An ACEYE commentary ……COVID-19: The Entrepreneurs’ dilemma

  • The employees discomfort and the hard lessons for the African and the Africa Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.

Entrepreneurship is the backbone of every economy. The role of entrepreneurs in nation-building could not be undermined by the severity of COVID-19. Since December 2019, with China’s confirmation of the corona virus in Wuhan, entrepreneurs have been at the forefront of using their skills and creativity needed to anticipate needs and bring good new ideas  to mitigate and provide contingencies to curb the spread of the disease.

Culture of success against the culture of managing failure.

Entrepreneurs who defy the odds to take on risks are more likely to become successful and are rewarded with profits, fame, and new levels of growth. Those who circumvent risks are likely to fail, suffer losses, and become less prevalent in the market.

A year ago, the demand for PPE’s, hand sanitizers, nose masks among other purported safeguards was not as high as it is now. Who would have thought that this could happen? Conversely, there is a rapid decline in demand for the labor force in sectors such as oil and gas and hospitality. UNDP predicted that close to half of the jobs in existence could be lost in Africa due to the impact of COVID-19. This also means more jobs need to be created and innovation must be encouraged. The question worth asking is: should the agents of socialization concentrate their efforts on converting talents into jobs or nurture talents even if it might not pay off early? Today’s hardship requires an innovative thought about prosperity.

Half-baked solutions versus a fully integrated solution.

As governments across the world accept lockdown as a solution to end the pandemic, a few in the minority like ACEYE waded into this discourse and has been advocating for an end to all forms of lockdowns. This was and is against what the populists have been advocating for, thus such a stance by a minority is seen as a ‘threat’ to save lives as many people may perceive it to be.

Contrary to this, as an institution working in the greater good of humanity, ACEYE’s primary concern is not limited to fear of death from the novel coronavirus but also encompasses saving lives, saving livelihoods, and safeguarding the rights and freedoms of individuals. Today, the government’s ill performance in tackling COVID-19 is seen by the number of protests and riots that have resurfaced in parts of Africa due to hunger. An example is South Africa. Ethno-nationalism, populism, totalitarianism, and pushback against human rights hinder human development. Unemployment is skyrocketing as many businesses struggle.

No government can end a pandemic by destroying livelihoods.

In the wake of COVID-19, we see governments struggling to procure Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to frontline health workers. Africa’s governments struggled to meet the demands of the time due to financial constraints.

The impact of such discomfort has seen citizens come to the rescue. Whether donations are from faith based-organizations, non-governmental organizations, or donors, there is one thing that could be deduced from this: Entrepreneurs to the rescue. As members of various religious organizations contribute various forms of giving, has this strike many to question the source of wealth? If there are employees among them, one knows their lives are dependent on the income they earn from their respective businesses.

If they are budding entrepreneurs, it is obvious their income is from the business (es) they do. Do not be carried away that donors may be exempted from how businesses help them. Funding from donors is taxpayers’ money. Further tracking the source would mean that the active labor force contributes to this development. Again, entrepreneurs cannot be left off the hook.

The government has a responsibility to make it easier for businesses to thrive.

Why do successive governments not create a conducive environment for businesses to thrive? These are hard lessons that some governments across the continent are most likely not going to learn from. This does not take the shine away from the fewer government who promote the ease of doing business but that their actions should inspire others to learn from.

Unemployment versus ‘Big size government’.

In AU’s recent report on the Impact of Corona Virus (COVID-19) on the African Economy, the report has suggested that there is no reliable and credible data to address unemployment.

In Africa’s most advanced economy, Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s President admitted that Youth Unemployment has become a national crisis. He made this remark during a day ceremony to honor scores of students killed during the 1976 Soweto uprising that drew the attention of the world to apartheid in South Africa.

While the country may have tried to maintain the unemployment rate at 29.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to Statistics South Africa, the impact of COVID-19 and restraints of freedom such as lockdowns deepen the plight of the vulnerable. Today, South Africa’s unemployment rate is forecasted to be 35.313 % in Dec 2020 according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Many African Countries are indifferent to the cyclical nature of unemployment.

Quite strangely, one would have thought a political will would be used as a catalyst to end the vicious cycle of unemployment. Unfortunately, the reverse is true. According to the International Labour Organization’s press release on March 18,2020, estimates between 5.3 million and 24.7 million could be rendered unemployed due to economic shutdowns and lockdowns preventing people from moving and doing business.

Even as the impact is high, the Africa Centre for Entrepreneurship and Youth Empowerment has researched to see if global unemployment has affected employment opportunities of politicians. We are yet to find one. If times are hard and companies are laying off workers, is it not rational to layoff unproductive government appointees? After all, big size government breeds tyranny, corruption, and hinders growth.

Preachers of Price Ceiling are enjoying the rewards of ‘demand and supply’. 

The outbreak of COVID-19 saw the increment of some goods and services. Most especially the products that were enablers of WHO’s protocols such as hand sanitizers and masks. Before the outbreak, a typical hand sanitizer ranged from GHS 2 to GHS 3. In the heat of the pandemic, prices rose steadily to GHS 10 and GHS 15.

This was the basis for lamentation and a call by some citizens for the Government of Ghana to regulate the prices of these items. How soon do some people forget that the rise of some jobs is temporal? How should these people also forget that most often, nobody or little interference is done to their pricing mechanisms especially with the jobs they do? One is quick to say that it is inhumane to charge exorbitant prices in the middle of a pandemic like this. Certainly, that is not crime also. From this, one can draw the line that society cares more about moderation. This is where society should find the balance: morality and love.

What if the government heeded to the call and enacted laws to control the prices of these items? When the government increases prices of these goods, entrepreneurs will produce more; investors are most likely to concentrate their efforts on supporting budding entrepreneurs producing these goods since investors are particular about high returns on their investment. With this, the government may also work in the interest of lobbyists who care about profitable ventures.

On the other hand, if the government had priced this good, in an attempt to make the good affordable, generally, entrepreneurs will shift their focus to new areas of growth, opportunities, and profit. Investor confidence would be on the decline. This would also affect Innovation and discovery. You can consider the plight of the vulnerable in whose interest this legislation is intended to help. In effect, there would have been a shortage of these items. The possibility of the black-market is not far-fetched from the truth.

The government’s ability to allow the forces of demand and supply to operate without any intervention is known as the free-market. Not only does one witness a fall in prices of these items due to economies of scale and healthy competition but also an innovation that satisfies customer needs.

So far, what we know is that governments in Africa have created poverty than wealth. It has been good at protecting itself through legislative powers than allowing the rule of law to enhance individual liberty. In all these, Africans must be guided that popular opinion does not guarantee effectiveness and sustainability. Most often truth rests with the minority, COVID-19 is a good case study thus, question everything as far as you can

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