (The Standard). And as a local professor stressed, if Kenya is to evade its 'developing country' status, it needs to produce job creators, not job takers (The Daily Nation).

Sure, there are countless political issues that -- if sorted out -- would make an unprecedented impact on the well being of millions. But unfortunately, these are not easy fixes and rely on factors that are less controllable by an average citizen. Fortunately, however, economic development -- catalyzed by entrepreneurship -- is much more accessible and tangible and can even occur despite the ongoing political landscape transformation.

And the entrepreneurship opportunities are more than abundant. From basic goods and services such as clean water, public latrines or affordable mosquito nets, to higher end offerings such as designer clothes, online book stores or even event planning. If one were to compare the established business offerings in a developed country to those in the developing world, the possibilities would be astonishing.

Unfortunately, however, most educated Kenyans do not look to entrepreneurship (outside of farming) as a lucrative career option. Perhaps the risks are too high, or the status garnered is subpar (compared to, say, a doctor or lawyer) or access to credit is limited. Whatever the reason(s), the problem is undoubtedly perpetuated by the absence of existing entrepreneurs who can serve as entrepreneurship advocates. Because individuals do not see their peers achieving success through a tool such as entrepreneurship, they are much less likely to consider that tool viable.

For this reason, it is critical to unveil the 'new news' and share the successes of those that are creating a better world through their entrepreneurial ventures. These are the stories that need to be heard.


  1. Benjer, Marcell and I recently had an impassioned debate about what I was explaining as the negative correlation between international aid and the growth of entrepreneurship in a country. To push my point, I stated, hyperbolically, that maybe things would be better on the Continent if there was no aide given at all (aside from uber crisis situations such as those caused by the drought in Kenya) and entreprenuership was not simply encouraged, but forced. But, Marcell seemed to really value the idea of humanitarianism and countries that have alot giving to countries that don't have as much. I wonder where the balance needs to be struck in order to provide for the ultimate goal, which is an economically thriving and sustainabile continent not the lauding and veneration of Western humanitarianism.

  2. Wow, sounds like quite the discussion you two had. I can only imagine Marcell, toe punting statements that he only half believes, just to get a reaction out of you!

    While I agree with his 'to whom much is given much is required' mindframe, the ill that western aid has created in Kenya is painfully clear.

    Take, for example, America's approach to food aid, which has deployed millions of dollars of US food across great distances to relieve starving people throughout the continent. While the story of 'lives saved' is often told to people back home, unfortunately there is another story, rarely shared but more profoundly felt, in the long term, by the 'beneficiaries.' This is a story of local farmers who produce the same food product that the US sends as relief, but who are now forced out of business because of the surplus supply. And tragically, the story is the same for mosquito net producers, clothing manufacturers, etc.

    So I agree with you, a balance certainly needs to be discovered. While much of the western aid has been given with good intentions, the outcome has certainly been less than favorable. As author Dambisa Moyo suggests in her book Dead Aid, why not 'use aid money to buy food from farmers within the country, and then distribute that food to the local citizens in need.' If foreign governments hope to create sustainable value through their aid (which, to be clear, I still believe they do) they need to carefully and strategically birth and/or nurture networks of entrepreneurship and market driven solutions, not an 8,000 mile long umbilical cord attached to an army of farmers looking to offload their surpluses.

  3. Even if I do agree with several things here I find it more fun to disagree. Shot out to those couple DGC members that love to hate too. hehe, jk

    1) Bad news coming from the continent, could be better but ok with me
    2) Dead Aid argument is real, but eh

    1) Bad News "Didn't you know I was waitin on you" 808's
    - I can't watch american local news because all it talks about is bad news... somebody got shot blah blah blah
    -People are overreacting when they say Africa is getting alot of bad press, can anyone tell me about the news from Greece or Iran from the last year? Riots and Uproar
    -The news is all bad too! The media bias isn't limited to Africa and is bigger than the continent
    -Stop resorting to places where bad news comes from, if you really care you'll find where to get real news, and spread the word yourself

    2.) Dead Argument is eh, but Ms. Moyo could get it
    -Humanity transcends entrepreneurship and business
    - If there are starving people, they deserve aid, period
    -To argue give it to businesses would likewise feed into corruption!
    -I do think there should be incentives, but I've read SOME of Dead Aid arguments and disagree : )
    -The book even overlooks several issues of Aids prevention and support that come from the US
    -The US does a ton of shady stuff, and things that are counterintuitive
    -However, do we frame the aid argument like the welfare argument where its forcing people to be reliant or like the current healthcare debate where its providing an alternative to people that can't afford the current options
    -I'm not sure but from my little knowledge of the continent I'm going to go with the healthcare example

    Hope your keeping a journal man