“Africa’s young entrepreneurs should seek not to amass wealth but to create wealth needed to build local economies.”
This is according to Kenyan business leader Mugo Kibati. He said most African countries remain poor and underdeveloped because for the last 50 years many business people acquired wealth through the wrong means at the expense of national economic growth.
Speaking at last week’s Under 35 Multimillionaire Economic Conference in Nairobi, Kibati urged the youth not to go into business with the sole aim of becoming millionaires.
“The problem we have had in Kenya and Africa over the last 50 years is that we have had a lot of people… who have focused on wealth acquisition,” said Kibati. “An entrepreneur is not an acquirer of wealth. An entrepreneur is a creator of wealth. If your goal is to acquire wealth then in your list of strategies… anything goes. If you steal it, if you acquire it corruptly, it doesn’t matter.”
One of Kenya’s respected business leaders, Kibati is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and founder of Miliki Ventures. The engineering graduate previously served as head of East African Cables and as director-general of Kenya’s Vision 2030 delivery board that is responsible for spearheading the implementation of the national blueprint aimed at making Kenya a middle income state by 2030.
“My concern when I hear people wanting to become millionaires or to become rich is our history as Kenyans and as Africans. Something must change because over the last 50 years this country has created many millionaires. I suspect some of them are your role models and some of them you have watched do whatever they want to do and therefore you are motivated to become millionaires. But I want to challenge this new next generation of millionaires to be different,” he told the conference audience.
Although research shows many Africans still go into business as a last resort for survival purposes, entrepreneurship has become a more celebrated career choice in recent years. This is partly because of better reporting on the success stories of Africa’s self-made millionaires.
Kibati warned young aspiring entrepreneurs not to have a short-term approach to becoming rich.
“Today I meet young people who want to be billionaires at 34 and they are 32… You have to build it and sometimes that requires patience and hard work. If you want to have true long-lasting sustainable wealth you have to do the hard work yourself. You have to be a wealth creator.”
A 2012 report titled Accelerating entrepreneurship in Africa released by the Omidyar Network in partnership with the Monitor Group, found that many people in Africa associate entrepreneurship with a life of luxury.
“As a result, many young people venture into entrepreneurship solely to attain wealth and emulate such lifestyles, embarking upon the same lines of business as the successful business people they are trying to emulate without any knowledge of that particular industry. This discourages innovation,” notes the report.
Bring value to the table
Kibati pointed out that business people focused on amassing wealth deliver shoddy services, engage in corruption and do not uphold professional standards.
He cited the case of engineering firms that get million dollar contracts to build roads but spend very little money on the actual job and pocket the rest, only for the newly constructed roads to get damaged in a matter of months. This group of entrepreneurs, whom he described as “tenderpreneurs”, get rich by stealing tax payers’ money and not delivering quality service.
“You cannot get ahead in acquiring wealth simply by cheating people. You must acquire that wealth because you are bringing value to the table. If you are an engineer you must be proud of the roads… the ports, the airports [and] railway lines that you have built.”
Entrepreneurs, he said, should have a good work ethic and not take short cuts in delivering services.
“We need a group of people who actually deliver what they promise to deliver.”