Adonis Diaries

In praise of Macro-finance in Africa? Micro-finance no longer a la mode?

Posted on: May 28, 2016

In praise of Macro-finance in Africa?

In this talk, financier Sangu Delle questions whether microfinance — small loans to small entrepreneurs — is the best way to drive growth in developing countries.

“We seem to be fixated on this romanticized idea that every poor person in Africa is an entrepreneur,” he says. “Yet, my work has taught me that most people want jobs.”

Delle, a TED Fellow, makes the case for supporting large companies and factories — and clearing away the obstacles to pan-African trade.

Sangu Delle Investor. He is an entrepreneur and clean water activist. A TED Fellow who hails from Ghana, he sees incredible potential in the African economy. Full bio

Speech filmed in Oct. 2014

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.

Traditional prescriptions for growth in Africa are not working very well. After one trillion dollars in African development-related aid in the last 60 years, real per capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s.

(Successive pre-emptive civil wars fomented by the colonial powers all over Africa insured the total reliance of Africa on the export trades of these countries and robbing the raw mineral at the lowest of prices)

Aid is not doing too well.

0:32 In response, the Bretton Woods institutions — the IMF and the World Bank — pushed for free trade not aid, yet the historical record shows little empirical evidence that free trade leads to economic growth.

The newly prescribed silver bullet is microcredit. We seem to be fixated on this romanticized idea that every poor peasant in Africa is an entrepreneur. (Laughter) Yet my work and travel in 40-plus countries across Africa have taught me that most people want jobs instead.

My solution: Forget micro-entrepreneurs.

Let’s invest in building pan-African titans like Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim. Mo took a contrarian bet on Africa when he founded Celtel International in ’98 and built it into a mobile cellular provider with 24 million subscribers across 14 African countries by 2004.

The Mo model might be better than the everyman entrepreneur model, which prevents an effective means of diffusion and knowledge-sharing.

Perhaps we are not at a stage in Africa where many actors and small enterprises leads to growth through competition.

Consider these two alternative scenarios.

One: You loan 200 dollars to each of 500 banana farmers allowing them to dry their surplus bananas and fetch 15 percent more revenue at the local market. Or

Two: You give 100,000 dollars to one savvy entrepreneur and help her set up a factory that yields 40 percent additional income to all 500 banana farmers and creates 50 additional jobs.

We invested in the second scenario, and backed 26-year-old Kenyan entrepreneur Eric Muthomi to set up an agro-processing factory called Stawi to produce gluten-free banana-based flour and baby food.

Stawi is leveraging economies of scale and using modern manufacturing processes to create value for not only its owners but its workers, who have an ownership in the business.

Our dream is to take an Eric Muthomi and try to help him become a Mo Ibrahim, which requires skill, financing, local and global partnerships, and extraordinary perseverance.

But why pan-African? The scramble for Africa during the Berlin Conference of 1884 — where, quite frankly, we Africans were not exactly consulted —  resulted in massive fragmentation and many sovereign states with small populations: Liberia, four million; Cape Verde, 500,000.

Pan-Africa gives you one billion people, granted across 55 countries with trade barriers and other impediments, but our ancestors traded across the continent before Europeans drew lines around us.

The pan-African opportunities outweigh the challenges, and that’s why we’re expanding Stawi’s markets from just Kenya to Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, and anywhere else that will buy our food.

We hope to help solve food security, empower farmers, create jobs, develop the local economy, and we hope to become rich in the process. While it’s not the sexiest approach, and maybe it doesn’t achieve the same feel-good as giving a woman 100 dollars to buy a goat on kiva.org, perhaps supporting fewer, higher-impact entrepreneurs to build massive businesses that scale pan-Africa can help change this.

The political freedom for which our forebearers fought is meaningless without economic freedom. (They go hand in hand)

We hope to aid this fight for economic freedom by building world-class businesses, creating indigenous wealth, providing jobs that we so desperately need, and hopefully helping achieve this.

Africa shall rise.

Tom Rielly: Sangu, this is strong rhetoric. You’re making 100 percent contrast between microcredit and regular investment and growing regular investment. Do you think there is a role for microcredit at all?

5:22 Sangu Delle: I think there is a role. Microcredit has been a great, innovative way to expand financial access to the bottom of the pyramid. But for the problems we face in Africa, when we are looking at the Marshall Plan to revitalize war-torn Europe, it was not full of donations of sheep.

We need more than just microcredit. We need more than just give 200 dollars. We need to build big businesses, and we need jobs.

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