A robust educational system remains the best way to ensure a country’s future economic growth. In Africa, countries with developing economies have sought out numerous ways to increase the educational success of their students. One of these educational experiments involves business leaders investing their own time and skills in the education system, a paradigm carried out successfully in Ghana by Patrick Awuah, Jr., the founder of Ashesi University, a liberal arts college located in Berekuso, an hour outside the nation’s capital of Accra. With a liberal arts curriculum designed to help students master critical thinking skills and become successful and ethical entrepreneurs, Ashesi University stands at the forefront of educational improvement efforts in Africa.
Initially, Mr. Awuah considered starting a software company in his native Ghana, but found that few students in the region had experience on actual computer equipment. Instead, he decided to affect substantial change by educating Africa’s future leaders to be competent and ethical problem solvers. Despite initial difficulties in convincing local educational authorities to allow a liberal arts curriculum and establishing the funding to start a nonprofit private university, Ashesi opened in 2002 and began providing a new kind of education for students from Ghana and other African nations.
Mr. Awuah and his fellow administrators have succeeded in changing the lives of millions of Africans by educating students who have gone on to a serve as leaders in a variety of fields. Graduates of the university have created new orphanage models, led peacekeeping missions throughout Africa, organized voter registration systems for national elections, and attained executive positions throughout the public and private sectors. Mr. Awuah hopes to expand Ashesi University’s mission over the next decade by admitting more students from outside Ghana, doubling the student body, and adding courses in economics, engineering, law, and political philosophy.
With the International Monetary Fund predicting that as many as seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world will be in Africa for the next five years, businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the world have expressed interest in expanding their activities on the continent. The major barrier to further economic development is the perception that African markets are too dependent on corruption, with rampant bribery and dishonesty holding back growth. However, this stereotype belies a more complex truth: while corruption exists in Africa, it hardly represents an insurmountable barrier to economic development if companies approach expansion into the region with cultural sensitivity and business savvy.
While Africa may initially seem to represent a daunting market, many companies have had resounding success in countries like China and Russia, which have also suffered from reputations for corruption. Furthermore, what an American businessman might term “corruption” may only be the expression of a longstanding gift-giving culture or other complex social structures. Regardless, corruption in Africa does exist, and ridding the continent of these practices will require business leaders to work hand-in-hand with government institutions to change cultural norms surrounding practices like bribery or extortion. Numerous countries in the region have already made great strides in preventing corruption, and future African leaders will do well to emulate these previous successes.
Meanwhile, those looking to take advantage of Africa’s explosive growth through the next several years will do well to network with thought leaders and government officials to identify power sources by leveraging existing local networks. Businesses will also do well to choose local agents with special care, as well as to strengthen their own integrity processes in order to meet future challenges. Finally, businesses must ensure that their representatives in the region have a mastery of the local laws and customs in order to prevent difficulties while ensuring the full legality of business practices.
The founder of the charitable KBS Foundation, businessman Kashim Bukar Shettima also leads Barbedos Oil and Gas Services Limited, a subsidiary of the Barbedos Group. Wholly Nigerian-owned, Kashim Bukar Shettima’s energy company relies on the health of the greater Nigerian oil and gas industry for its profitability.
In recent years, a number of factors have contributed to a decline in foreign investment in the Nigerian oil and gas industry, despite the country’s rich resource potential. Several reasons for this were noted among the findings of a forum of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) concluded in early September in Aberdeen, Scotland. According to the SPE, the main concerns discouraging companies from investing in Nigeria include poor security, inconsistent government policy, and underdeveloped infrastructure, as well as the excessive cost of operations in Nigeria as compared to other African countries.
At the forum, the Nigerian Content Development and Monitory Board noted that the government is committed to assisting companies that are willing to domesticate certain production capabilities in Nigeria, with the intention of energizing local economies and building up the requisite infrastructure. Additionally, the government has encouraged oil companies to provide internship and training opportunities and to promote research and development programs at Nigerian universities.
With improved cooperation between foreign investors, domestic companies, and the Nigerian government, the vast oil and gas reserves beneath Nigeria could be efficiently and safely exploited for the benefit of all.