H.E YOWERI KAGUTA MUSEVENI
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA
THE 2019 EDITION OF THE TONY ELUMELU FOUNDATION ENTREPRENEURSHIP FORUM.
TRANSCORP HILTON HOTEL ABUJA, NIGERIA.
I take the pleasure to thank Mr. Tony O. Elumelu, the founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation, for inviting me to deliver the keynote address at this year’s gathering of young entrepreneurs from Africa. It gives me great pleasure when young people gather together for a common cause. I am therefore, glad to join you today on this important occasion.
I thank you for creating this important platform, which gives entrepreneurs, policy makers and business leaders a rare opportunity to come together, with a solid resolve to offer creative and lasting solutions to some of the crippling challenges to Africa’s development and progress.
This year’s theme, “Empowering African Entrepreneurs”, forces us to seek to understand the historical, social and economic dynamics out of which the African entrepreneur has emerged. The modern African entrepreneur operates within a certain historical context, unique to the African continent. Before I delve into this historical experience which has produced the African entrepreneur, I want to define the term entrepreneur. According to the Webster dictionary, an entrepreneur is a person “who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”
By 1400 AD, many of the African societies were a bit like the European ones at the time. They were late iron-age and three class societies: the feudalists, the artisans and the farmers. However, by the time of the French Revolution, the European society had metamorphosed into a four class society: the old feudalists, a new class known as the bourgeoisie, a new class known as the proletariat and the old residual class of the peasants (the farmers). It is the new classes, the bourgeoisie (the middle class) and the proletariat (the working class), supported by the old classes, the peasants, that caused the French Revolution of 1789.
Since that time, the European society has undergone further transformation with the shrinking of the feudal class and the disappearance of the peasant class. Today, therefore, Europe is a two class society ─ the middle class and the skilled working class.
The middle class contains active entrepreneurial elements and the working class is skilled. It is these two elements that have propelled Europe through the three Industrial Revolutions and are now pushing it into the 4th Industrial Revolution ─ the one of Artificial intelligence.
The problem with Africa has been that in the last 600 years, the African Society has not metamorphosed. On the contrary, in some aspects, the African Society has regressed. How? The African artisan class was wiped out by the colonial imports.
Their artisan products were monopolized and replaced by colonial products- plates, spoons, cooking pots, textiles, leather products, etc. The feudal class, which was competing for power with the colonialists, was decimated and was replaced with the colonial civil servants (supported by African auxiliaries like court clerks, interpreters, colonial sergeants etc.)The only class that survived was that of peasants who were put to growing colonial cash-crops (coffee, cotton, tobacco, tea, palm oil etc.) for supplying the colonial industries.
There are strategic bottlenecks that have caused Africa’s stagnation. During the 23rd APRM session of June, 2015 in South Africa, these strategic bottlenecks were adopted as the shared view point of Africa. These are:
- Ideological disorientation: the main manifestation of ideological disorientation is the opportunistic misuse of identity at the expense of the genuine interests of the people. Such genuine interests should answer the question: “Who will guarantee my prosperity?” “Is it the members of my tribe or my religious sect that will do so or is it the members of the “other communities?” “Who will buy my milk, my beef, my coffee, my bananas or my tea?” Ideological disorientation only emphasizes identity and eclipses interests or even acts against the interests of the people. This generates the sectarianism of tribe or religion which has caused so much damage.
- Weak states: as a consequence of number one above, many African countries end-up with weak States ─ weak armies, civil services, etc., because they are not based on merit or are not ideologically oriented with the right attitude.
- Attacking the private sector: Attacking the private sector arose from a mistaken view among some of the leaders. Some people thought that altruism was universally and equitably distributed. They thought that everybody, inspired by altruism, was able to work diligently and devotedly even if he was working for the State. They did not believe in the story of the ‘hired hand who runs away from the wolf when it comes to attack the sheep unlike the owner of the sheep that will defend them even at the cost of his own life’. John 10:12.However, the majority of human beings are selfish and ego-centric. They work best when they work for themselves. When we are designing a plan for the entire society, it is better to utilize the ego-centrism of the human beings to build our economy and society. It is not correct to be subjective and assume that because you are not selfish, the entirety of society is also selfless. This is not objective but subjective.It is better to recognize and utilize private initiative ─ the entrepreneurial spirit. In the past, we used to talk of the three factors of production in economics. These were: land, capital and labour. It was later, realized that we needed to add a fourth factor, entrepreneurship ─ private initiative. I hear that since my time of studying economics in the 1960s, a fifth factor has been added, knowledge.
In Uganda, when our leaders were, in one way or another, attacking the private sector, in South Korea, General Park Chung Hee was empowering private groups such as Samsung, Daewoo, Hyundai, etc. Chinese private groups have played big roles in building the economies of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, etc. Even today, bias against private enterprise by some political actors, corrupt public servants, etc interferes with the fast development of Africa. I long ago realized what Mzee Deng Hsiao Ping of China realized and implemented since 1978 ─ to use capitalism to build socialism. This is correct and those who inconvenience private entrepreneurship that is within the law are, knowingly or unknowingly, the new enemies of Africa.
- An undeveloped human resource, that is: lack of education, lack of skills and poor health of the African populations).
- Inadequate infrastructure that causes the costs of doing business in the economy to go up thereby rendering our products uncompetitive and undermines the profitability of investments by having the said high costs.
- I have already referred to the bottleneck of the fragmented African Market; If one produces but one does not get enough buyers, that business will collapse; the producer and the buyer are the life blood of modern business; the more buyers you have, the better for the business; fortunately, Africa is moving well on this issue of market integration through the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADEC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and, ever since the Abuja Treaty of 1991, the African Common Market and, more recently, the CFTA. It was not until the Lagos Plan of Action of July, 1980, that our leaders understood this.
- The export of raw-materials, thereby losing money and jobs to the outside world was also another bottleneck causing endless haemorrhage; hence, the need for industrialization.
- An undeveloped services sector in tourism, hotels, banking (financial servicing ─ expensive money, etc.), insurance, professional services (e.g. doctors ─ hence medical tourism to India, etc.).
- Underdevelopment of agriculture: there is no complete commercialization of agriculture (still a lot of subsistence agriculture – 68% in the case of Uganda), no irrigation, low use of fertilizers, poor disease control, poor soil conservation, poor seeds and breeding stock, etc. The population in the agricultural sector has, therefore, no money and their purchasing power is low.
- Suppression of democracy has also been another bottleneck.
In conclusion, if we go by the definition of an entrepreneur as one “who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise”, we shall appreciate the enormous debt that this generation owes to the under-utilized potential of Africa. Africa is richly endowed by nature but betrayed by her people who must be awakened from their long sleep. It is our duty to insure the future of our continent.
I thank you all.