Jean-Michel Severino chairs Investisseurs & Partenaires (I & P), a social impact investment fund for African SMEs. He was vice-president of the World Bank and director of the French Development Agency (AFD, partner of Le Monde Afrique). He also wrote, with Olivier Ray, Le Temps de l’Afrique (Odile Jacob, 2010) and Le Grand Basculement (éd. Odile Jacob, 2011). Jérémy Hajdenberg, Deputy Director General of I&P, a specialist in microfinance, has been supporting African entrepreneurs for years in their management and development strategies. Both publish Entreprenante Afrique (ed. Odile Jacob, 2016), of which here exclusively extracts from the preface.

The image of Africa south of the Sahara has become twofold – and cloudy. On the one hand, in the circles of investors and in an increasingly large part of the media and public opinion, the vision of an emerging Africa, of a continent where several armed conflicts finally ended, was affirmed. , where democratic elections are held regularly, where economic growth is 5% to 7% per year and where poverty regresses. This corresponds to a facet of African reality.

But the media also continue to convey the image of a continent suffering from misery, droughts, disease, coups, terrorism, and where security continues to deteriorate. “Afro-pessimists” also point to the negative impact on African growth of the recent collapse in oil and mineral commodity prices. These concerns are not in vain; they simply point to another facet of African reality.

Growth hero

The purpose of our book is not to decide between Afro-optimists and Afro-pessimists. We want, more simply, to show another dimension of African economic and social reality, deeply overlooked and misunderstood: the emergence of African entrepreneurs.

Our job has given us the opportunity to meet many. Development activists, we have made the choice, at the turn of the 21st century, to mobilize ourselves in favor of these heroes of Africa’s growth and its social transformation. We have become private investors specializing in SMEs and African start-ups. For years, we have known these men and women who undertake business in Africa, share their hopes and challenges, see the adversity of their environment and the relevance of the solutions they provide, and discover how they are vectors of change. But also to what extent they suffer, like all, the ills of the sub-Saharan continent.

Read also: Fourteen start-ups that move Africa

(…) Africa will gradually influence the entire planet in a significant way. Today, the GDP of the African continent comes down to that of France, after having been, at the turn of the century, that of the Benelux. (…) In 2050, the continent’s GDP could equal that of the European Union, while its population will number 2 billion. At the heart of this expansion, these famous entrepreneurs: they are the ones who are making the economic and social history of the continent today. They will stubbornly continue their work during the century. And we have many lessons to learn from this story as we write it.

Routes that command admiration

Let’s start with one of them, Doctor Tidiane Siby. This biologist created in Dakar the laboratory of biomedical analyzes BIO 24. Let us follow one of his patients who enters this laboratory to carry out examinations there…

There he pushes the door and enters an old refurbished house, with pleasant architecture. At the counter, a very professional welcome. We scan his prescription, we ask him if he has a mutual health care card and we collect his payment. We retrace the dates of his previous visits. Then they give him a box with the barcode that identifies him now, and his number in the queue ordered by a screen, on which he sees that his turn will come in about ten minutes.

From his seat in the waiting room, rather than watching the high-pitched television, he watches patients who come to get their test results. To one of them, the hostess said that they would only be available in three days but that he could consult them over the Internet. To another, she speaks in rough English but very understandable, because he is American. At a third, she reminds that the laboratory is open seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. On the wall, a panel informs patients that BIO 24 has been an ISO certified laboratory since 2001 and has had one of the most demanding international accreditations since 2011. And that its spectrum of intervention covers biochemistry, hematology, immuno- hematology, microbiology, infectious serology, tumor markers, reproductive hormones.

Read also: Ushahidi, an African technology that conquered the planet

BIO 24 represents a new face of Africa, professional, committed, easy, profitable, which contrasts with so many others. An Africa that invests in the long term, because the BIO 24 company did not happen overnight: Tidiane Siby’s journey is admiring. A biologist by training, he was spotted by a great American professor while studying in his laboratory in Boston in the late 1980s. The latter offered to stay in America and make a living there. But Tidiane’s deep motivation was to demonstrate that it was possible to practice high level biology in Africa. From the start of his laboratory, he wanted to establish a very high standard of rigor, and subscribed to a real quality approach. This allowed him to quickly gain the confidence of an ever-growing clientele, at a time when the solvent demand for care was starting to grow, as a result of the emergence of the Senegalese middle class. Starting from nothing, and profiting from this growth, reinvesting its profits, he structured a team, which today has a total of 62 employees and performs nearly 200,000 examinations per year.

Definitely uninhibited

Entrepreneurs like Tidiane, or aspiring entrepreneurs, Africa has a lot today. A generation of builders is emerging: 72% of young Africans are attracted to entrepreneurship. Steeped in modernity, they strive to build more structured businesses than those of the past. However, their world, that of the SME, is still very largely a world of family business.

What strikes us among the African entrepreneurs we meet is their ability to dare. Because they are in Africa, they know that the entrepreneurial journey will be fraught with pitfalls.

Because they are entrepreneurs, nothing seems impossible to them.

In their company, it seems very far away from the time of the “colonized complex” theorized by Albert Memmi: Africa may be complex, its entrepreneurs are definitely uninhibited! These entrepreneurs know that they are at the heart of the dynamic of prosperity that began at the turn of the century. They are right: if some large oil countries strongly affect the irregular annual trends in consolidated continental GDP, and blind some analysts, African growth, in reality, rests above all on the demand for a growing African domestic market, due to demography, urbanization, and a growing middle class. It is based on an improved macroeconomic framework (although still very imperfect), which allows companies to better deploy. And it is based on a growing interest from various international actors to invest in Africa, even to relocate there. At the forefront of these actors, China: this country was the first to recognize the potential and challenges of the continent. If China has become Africa’s first partner, it is not only because it has come to find the much-needed mineral and agricultural raw materials there. It has also found a market there for its consumer products and equipment and, in recent years, a space for outsourcing its workforce industries, thus transforming the heart of the continent’s economic model. The story is just beginning: for example, we see Chinese banks coming.

Acceleration and appropriation

African growth is therefore only in its infancy. It has imbalances and weaknesses, and will experience low and high. Still, a bottom blade is there, and should last.

Even if it could last would not be enough: an acceleration is necessary, in view of all the needs of Africa today. Absolutely massive investment needs in infrastructure of all types. Need to create hundreds of millions of jobs to give a stable future to the generations that will enter the job market.

Acceleration, but also appropriation. What is at stake is not only whether Africa, in 2030 or 2050, will be less poor; it is also about knowing who will own the wealth created and who will be the decision makers and the driving forces within emerging African capitalism. Financiers and large Western, Chinese, Indian, Turkish or Brazilian groups? Or sovereign African actors (who obviously could form all kinds of mutually beneficial international partnerships)?

For growth that is both faster, better shared, more respectful of the environment and which allows Africans to remain masters of their own destiny, everything must be done to allow African entrepreneurial dynamics to flourish. Do everything to make life easier and the journey of entrepreneurs, because it is they who will make it, this growth. However, their operational difficulties are immense – that one thinks of the deficiencies of the electric power supply, the lack of qualified personnel, the land problems, the useless hassles caused by the administration (fiscal in particular), the difficulties to access financing …

This finding is not new and, in all African countries, support measures already exist. Besides, Tidiane Siby took advantage of some of them, such as the ease of procedures when the BIO 24 laboratory was created and a favorable tax regime, given the investments made. But, on the other hand, the Senegalese public administration caused him quite extraordinary difficulties when he wanted to acquire land in Dakar to bring together the activities of his laboratory, scattered over several sites. This contrasting reality is common.

Coherent framework

It is possible to go further in supporting SMEs. It is not only a question, even if it is important in itself, of continuing to multiply specific technical measures to facilitate procedures. It is also, more fundamentally, that African governments give a strong political impetus, drawing a model of growth by entrepreneurs and their companies, far from the models of rent sharing – which is basically a choice of society.

Such an impulse, if given, could take on its full dimension through concertation processes between the public and private spheres and lead to African Small Business Acts [laws] which will provide a coherent framework for supporting entrepreneurs, like what exists on other continents.

An approach of this type would most likely make the task of the entrepreneurs of tomorrow easier. It would help more and more of them, not only to get started, but also to succeed, thereby contributing to Africa’s growth.

Africa needs it badly. Thanks to the growth period it has just experienced, life expectancy at birth on the continent has increased by seven years in thirteen years and the poverty rate has dropped by 10 points in twenty years. But, despite this growth period, which is still too recent and too weak, Africa remains deeply poor, its life expectancy today is only around sixty years and its poverty rate is still 47%!

It’s because it’s still so poor that it badly needs more growth and more distributed growth, so it needs more entrepreneurs. And now, make way for them!
Learn more at du-continent_5004893_3212.html # PE7Jfv1R0I3JDAQG.99

About The Author

CEO AfrikaTech

Comme beaucoup de personnes j’ai connu l’Afrique à travers des stéréotypes : l’Afrique est pauvre, il y a la guerre, famine… Je suis devenu entrepreneur pour briser ces clichés et participer à la construction du continent. J’ai lancé plusieurs entreprises dont Kareea (Formation et développement web), Tutorys (Plate-forme de e-learning), AfrikanFunding (Plate-forme de crowdfunding). Après un échec sur ma startup Tutorys, à cause d’une mauvaise exécution Business, un manque de réseau, pas de mentor, je suis parti 6 mois en immersion dans l’écosystème Tech au Sénégal. J’ai rencontré de nombreux entrepreneurs passionnés, talentueux et déterminés. A mon retour sur Paris je décide de raconter leur histoire en créant le média AfrikaTech. L'objectif est de soutenir les entrepreneurs qui se battent quotidiennement en Afrique en leur offrant la visibilité, les connaissances, le réseautage et les capitaux nécessaires pour réussir. L'Afrique de demain se construit aujourd'hui ensemble. Rejoignez-nous ! LinkedIn:

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