Innovation and Entrepreneurship: the Way Out

Nov 25 , 2019
By Tibebu Bekele

Two events that happened last week need to get more attention, as they may point a way out of Ethiopia’s predicament. Both have to do with innovation and entrepreneurship.

Ethiopian Minister of Innovation & Technology Getahun Mekuria (PhD) gave a press conference announcing that the country’s first satellite will be launched next month. He said it would be used for earth observatory purposes as well as for mining, agriculture and environmental protection.

The other event was the 2019 Africa Fintech Summit (AFTS) that took place in Addis Abeba this year. At this Summit, there were some young Ethiopian entrepreneurs highlighting their companies who are doing amazing things in the intersections of the financial and technology world.

The excitement and energy of young, educated and bright Ethiopians who are optimistic about tomorrow and focused on building successful companies is so refreshing. To find young people that are bullish on Ethiopia is so encouraging.

It kindles hope that shows the way out of the quagmire the country is stuck in.

While there are an abundance of political entrepreneurs agitating the unemployed youth by pointing back to the injustices of history, there are very few economic entrepreneurs leading them to a bright future that provides them with meaningful employment. Better still, to pave the way for them to use their immense potential and creativity to build the top performing companies of tomorrow.

This is not just an Ethiopian problem. It is an African problem. Africa is a young continent. 60pc of its population is under the age of 25. There will be more than 830 million young people by 2050 in the continent. Many of them are unemployed and pushed to the periphery of their societies with little stake in the socioeconomic life of their countries.

This makes them ripe targets for those who want to use them as stepping stones to power. They become the young soldiers of endless revolutions and insurrections that do not bring lasting solutions for their problems. Their youthful energy and creativity is wasted in violence that decimates their countries, further deepening the vicious circle of poverty.

What young Africans need is sparks of hope and optimism for the future. They need mentors that show them practical ways of overcoming challenges by using their creativity, economic policy that makes room for them by making accessible entry points to the business world.

The socioeconomic engagement of young people is a sure sign of a developing economy. Their contribution to a country’s development is immense. They will be less likely to engage in destructive behaviors, both personal and societal. Governments in the continent have been slow in recognizing and responding to this with policy measures that open the door for young entrepreneurs.

From this vantage point, the financial technology summit that highlighted the achievements of many youthful CEO’s from Africa including some impressive ones from the host city itself is such a welcome sight. Some of the companies that these young Ethiopian entrepreneurs are running are very impressive indeed. That they could do all this in a city renowned for its poor information technology infrastructure is nothing short of miraculous.

Ethiopia is also a country with a strangling bureaucracy that is not friendly to startups and innovators. It is ranked 159 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings.

The good thing is that the administration of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has recognized that deficit and are working on a plan to improve it. That is why the other significant event, the launching of Ethiopia’s first satellite, is also encouraging.

The significance is not just the specific project, but more than that, it is the realisation by the government that the way out of deep economic problems requires innovation and the quick adaptation of technology.

Therefore, among all the gloomy political news, I was glad to hear of hopeful entrepreneurs and a government project betting on innovation.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 25,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1021]

Tibebu Bekele (, who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement.

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