One of Kenya’s best known tech investors Ory Okolloh has thrown cold water on the push for entrepreneurship and innovation on the continent. “You can’t entrepreneur around bad leadership, we can’t entrepreneur around bad policy,” Okolloh said, criticizing what she called the “fetishization” of entrepreneurship and neglect of fundamental problems hampering African countries. “There is growth in Africa but Africans are not growing,” she said echoing earlier comments she has made.
Speaking at the Quartz Africa Innovator’s summit yesterday, (Sept 14), Okolloh said:
“I’m concerned about what I see is the fetishization around entrepreneurship in Africa. It’s almost like it’s the next new liberal thing. Like, don’t worry that there’s no power because hey, you’re going to do solar and innovate around that. Your schools suck, but hey there’s this new model of schooling. Your roads are terrible, but hey, Uber works in Nairobi and that’s innovation.
During the Greek bail out, no one was telling young Greek people to go and be entrepreneurs. Europe has been stuck at 2% or 1% growth. I don’t see any any entrepreneurship summit in Europe telling them you know, go out there and be entrepreneurs. I feel that there’s a sense that oh, resilience and you know, innovate around things—it’s distracting us from dealing with fundamental problems that we cannot develop.
We can’t entrepreneur our way around bad leadership. We can’t entrepreneur our way around bad policies. Those of us who have managed to entrepreneur ourselves out of it are living in a very false security in Africa. There is growth in Africa, but Africans are not growing. And we have to questions why is there this big push for us to innovate ourselves around problems that our leaders, our taxes, our policymakers, ourselves, to be quite frankly, should be grappling with.
… I think sometimes we are running away from dealing with the really hard things. And the same people who are pushing this entrepreneurship and innovation thing are coming from places where your roads work, your electricity works, your teachers are well paid. I didn’t see anyone entrepreneur-ing around public schooling in the US. You all went to public schools, you know, and then made it to Harvard or whatever. You turned on your light and it came on. No one is trying to innovate around your electricity power company. So why are we being made to do that? Our systems need to work and we need to figure our shit out.”