Conducive social environment & good governance:
preconditions to entrepreneurship in Africa

5 questions from the audience

> Africa needs jobs, but Europe has its own view on entrepreneurship. Is there any entrepreneurial potential and job opportunities coming from the informal sector in Africa?

> A lot of the employment for Africans generated by big companies is only cheap labour. How can we make sure Africans can get better jobs through foreign investments and make those companies pay the right amount of taxes?

> How can we focus more on an African solution for an African problem?

> A lot of African countries lack good infrastructure such as electricity supply and a decent road network. Shouldn’t we first improve the infrastructure before other big investments are made?

> Human rights get a different undertone in each continent. What can Europe learn from African values such as respect and collaboration?

Min 00:00     Intro Sebastian Van Hoeck
Min 04:00     Intro moderator Jean Bossuyt
Min 08:16     Keynote Karel Uyttendaele
Min 23:10     Keynote Nikolay Dentchev
Min 39:00     Remarks by Khadijat Abdulkadir
Min 52:40     Remarks by Patrick Develtere
Min 1:03:00 Debate
Min 1:30:00 Q & A

On the 28th of November, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the University Centre of Development Cooperation (UCOS) organised the seminar ‘Entrepreneurship in Africa: Who really profits?’. As moderator Jean Bossuyt rightfully concluded, the seminar was a refreshing debate with a highly engaged input from participants!

More and more policy makers from Africa are pushing their countries into economic transformation through industrialization. Moderator Jean Bossuyt wonders how this transformation will shape the relationship between Africa and Europe: “The EU wants to build a new balanced relationship, but at the same time it’s stretching out the boundaries of privileged deals being made during the Post-Cotonou negotiations. Is Europe afraid of a mature partnership with Africa? In the development arm of the European Commission, DEVCO, you hear people talking about two big things. In the first place they talk about a stronger private sector, private funding and the end of official aid. The other big topic is migration, rising populism and inequalities in the world that have not been taken care of.”

Karel Uyttendaele, coordinator of the program Circular Migration for African higher educated, is definitely a defender of the first topic being discussed inside of DEVCO. “Big modern manufacturing multinationals who invest in the African continent contribute through taxation to public expenditure on education, health care and employment. In that way an empowered middle class rises where everyone has a good job and a wage. After a while, this African middle class installs human rights by using its own strength to create unions and so on. You can see it as a bottom-up dynamic to implement human rights. So far, other ways of installing human rights in Africa have not worked.”

But maybe empowering a middle class in more than 50 superdiverse countries in Africa trough investments by multinational companies isn’t as easy as it seems. Professor Nikolay Dentchev, advocates a more social approach: “Investments should also be sustainable and responsible through social entrepreneurship and Corporate Social Responsibility. People who are left behind in societies possess a lot of capacities, but we need to offer them the same chances as everyone else. Khadijat Abdulkadir, founder of Digital African Woman, interferes: “When you’re being disadvantaged and you’re trying to survive, you trust on your first instinct. It’s only later on that you can start to think about other things. Europe is being too paternalistic with its kind of view upon socio-economic reality in Africa, the EU should give young Africans more voice and ownership of projects. It looks as if Europe’s relationship with Africa is still too focussed on aid.”

Is it true Europe still has an aid addiction with Africa? Patrick Develtere, Principal Adviser for the European Social Policy at the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), reminds us that president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker clearly articulated during his 2018 State of the Union speech that Africa doesn’t need any more charity. Instead, it needs true and fair partnerships. Develtere: “EU-Africa destinies are linked. Africa for example has resources such as minerals that are essential for international and European businesses, but we can’t allow a ‘hit and run strategy’. We have to use a multi-stakeholder approach to focus on mutual interests and balanced win-win situations.”

Develtere calls this comprehensive approach a ‘whole of society approach’: “I’m not against the private sector, but private sector investments will only go to African countries if there’s an environment that is inviting those investments. European investors need a conducive environment that is not only about fiscal regime and about the availability of electricity and roads and so on, it’s also about social stability. That means that you also have to bring in the social partners such as workers’ and employers’ organisations that have to build a relationship with each other. European social partners are another kind of actor that should be present to harbour this relationship. Also universities play an extremely important role, let alone if you look at the demographic revolution. Africa will have 4 billion inhabitants of which the majority will be youngsters by 2100. European universities need to work together with their colleagues in Africa on the basis of a balanced relationship.”

Abdulkadir acknowledges the importance of a balanced EU-Africa relationship: “Africa, for example, can learn from European education and tools, but European citizens can learn a lot from Africa too. Attitudes, policies and entrepreneurship are intertwined. Right now there’s an imbalance, European entrepreneurs can just go to Africa and can easily get what they want, whereas Africans coming to Europe have a lot of difficulties with paperwork and bureaucracy just to get a visa. A good relationship is one thing, but why do we feel Europe has to be part of the debate about growth in Africa? Why do we need to industrialize together with Europe, can’t we just do it on our own?”

“If you want to industrialize Africa by Africans, go ahead,” picks up professor Dentchev, “but I don’t understand why we wouldn’t put the strengths of Europe and Africa together? Let’s not start from weaknesses but from a solid base. And is it true that Africa is fed up by European interference? Maybe, but few governments or organisations refuse help.” According to Abdulkadir, young Africans still aren’t being heard enough and should get more involved in grassroot socio-economic initiatives: “Africa is trapped, right now we’re not allowed to explore our creativity. Young people are growing up in a different economic reality, but power structures are preventing opportunities.”

Develtere frames her remark by saying development isn’t just a sequence and that everything should happen simultaneously: “Good governance, civil society, social partners and a sustainable economy should be strengthened at the same time. EU-Africa dependency is too high. The Cotonou Agreement (2000-2020) is almost coming to an end. We’re discussing a new post-Cotonou agreement but Europe wants to maintain a preferential relationship with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, because all together we are more than half of all UN countries. So if we want to weigh on the debates in the United Nations, we can only do that together.”

After a very complex and loaded history, Africa and Europe are still very bound to each other. There are opportunities on both sides to change and get rid of mutual prejudices which are not fit for the world of today. Entrepreneurship can be a leverage to make an end to these prejudices and trigger a new partnership mode. Moderator Bossuyt concludes: “if we want entrepreneurship to be a force of change and create all sorts of benefits, principles of engagement are key: initiatives should be locally driven with local solutions and contain local expertise. Paradigm shifts are needed too. This will not happen if we don’t move from European aid to something else. A lot of chances to move forward on a structural way are laying ahead if we follow the investment paradigm or the multi-stakeholder approach. But if we want to move, let’s above all not forget to combine human rights with these complex approaches to see the whole picture.”

This post is also available in: EN