Last month a story by Teo Kermeliotis for CNN touted the “bright, independent and tech savvy entrepreneurs using creative thinking and the power of innovation to take over Africa’s economic destiny.” Kermeliotis focused on Idris Ayodeji Bello, a thirty-three-year-old Nigerian who, last year, co-founded the Wennovation Hub, a “technology space” that enables “ambitious entrepreneurs to come together and develop their trailblazing ideas into successful businesses.” Bello styles himself an “Afropreneur.”
Tumaini, a woman I met several weeks ago in Dareda Kati, also practices entrepreneurship, along with several other village women who work with her, using local materials, to make reasonably fuel-efficient and smoke-reducing cooking stoves. Within the last year, Chinese contractors and Tanzanian laborers have finished pushing a tarmacked road from the big city of Arusha all the way through and past Dareda Kati. Thanks to the new road, traveling thirteen miles from Dareda Kati to the bustling town of Babati is now far less of a hardship than it had been in the past. Tumaini and her co-workers can find many times the number of potential customers in Babati that they could find in their own village.
I’m not sure, however, that any of these women fit the profile of the slick Afropreneur that Kermeliotis depicts and that Bello embodies. Tumaini and her friends work on their knees and make the stoves with their hands, in a crudely-built hut that is not much bigger than the bathroom in a typical American middle-class home. Depending on its size and cooking capacity, the stove will sell for between three and five dollars. Perhaps the Afropreneur is, at least so far, an essentially urban phenomenon.
I intend no criticism of what Bello and others like him are trying to do. But the benefits of their achievements might take a while to get to places like Dareda Kati, where the immediate needs remain basic. To rural villages, for now, the efforts of people like Bello may hold less relevance than do the words of Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Nwanze spoke this past March in Ethiopia:
“Investments in agriculture are more effective in lifting people out of poverty than investments in any other sector—they not only drive economic growth and set the stage for long-term sustainable development, they pay high dividends in terms of quality of life and dignity for poor rural people” (http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate/article/default.asp?ID=9347).
Because we at Karimu (http://www.karimufoundation.org/) agree with Nwanze, we are pleased to announce a challenge grant offered only a few days ago by someone who has given generously to us over the last few years. This friend of Karimu, who wants to preserve anonymity, has pledged to match every dollar donated to Karimu, up to $1,500, to start the community farm project that Paul Yoronimo, Head Teacher at Ufani Primary School, began talking about two years ago.
Paul has been looking for a low-interest loan, and our friend promises to ask for no more than a fraction of Tanzania’s standard bank interest rate of between twenty and twenty-five percent. Paul’s idea is that participating villagers would supplement the foreign capital with their own monthly contributions of a few dollars each, enabling them to buy high-profit livestock, especially hogs. Hogs have been beyond the purchasing power of nearly all of Dareda Kati’s subsistence farmers. If we can find a way to match our donor’s generosity, the fifty-odd farmers who have joined Paul’s community association will see profits that they have hardly dared to dream about, and far in excess of what they will need in order to repay the loan.
Their profits will, as Nwanze rightly argues, “pay high dividends in terms of quality of life and dignity.”