In case you missed it, last week’s DNA Summit “Africa Redefined”, in association with New York University Africa House, was a fantastic success! Together, the DNA Summit and NYU Africa House were able to bring together a group of incredibly interesting and innovative people in order to consider how to continue moving the discussion on Africa away from aid, to opportunity, leadership, and business.
The goal was to draw from the group’s collective insight in order to develop a concrete list of structured ideas, which Co-Chair Mark Florman of the DNA Summit would then share with Prime Minister David Cameron the following afternoon in London.
Below, co-host Professor Yaw Nyarko of NYU Africa House speaks with African billionaire Strive Masiywa of EcoNet Wireless on his experience in enterprise development on the African continent, and on the future of African development.
Prof. Nyarko: These first two questions are coming from NYU students of mine: Can you comment on the importance of business-oriented unification of African nations as an aid to speeding up development?
Mr. Masiywa: Thank you very much, that is a great question. We all know the great success that China has had. And the allure of China is the size of the market. Africa needs to present itself as a big market. The idea of working in 54 sovereign nations, from a business point of view, is a battle with pitchforks. We’ve got to deal with basic things: movement of people, and movement of goods across borders. My goodness, if the French and the Germans can get together and it makes sense to them, and believe you me, they really don’t like each other, but they understand that it makes good business sense. So really, we’ve got to get regional integration working, we’ve got to get continental integration working.
Prof. Nyarko: Thank you Strive. Again, a question from an NYU student: Are you impressed by the current technological advancement in Africa? Are we doing something wrong, or maybe do we need an entirely different approach to how technology is developed in Africa?
Mr. Masiywa: I am certainly impressed with what we have accomplished with telecommunications, but power continues to be a major opportunity. We have at least a 100,000-megawatt deficit on the African continent. We cannot spur meaningful economic development with almost every major African country having a major power deficit. And this spills over into impacting things such as education. We have 57 million children not in school, wandering around on the streets. We need to get those children in school, and technology gives us, perhaps, a platform which could allow us to disrupt that and get them into education.
Prof. Nyarko: Thank you. Ok, now I am going to ask another question of you that, for many Americans, is very uncomfortable, so let me preface it. West Africans are considered among the most religious people in the world, and I know your faith is very important for you. I went onto the Econet webpage, and there was actually a message. A Christian message there, so I hoped you would reflect on what your faith has meant to you, and whether it has anything to say for the broader African population.
Mr. Masiywa: Thank you, Yaw, I am always happy to talk about that. My faith frames my value system. That is how I approach it. I will give you an example. My wife and I sat around the table one evening, and we were talking about HIV and AIDS. As you know it is one of the great scourges that attacked Africa over the last twenty years. Now our faith tells us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Out of that, we created a program to support AIDS orphans. Today we support roughly 42,000 at any given time. So that value system frames how I respond to a lot of issues. Others have their own moral compass, but that is the moral compass on which I will respond.
Prof. Nyarko: Thank you Strive for your candidness and insight. So just to summarize the key takeaway points here for the audience:
1. Africa needs economic unity to make doing business easier;
2. Power continues to be a major opportunity in Africa with promising spillover effects in education;
3. Doing business in Africa requires perseverance and a strong moral compass.