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In a first for Africa’s Sahel region, entrepreneurs from Senegal to Chad assembled in Niamey, Niger, for the SahelInnov Expo last month to showcase their businesses and exchange ideas. From livestock to drones, all sectors were on display as a new generation of entrepreneurs and start-ups emerges with bold and innovative ways to address the challenges facing their countries and communities. Increasingly recognized as a strategic path to economic growth, supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs has a key impact on development and is generating more interest from governments in the Sahel.
Michaëlle Jean, the Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, His Excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, the President the Republic of Niger, and Almoktar Allahoury, the CEO of CIPMEN.
Photo Credit: CIPMEN
Hosting the event was Niger SMEs Incubator Center (CIPMEN) whose CEO, Almoktar Allahoury, lauded the initiative. “This is the first time all stakeholders have come together: entrepreneurs, public officials, investors, academia and development partners in one place to discuss the many opportunities and remaining obstacles for the private sector — this is just what we need to take the region to the next level.”
Indeed, entrepreneurship could be especially important for this extremely poor region, with half the population living below the poverty line. Burkina Faso and Niger, for example, are among the fastest-growing economies in the world, yet their GDP per capita are just $395 and $652 respectively, compared to the Sub-Saharan African average of $1,647. A vibrant and active entrepreneurial ecosystem would therefore not only boost economic diversification and improve productivity, it also could prove the vital lever to tackling two of the Sahel’s biggest challenges: youth unemployment and climate change.
The devastating combination of climate change, mass migration, trafficking and the rise of violent extremism has resulted in recurring humanitarian crises and massive food insecurity, affecting more than 20 million people across the Sahel in 2015. Enduringly high birth rates, furthermore, will require millions of jobs to be created to respond to the needs of a rapidly growing and increasingly young population. Institutional reach remains weak and a state of protracted insecurity has taken root over vast swathes of territory.
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The private sector continues to be a critical driver of job creation and economic growth. However, several factors can undermine the private sector and, if left unaddressed, may impede development. Through extensive face-to-face interviews with managers and owners of firms, the World Bank Group's Enterprise Surveys benchmark the business environment based on actual experiences of firms. A series of blogs, starting today, share the findings from recently analyzed surveys conducted in several countries.
The Namibia Enterprise Surveys consisted of 580 interviews with firms across three regions and three business sectors – manufacturing, retail, and other services. So what are some key highlights from the surveys?
Exports take on average 8 days to clear through customs but varies according to firm size
In 2013, it took a firm in Namibia about eight days to clear exports through customs, which is considerably more than the two days it took in 2006. Despite this increase, the average time to clear direct exports through customs is still about the same as in the upper middle income countries (8 days) and lower than the Sub-Saharan Africa regional average (10 days). Moreover, there is a wide variation across firm size. For a small firm, it takes about 17 days on average to clear exports through customs, compared to around six days for medium-sized firms and about two days for large firms.
Clearing imports, in contrast, through customs is considerably faster in Namibia (five days) than the average for upper middle income countries (11 days) and Sub-Saharan Africa average (17 days).
“Out of twenty four to twenty six working days a month, we have reliable full days of uninterrupted power for only ten to thirteen days”, is what Mr. Poornachandran, President of the Yarlpanam Chamber of Commerce lamented at a public-private stakeholder consultation hosted by an SME-focused Ministry in Colombo recently. He repeated this gripe at a post-budget discussion held in Colombo this week. Mr. Poornachandran heads the leading business chamber in Sri Lanka’s Jaffna district, which was caught up in the conflict that ravaged the country for thirty years. Building the small and medium enterprise sector in conflict-affected areas is challenging as it is, and many new opportunities are opening up, but the issue of electricity continues to blight the recovery of the region. But it’s not just in war-recovering districts like Jaffna. Mr. Poornachandran shares this frustration with his fellow businessmen in other parts of the country.