By Dumi Jere
In August, Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto was declared the winner of last week’s presidential election. President-elect Ruto, 55, ran the campaign as a champion of the poor. Days before the polls, while campaigning in Kisii, Ruto made the following statement:
“Matters of youth employment are no longer matters easy in Kenya. It’s a national crisis, and it is not enough to have a plan. We must have a Marshal plan on youth unemployment. We will build industries around leather, textile, wood industry, agro-processing value addition, and manufacturing to create opportunities for the young people of our country. They have talent, energy, and knowledge in driving the country’s economy, and every young person can have hope”.
In the above statement, let’s replace the word Kenya with Eswatini. Like most African countries, our country has a huge youth unemployment problem, yet it is blossoming with entrepreneurial potential. Unfortunately, across Africa, youth unemployment has contributed immensely to a rise in poverty, insecurity, political thuggery, civil unrest, cybercrime, and many social vices we witness on our continent. These challenges slow the pace of development and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals on the continent.
With the eSwatini job market not equipped to absorb a massively growing youth population – and given the pandemic’s impact on education and business – eSwatini must introduce, fund, and scale entrepreneurship initiatives to keep up. Moreover, rising unemployment has left entrepreneurship as one of the most sustainable job generation tools available to young people. However, it must be noted that entrepreneurship is not the silver bullet because much more must be done to make it successful.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the global population will increase by about two billion over the next three decades, with half of that growth coming from Sub-Saharan Africa. The region’s population is projected to double from nearly one billion to two billion, potentially one of the world’s most dynamic economies. It will also have the world’s youngest population, so its entrepreneurs must be cushioned against future economic shockwaves.
Our government and other African financing institutions have put many funding programs towards youth entrepreneurship, which is commendable. But, while funding is one sure way to help entrepreneurs, what are some other ways to build up entrepreneurship and secure the future of the youth? Let us examine two of these.
Mentorship is a crucial element in the success of young entrepreneurs in Eswatini because mentors understand market opportunities and, more importantly, the viability of the product and services. Such support is needed in our country if youth entrepreneurs are to succeed. This could work in a way where experienced entrepreneurs share their knowledge with new entrants to drive business growth and improve the chances of a start-up’s success.
Mentorship could also take the form of support organizations, such as business hubs and incubators. Eswatini does not have a significant number of these, yet, they are crucial to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Incubators, accelerators, and business hubs provide advice and training in critical areas such as business skills, infrastructure, market linkage, and financing. They also afford entrepreneurs and founders access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) that help increase business productivity and market reach across sectors.
Commendable initiatives such as the MTN – Small Enterprises Development Company (SEDCO) Cija Ngebhizinisi are a welcome refreshment. However, given the burgeoning youth population, more needs to be done by other private and public players to support youth entrepreneurship.
Access to markets.
The second way to build youth entrepreneurship in Eswatini is through opening up market access. Enhancing the capacity of youth-led businesses and MSMEs to access market opportunities to match the changing and growing needs will help businesses overcome market isolation and improve their competitiveness. A sure way to do this would be to increase linkages among entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, and consumers.
The National Marketing and Agricultural Board (NAMBoard) is doing a commendable job facilitating farmers’ markets. Similar initiatives should be implemented for other industries to make it easier for entrepreneurs. This is why there is good reason to remain bullish about the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Once entirely in place, the AfCFTA will create entrepreneurship opportunities for young men and women by increasing efficiency and eliminating trade barriers. Yet its success hinges on the involvement of the youth and using the opportunities the agreement presents. The idea of making the One African Market a reality through free trade is undoubtedly a game-changer.
A bright future ahead.
With a third of all global youth expected to live in Africa by 2050, governments and businesses are responsible for assisting them with developing long-term growth plans. Nurturing, mentoring, and financing entrepreneurial competence is therefore critical. In addition, innovative ways are needed to survive the economic slowdown and seek out novel market opportunities to protect young business owners from future disruptions.
The pandemic reminded us how fragile the future could be, but there’s good reason to be optimistic that Eswatini’s future is bright, given the entrepreneurial talent developing across the kingdom.
Dumi Jere is the Managing Partner at Talanta. co, a management consultancy that partners with leaders in business and government to achieve meaningful, sustainable transformation.