Africa can administrate itself out of bad leadership and infrastructure

African governments have very limited funds to spend on their citizens; the average expenditure African national governments spent per citizen in 2017 was around $740. DR Congo, Central African Republic, and Burundi spent $39, $57, and $65 per citizen respectively. Contrast that with Norway, Denmark, and Sweden that spent $36,871, $30,415, and $27,000 per citizen respectively. 

Considering the severe lack of financial resources, which often dictate the level of technical, managerial, and operational capabilities of a government (you get what you pay for, even in the public sector), it is incredibly difficult to expect poor-country governments to function similar to the ones in rich countries. They’ll always end up at the bottom of indices like the aforementioned, and whatever progress some progressive new government makes is often short-lived. Thankfully, there’s hope for governments and citizens in economically poor countries. 

More specifically, market-creating innovations, which transform complicated and expensive products into products that are simple and affordable so that many more people in the society can have access to them, provide the most stable foundation for economic development that can lead to social change. 

The most visible example of this phenomenon happening in Africa is in the mobile telecommunications industry. 

From barely nothing in the late 1990s, today virtually every African country has a thriving mobile telecommunications sector. Before this new industry was created, access to mobile phones was limited to those who were wealthy, but new business models made telecommunications so simple and affordable that the average African now has access to mobile phones. 

This industry has not only generated hundreds of billions of dollars of value but also provides tens of billions of dollars in taxes annually and is responsible for more than three million jobs across the continent. 

In addition, thousands of other African startups, from payments and insurance to health and logistics, are leveraging this vast network to build new companies. And so, could it be that we have the equation backward in Africa? While governments should not be absolved of their responsibility to develop strong political and economic institutions that enable their constituents to thrive, it seems that most efforts at instituting good governance in poor, African countries lead to little, if any, progress. Clearly, there must be a better way. 

Development isn’t a linear process, and innovation and entrepreneurship alone won’t solve governance challenges or build strong political institutions. But market-creating innovations are often what begins the process of societal transformation, especially in poor countries. Though entrepreneurship is by no means a substitute for good governance, it is the best vehicle to achieve it.

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