Speaking with entrepreneurs across all walks of life, one major theme keeps recurring – Nigeria is a difficult place to do business. It appears to be a love-hate relationship. Nigeria is so difficult that most people would rather stay here than go away. We can explain that away – Nigeria has 190 million people who could potentially buy your product, so as an entrepreneur, you’d rather stay here than go away.
In recent times, my conversations have been with technology entrepreneurs, and you sure guessed right, they echoed the same theme. However, I noticed a certain arrogance in this echo, especially from these entrepreneurs. They arrogate too much credit to themselves for doing business in Nigeria. They make Nigeria appear to be UNIQUELY difficult, as though other entrepreneurs operating in other African or emerging economies are safe from difficult operating environments.
Let’s be clear, I recognize that Nigeria is an extremely difficult place to do business. I know you will have to power your organization yourself. I know that the regulatory environment is uncertain. I know that it is difficult to get credit. I know that infrastructure is virtually non-existent, etc. While I am not absolving the government of its responsibility, I believe that the situation is not SIGNIFICANTLY different across other emerging markets, especially other African markets.
In writing this article, I checked the legal requirement for starting a business in some African countries; the results were shocking. According to Ghana’s Investment Promotion Centre, investors must submit copies of the following documents as per company regulations: the certificate of incorporation, the certificate to commence business, and signatures of the authorized company representatives to deposit the paid-in-capital in a bank account. The minimum foreign equity for a joint-venture is $200,000, however for a wholly foreign owned business, the investors will require a minimum cash of $500,000.
Leaving out all of these, the political instability among African economies is similar. The Nigerian senate prevented former President Olusegun Obasanjo from seeking a third term in office (in hindsight, shouldn’t we have allowed him the third term?); however, in Rwanda, President Paul Kagame cannot be replaced. He’s poised to rule the country for life. This means that he can wield power as he wills, which is not good for any economy.
Kenya has ALWAYS had a violent electoral process. I recall my last visit to the country, when residents had to stock their houses with food in anticipation of the presidential election. I am sure you are aware that scores lost their lives. In fact, the opposition leader announced himself as president. After supporters lost their lives for what they believed in, the 2 political gladiators made up.
South Africa is sliding into full blown recession. You’d expect the country to be a lot more stable, alas, that isn’t happening. Foreigners are being subjected to violent attacks on a regular basis. Johannesburg is reputed for violent crimes. A Zimbabwean leader was credited for saying that it is only in South Africa that a taxi driver will claim that a Zimbabwean medical doctor is taking his job.
The English-speaking region of Cameroon has got its internet locked out for months. I can imagine being an entrepreneur in that region. In Uganda, the government has decided to impose a social media tax. Yes, taxes for using WhatsApp. Ugandans will now have to pay 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.05) a day to use popular platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
Taking these to a global level, even developed markets are not immune from political instability. Greece was a great nation that has slipped into one of the worst debt crises in history. Entrepreneurs in the United States are on edge, waiting for the next tweet from their president. The United Kingdom is still trying to figure the best way out of the European Union.
To think that corruption is specific to Nigeria will be naïve at best.
Rather than enjoying the demi-god status for doing business in Nigeria, I would acknowledge the problems and figure out a way to operate profitably. No country is perfect, if they were, then there will be no need for entrepreneurship. Like we all know, the major point of entrepreneurship is problem solving. That’s why we are entrepreneurs.
My advice for entrepreneurs: let’s not get excited about this startup thing. We are trying to solve problems in a profitable and sustainable way. That’s why we are solving the problems using technology. The technology is meant to make our lives easier, not complicate it. Technology is also meant to make our own business operations more cost efficient, faster, and reliable.
Our focus should be on finding the best way to solve the users’ worst problems, not copy and paste. I am not sure who needs a dog-walking app in Nigeria (yet), but millions need access to power. I’m not sure if our roads are suited for electric scooters yet, but millions need to find better ways to commute.
We need to figure out ways to solve these problems irrespective of the difficulties in the operating environment, since we now know that they are not unique to us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed, we are perplexed, but not in despair. We press on, we continue to fight the good fight, we are committed to finishing our course, while keeping faith, so that we can earn the crown laid up for us. That’s the summary of our lives as entrepreneurs.