Kizito Okechukwu is the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest startup campus. Photo: Supplied
Kizito Okechukwu is the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest startup campus. Photo: Supplied

OPINION: It’s time for government leaders to listen to reason

By Opinion Time of article published Aug 11, 2020

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By Kizito Okechukwu

As South Africa celebrates Women’s month, I was honoured to host a webinar last Friday dubbed “She Remains Resilient” with five of the most dynamic, intelligent and diverse women from different sectors, which drew an online audience of a few hundred women.

Post the webinar, my discussion with one of the participants diverted to the current protests in Zimbabwe, which I fear is rapidly becoming a near-draconian state.

The lady remarked that the Zimbabwean government was acting like an abusive man that believes his partner will always return, begging him to take her back, regardless of the potentially dire consequences for her.

This analogy motivates this piece.

For starters, the African continent continually receives the highest rate of financial bailouts, loans and other aid (in all forms), as compared to any other continent, yet not much filters down to everyday citizens. So why do governments keep abusing and neglecting both their citizens and investors and expect that even when they shun them, they will always beg to return.

Sure, this predicament is prevalent in a few other regions, but for now my focus lies on our continent and how our leaders have cascaded their countries through policies that inhibit investments. For instance, in Nigeria (Africa’s second largest economy), Shoprite is closing shop and packing its bags, joining the likes of powerhouses Tiger Brands, Woolworths, Mr Price and many other global giants.

Nigeria is a mineral-rich country and has huge potential for lucrative agriculture and manufacturing projects – to name a few, but progress is being severely eroded by blatantly incompetent leadership. The country has also passed a new regulation that compels pay-TV services, like DStv etc., to share their content with local producers – free of charge.

The pay-TV financial model is based on access to content – making it difficult to compete and make a profit when you’re forced to share it. It’s like telling Microsoft to share its content with IBM or another newcomer in the industry. The total lack of progressive and deftly though-out policies is what constantly hampers the progress of African countries.

The situation in Zimbabwe is a dire one that really needs our attention. The incumbent president blames foreign interference and agendas for the rise in protests, as any dictator does, and responds with bullying, intimidation and arrests, seeing one recently jailed journalist even forced to remove his PPE.

Worse still, is that all this is done so brazenly and with so much impunity while believing that the country’s crucial investors will return, even after the abuse they face. Our leaders are now experts in scoring own goals and biting the hands that feed them…

The situation in South Africa is also something to write home about.

The pandemic has put a huge extra strain on an economy that was already floundering.

Policies and regulations, some of which are left wanting for science-based support, are being made during this time and continue to hinder most businesses.

Yes, we must acknowledge the efforts of our leaders to save lives. But there must be a science-based balance between lives and livelihoods. A recent report revealed that many South Africans prioritised livelihoods – to save jobs and ensure that their families have food on their tables.

Reading articles of heavy-hitting investors like SAB and Heineken cancelling R11 billion in investments due to the alcohol ban, and many others pulling their investment in the country is a major cause for concern. The two aforementioned not only have the capacity to create numerous jobs, but also to contribute billions in excise duties to a near-bankrupt fiscus. Then there’s the domino effect. Giant glass producer Consol, which manufactures beer, wine and spirits bottles, is also hanging on by its fingernails.

It’s time for leaders in government to listen to the many voices of reason.

In personifying African leadership to an abusive partner, there is no night that lasts forever. There will come a point where Africa, her children and those that believe in her will do what is best for their own livelihoods.

Collaboration and partnership must prevail. Our continent’s leaders cannot afford to take these precious relationships for granted. Because once investors and citizens finally choose to leave and never look back, the damage done will be irreversible.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa.

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