You’ve heard me talk a lot about entrepreneurship. I’ve written many times on this blog about it – about the tenacity you need to start a business, how to build an effective network to help take your business to the next level, and how to confront failure as an entrepreneur.

Here’s why I care so much about entrepreneurship: by 2035, Africa will have a billion young people who will need jobs – I really believe this is the greatest challenge that Africa will face in the next century. To overcome this, we need to create a sufficient number of jobs for all these young people. The only way we’ll be able to do that is through entrepreneurs using what little resources they have, in creative ways, to start businesses that will absorb all these young people.

This is straightforward and I wholeheartedly support entrepreneurship. But it’s important to keep in mind that entrepreneurship alone cannot solve Africa’s problems. The continent’s problems are deeply rooted and complicated, and no single solution is the answer. Often in the conversation around entrepreneurship, you hear a lot about “innovation” – developing new products to provide people with electricity or running water or decent education. This is all well and good – my own ventures are a response to the lack of quality education on the continent – but even as we build new ventures to solve problems, we need to ask the question, How did we get here?

We cannot avoid the fact that many of Africa’s challenges stem from a failure of sound leadership. If, for instance, countries provided consistent electricity, we wouldn’t need entrepreneurs channeling their energy toward importing generators (which is a business that solves a need but unfortunately does not create value and jobs in Africa). The question we need to ask is, Why is a country unable to provide consistent access to power? More often than not, you’ll find that it comes down to a failure of policies, lack of planning, and corruption – all of which stem from a fundamental failure of leadership; something no innovative company or app can solve.

I believe the way that Africa can be transformed is through developing a large number of leaders across ALL sectors – leaders who are ethical and have a strong commitment to building the future Africa we want. Entrepreneurs are only one category of those leaders – we need them to create the jobs I’ve mentioned. But I believe we equally need 3 other types of leaders who can help us solve the problems that entrepreneurship cannot:

  • Institution builders: These are the people who will serve the public sector at all levels of government – from the local municipalities, to the passport officer and all the way up to the Presidency. These leaders can have enormous impact if they make sure they create and implement the right policies and behave in an ethical, corruption-free manner. If we create many such leaders, we will see big improvements in Africa’s systems of education, healthcare, agriculture, and so on.
  • Private sector leaders: Africa needs leaders who can strengthen existing businesses, thereby ensuring the creation of mature economies with stable financial systems and thriving industries. This will give the continent a firm foundation for long term economic and social development.
  • Citizen leaders: These are the people who drive the push for equality in society, helping our communities and societies achieve their basic human rights – especially the rights of those most vulnerable. Often these leaders work at a local level, identifying challenges and implementing solutions.

As you can see, entrepreneurship is just one of many things that Africa needs to get right. I believe that the path towards prosperity for Africa will require the strengthening of leadership in the public sector, the private sector and civil society, in addition to entrepreneurship.

Let me know in the comments how you think entrepreneurship fits into the story of Africa’s future. What else do we need to be doing to build the Africa we want?

By Fred Swaniker.
Co-founder of Africa Leadership Academy (ALA)


  1. Some problems in Africa are organic while some are induced problems as a result of failed leadership.

    We need leaders that’ll have honesty, integrity and drive to impact to lead the nations of Africa.

    Progress Ibrahim
    Entrepreneur & Author (3S Rules)

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