Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Five Faces of African Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Five Faces of African Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Article excerpt

Africa's influence on Western culture has been celebrated for centuries, yet the continent has long been seen as requiring outside intervention to fuel its progress. Today, however, the growing number of high-profile African entrepreneurs across numerous sectors and industries, and the increasing visibility of African leaders in the international community, are among the most tangible illustrations of the continent's potential.

The Journal of International Affairs has chosen five influential African entrepreneurs whose vision and originality exemplify the rapid growth taking place today in Africa. They have made major, even unprecedented innovations in their respective fields, and have invited excitement about the continent's 21st century potential. Many of those profiled below found success by developing an understanding of multiple sectors and building productive relationships between them, as seen in Mo Ibrahim's encouragement of good governance through private sector philanthropy and Andrew Rugasira's message about the lessons of small business growth in cultivating Africa's human rights development.


Mo Ibrahim, Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation

From Sudan, and educated both there and in the United Kingdom, Mo Ibrahim parlayed his doctoral research in mobile communication into massive private sector success. After honing his business skills as a technical director and creating mobile phone services in the United Kingdom, he turned his focus to Africa. He returned there in the 1990s and founded Celtel, building a massive mobile phone network and making cell phone communication a reality for huge swaths of the continent that previously had little of no access. Celtel ultimately became one of Africa's most successful corporations.


Less than a decade later, he established the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which has become internationally renowned for its annual assessments of the quality of African governments and for stimulating mass interest in the subject of good governance in Africa. The Foundation also awards the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership to a head of state who has demonstrated excellence in ethical and effective leadership.

Ibrahim has successfully used private sector resources to reform the public sector of Africa. The debate over good governance has intensified in recent years, and more organizations are joining in the cause. As more African leaders are heeding the call to bring accountability and effectiveness to their administrations, Ibrahim and his foundation have proven invaluable in the process.

Ibrahim says that his mission, in part, is to develop a "detailed definition" of what it truly means to have good governance. "It is important that Africa's citizens take their leaders to task. What has been delivered to them as stakeholders, they need to understand. Based on that objective measurement, people really can decide who are the leaders that managed to take us forward.... We are not putting [the prize] out as a department of pensions. It is a reward for the leaders who really managed to deliver to their people. The objective is to have a debate about governance, which we are having right now. Without the prize we would not have talked about it."

Ibrahim also hopes to keep good leaders active after they leave office. His foundation, he says, strives to "convince retiring presidents not to go ... and to sit by the swimming pool, but to have them engage in civil society and to really play the role."


Euvin Naidoo, President of the South African Chamber of Commerce in America

Euvin Naidoo is the president and CEO of the South African Chamber of Commerce in America (SACCA) and also lectures on private equity to university students in Africa. He earned international praise for his opening speech at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Global 2007 conference, where he spoke enthusiastically of the importance of small- and medium-sized enterprises in the development of Africa's economy. …

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