In a metal tube 40,000 feet above the ground, anything can go horribly wrong. A survivor recounts the moments before her plane crashed, and pilots tell us why we needn’t be as apprehensive today.
This is your captain speaking, we are about to land,” said the voice on the intercom, as the passengers fastened seat belts.
The plane was descending calmly when it suddenly began to shake – vigorously.
A woman started shrieking.
Shock and horror all around.
Two students held hands in prayer.
In minutes – but what seemed like an eternity – the aircraft crashed into the ground, bursting into flames, killing 108 passengers.
Kechi Okwuchi, one of the two students who prayed, lived to tell the tale.
She was also one of only two survivors.
Thirteen years on, her scars, external and internal, run deep.
On December 10, 2005, 16-year-old Okwuchi, from Imo State in Nigeria, was heading home for Christmas with her school mates.
She was traveling on Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 from Abuja to Port Harcourt.
“I remember just being in shock at what was going on and I couldn’t quite grasp that this was reality. You only see these kind of things in the movies. You never actually are involved in it. It is just surreal,” she recounts to FORBES AFRICA.
“I remember the plane was late and when we all boarded, everything was normal.”
Okwuchi was in an aisle seat next to one of her friends.
“It wasn’t until about 15-20 minutes before we landed that things started to get a little crazy and the turbulence kind of got out of hand,” she says.
“People started panicking. I remember a lady in the back who screamed and that was what got everyone in chaos and screaming. The last thing I remember was hearing these metal scrapping sounds, whose origins I didn’t know. It was just this loud sound in my head.”
The plane had crashed.
“My next memory after that was seeing my hand raised up in front of me like I was lying and I could see my skin hanging off my arm. And I was looking at my hand back and forth…My skin was hanging,” she says of the aftermath.
Five weeks later, Okwuchi opened her eyes again for the first time since the crash. She was now at the Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, being treated for third degree burns that scarred her entire body.
She was told none of her school mates had survived.
“Prior to that time, I thought that I if I was alive, everyone else was alive,” says Okwuchi.
“I just remember feeling shock and my friends’ faces were flashing before my eyes like someone flipping a scrap book in front of me…I was in that state of shock, depression and denial for about two-three days, just crying and crying.
“No one could comfort me from the pit of depression I was in,” she says.
To date, Okwuchi has undergone more than 100 surgeries – she has almost lost count.
At the time of the interview with FORBES AFRICA, she had just undergone yet another surgery in Los Angeles.
Okwuchi’s life is a miracle.
Despite the experience, she says she is not afraid of flying. She is a frequent flyer now pursuing a busy career.
She is studying for an MBA degree at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.
She is also a vocalist, and has released her first single after being a finalist on the 12th season of America’s Got Talent last year.
Auditioning in front of thousands, including celebrities Simon Cowell, Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum, she fearlessly performed a rendition of Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud after sharing her life story.
She is also now a motivational speaker and has featured in TED Talks.
The same decade as Okwuchi’s crash – the 2000s – Nigeria had experienced five major and fatal plane crashes. Experts suggested they were due to engine failure, bad weather, poor airport design or dysfunctional runway lighting.
Since then, the number of airplane accidents have thankfully declined.
On a continental level, a quick Google search reveals 23 headline-grabbing plane crashes in Africa in the first decade of this century.
Post 2010, there were five, the deadliest being the Algerian Air Force Il-76 crash as recently as April 11, 2018, when all 257 people on board were killed.
One of the reasons airplane accidents have come down today is thanks to the advancement of aviation technology. And thanks to phone cameras and social media, we also have better insight into what happens moments before an air accident.
However, to date, no technology has been able to solve one of the planet’s biggest unsolved mysteries – the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 in 2014 with 239 people on board.
The same year as the Sosoliso plane crash, thousands of kilometers from Nigeria, trainee pilot Noni Radebe was doing her first ‘night test’ in South Africa.
In the pitch-black sky, the 19-year-old was all by herself in the small plane hovering over Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape.
In the middle of the flight, the engines began to fail. Radebe felt unusual vibrations. Some plane components simply stopped working.
Panic and shock consumed her.
The plane began to lose altitude and flew over a dense forest.
Radebe couldn’t see anything and her plane started losing power. Her only hope was to try and somehow land it on any empty stretch of land.
“I had only been taught to respond to [such a situation] in daylight,” she says recalling what she thought would have been the end of her career – and her life.
In the end, with great trepidation, she somehow managed to land the plane on the runway of her training school.
She passed her pilot’s test and went on to become one of South Africa’s pioneering female pilots. Redebe has been flying commercial planes for the last 13 years.
She currently flies her dream plane, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 for Comair, which has advanced technological systems.
“We have reached a point where you can basically land when you cannot see the ground. That’s how good the technology has become,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
She no longer panics in an emergency. She remains calm and reacts quickly to any potential danger in the air.
She finds flying one of the most enjoyable experiences on earth.
“By the time you actually line up on that runway and are ready to take off, it feels like you’ve been orchestrating this humongous stage play,” she says.
Radebe hopes to train young pilots to be better equipped for situations like the one she encountered during her first flight alone.
‘AT LEAST 500,000 PILOTS OVER THE NEXT 20 YEARS’
In Germiston, a small city in the East Rand region of Gauteng in South Africa, we meet yet another pilot, Rico Botha, who trains young aspirants at the U-Fly Training Academy in what used to be South Africa’s main international airport, the Rand Airport.
We are with Botha in a flight simulation room, and he fishes out his mobile phone.
He shows us an app on it displaying as many as 10,000 planes criss-crossing the globe in real time.
On the app, they are tiny yellow airplane symbols like colonies of ants. The app makes
it easy for anyone to keep track of the planes traveling in and out of various destinations.
“As air travel is predicted to increase over the next couple of years, we are going to have more planes in that same amount of airspace,” says Botha.
“They predict there will be at least 500,000 pilots over the next 20 years.”
He says there have been significant safety improvements with the arrival of advanced technology.
At the moment, a Boeing 737 is produced 47 times every month catering to a strong worldwide demand. The world’s other leading aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, has been flying the A380 for a decade and is the world’s largest passenger jet.
However, with more planes in the sky, pilot-training has to be undertaken with utmost caution and precision.
“One of the worst things to happen to a pilot is when [he/she] has lost a passenger. Nobody dies on your watch. It’s normally a career-breaker for a lot of people because it was your job to keep them safe…that guilt normally ends a lot of careers,” he says.
With the sky as your daily office, being a pilot may seem like one of the most glamorous jobs on the planet, but it comes with its own baggage of stress.
You can hit air pockets anytime in your career if not alert.
Aside from illnesses, if pilots go through any form of depression or trauma, psychometric tests are done and if they fail, they are deemed unfit to fly.
In 2015, a German co-pilot committed suicide by crashing his aircraft, killing all 144 passengers and crew members in the process. He initiated a deliberate descent until the aircraft impacted a mountain and blew up. Doctors had declared him “unfit to work” but he allegedly concealed that information from his employers.
“Family life is also a very big factor – your wife, your kids. You are going to miss birthdays, you are going to miss Christmas, you are going to miss the birth of your kids. These things do affect pilots and they do tend to become a little depressed at times,” Botha explains.
As for the planes, a thorough inspection must be conducted before take-off.
Botha takes us to one of the planes he uses for training purposes and demonstrates how a simple issue such as water mixing with fuel could cause combustion.
“Because fuel is so dense, you need to make sure there isn’t any water that gets in because water actually sinks in the fuel reserve,” Botha says, showing us a fuel test tube with water.
Both Radebe and Botha praise the level of training they have received.
“The training and level of maintenance in South Africa is one of the greatest in the world,” Radebe says.
Botha agrees, saying a majority of his students are overseas students who choose to study aviation in South Africa as opposed to their own countries.
“Africa is very much on par in terms of technology and also in terms of safety and training with the rest of the world,” says Radebe.
“Technology is changing every single day…
“[Planes are] burning less fuel, [there’s] less carbon emissions and they are much better for the environment…we are [using only] half the fuel we used 10 years ago just to get to Durban from Johannesburg…,” she says.
With an estimated 10,000 planes flying at any given moment, there is a sizeable population of humans up in the air, hopeful technology is on their side and that their pilots are not having a bad day.
Sit Back, Relax And Enjoy…?
These business travelers and frequent flyers have encountered some nerve-racking moments.
Country General Manager, Southern Africa for Travelport
Before Travelport, her job entailed traveling to over 22 African countries. There’s one particular flying experience she will never forget.
Working in the mining industry, Thorne, only 22 at the time, boarded a chartered plane from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi in the DRC. It was a 45-minute flight.
“I remember it so clearly. It was a Rolls-Royce – the engine was literally almost held together with duct tape. And then I got on to the plane and that was the time I literally saw nuts and bolts next to me. So yes, petrified wasn’t even the word,” she says.
“I still have so much to accomplish in this life,” says the 37-year-old who finds herself on a plane at least four to eight times a month.
International model, writer, actress, lawyer
Turbulence while on a plane is Hopa’s worst nightmare.
“I suppose in my own mind it would feel like I should say a prayer because I’m about to die. That’s what I at least thought initially,” she says.
“It’s a resilient discomfort, I have to say,” says the 29-year-old.
Her first overseas flight was to the Sundance Film Festival in the United States. It was 23 hours of flying that Hopa had to endure including transit stops.
Due to albinism, Hopa has problems with her eye sight and requested special assistance.
“When I got there, they gave me a wheelchair and said ‘no, if you want special assistance, you have to sit in the wheelchair’,” Hopa laughs. “I don’t need the wheelchair, I just need somebody to walk with me; the issues are with my eyes and not my legs,” Hopa told them.
In the end, the South African model, known to sashay down the country’s fashion runways, was pushed through the terminal on a wheelchair. It was an amusing on-ground experience.
If anything were to happen mid-flight, Hopa says her first thoughts would be her immediate family.
CEO and Founder, MAPP Africa and BmDodo Strategic Design
Resident in Canada, Dodo often travels to South Africa for business and to Zimbabwe, his home country.
There was that one flight he was on overseas that failed to take off.
He was headed to Havana from Montreal, and the passengers waited on the plane for two hours due to some technical issues before take-off.
“They didn’t explain why or give us anything to eat or drink that entire time,” he says. It was stressful not knowing the perceived danger.
As a frequent flyer, Dodo says flying is “taken for granted and the experience is no longer special”.
“I remember when people would clap once the plane has landed. Now, it doesn’t happen… it’s become really commuting more than flight travel,” he says.
He has dressed up the rich and famous including tech billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, and the first lady of South Africa, Tshepo Ramaphosa.
His work takes him places, and he says he travels on a plane at least eight times a year.
He recalls a flight he once took from Cape Town to Johannesburg in the midst of a raging thunderstorm.
“We were all looking at each other like ‘what next?’ It was very scary. Suddenly you are feeling your stomach, your heart and your head, and praying!” he says.
The pilot had to turn back.
Eboka is grateful aviation technology has come a long way today.
“We feel a lot safer and we feel like the plane is becoming more and more intelligent,” he says.
Eboka’s philosophy has prepared him for any exigency.
“I plan as if I am going to live forever and I live as if I am going to die tomorrow,” he says.
Lifting The Heavy Veil On Wedding Costs
With pockets as deep as gold mines, how far are couples willing to go to have the picture-perfect luxe wedding?
The lagoons overlook the snow-white beaches with its swaying coconut trees, embraced by the turquoise waters of the sea in the island nation of Mauritius. It’s a scene straight out of a movie, with a couple cavorting in the distance.
Over 100 guests from South Africa have also gathered on these sands for the weekend wedding of businessman Lebo Gunguluza and his long-term girlfriend Lebo Mokoena.
The total cost of this union: almost $300,000.
“I didn’t mind exceeding the budget, because you only do this once,” says new bride Mokoena.
The couple flew over 30 guests and provided them with five-star accommodation at the LUX* Grand Gaube. Part of the guest contingency included the behind-the-scenes crew for the wedding, as well as the speakers who had to spend four to seven days in Mauritius to prep up.
“We did not want to have a local wedding because we wanted our guests and family to have a different experience. We also wanted our family members who did not have passports and have never flown out of the country to experience a different country,” Gunguluza says.
The weekend celebrations started on a Friday last September with a cocktail meet-and-greet party. Belly dancers who were dressed in floral red and yellow danced the evening away with guests, with a local band taking them to the all-white party on Saturday.
This was just a build-up to the romantic wedding reception with shades of blush, ivory, and gold which was to take place on Sunday at 4PM.
“Every time I think about that day, I want to do it again,” the new bride says.
The couple chose not to have bridesmaids and groomsmen and the guests were encouraged to dress in black and white.
“I didn’t have bridesmaids because it makes you choose between your friends. I felt that if you got an invite to our wedding, you were worthy enough. So, we wanted everyone to be bridesmaids and groomsmen. I think we made it intimate and everybody felt like they were VIPs,” says Mokoena.
Everything fit perfectly as the bride’s two white wedding dresses were designed by Antherline Couture.
For the ceremony, she wore a white ball gown with a diamanté top heavily embellished with beads; while the groom looked dapper in a white tuxedo jacket designed by Master Suit SA.
The color white was indeed conspicuous.
“I have always felt that white is pure and because I was signing my life away, I felt I needed to be pure, hence I said my husband needed to wear white as well,” she adds.
The lavish white wedding was organized by renowned wedding planner Precious Tumisho Thamaga who ditched her seven-year career in Public Relations & Marketing to become an event planner.
Thamaga organizes events and weddings for affluent clients such as the Gunguluzas.
“They are busy people and they don’t have time to do the administration and the back and forth of vetting in suppliers,” Thamaga says, as she takes over the pain of wedding planning.
While working in the corporate world, she had attended many weddings that she felt were put together in a way that created a disconnect between the guests and the wedding couple.
“So I saw an opportunity in the fact that there were not a lot of wedding planners that were black,” Thamaga says.
She decided to focus on corporate clients in order to turn her passion into a profitable business.
“A lot of people did not expect a black person to be professional and take the business seriously.
“It was not just a hobby or someone helping out a family. It was an actual business and I made sure that I got taken seriously from the onset,” Thamaga says.
In order for Precious Celebrations (the name of her company) to prosper, she had to have a business strategy in place.
“I made sure that I put a lot of time and effort and strategized properly what it was that I wanted to actually focus on, and find a niche [in]. I believed that would separate me from somebody that was already in the industry,” Thamaga says.
However, her job is not always alluring.
“When I started in the industry there weren’t so many wedding planners and now it is a different story and everyone thinks it is easy-peasy and it is glamorous,” she says.
Planning a luxurious wedding takes eight to 12 months and can cost anywhere between R300,000 ($20,813) to R4.5 million ($312,203).
The most expensive wedding Thamaga planned was for a public figure she cannot disclose the name of.
“It was a destination wedding and the experience from when the guests arrived to the wedding day was memorable. When they arrived, we had a cocktail party and we had activities like canoeing and on Sunday we had an all-white party. [This is] so that people don’t depart on Sunday and may leave on Monday.”
Only the affluent sign up.
“The smallest wedding that I have had to plan had 80 people and it cost R2 million ($138,000),” Thamaga says.
She has turned away some clients in the past because their budget was insufficient for the type of wedding they envisioned.
Thamaga organizes 26 weddings, on average, annually, from countries such as Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and now she plans on taking her bespoke company global.
One of the unique aspects of her business is that she has maintained a good relationship with the suppliers she has in each country, and has kept her expenses to a minimum.
“The wedding planning-event planning industry is quite lucrative if you do it right. I am not the type that would have too much inventory because I want to feel like the inventory belongs to me; that would limit my creativity,” she says.
“I make sure that I don’t have a lot of expenses, I have coordinators that I have worked with for years and they have full-time jobs.”
Thamaga’s greatest challenge so far was whether or not to outsource other wedding planners when her business was increasing.
“It can be a bit daunting to realize that your business is growing,” she says.
But she opted to remain boutique.
“I had to decide that it is not about the money. I am building an empire where I want a legacy and an ongoing relationship with my clients.”
She involves her clients every step of the way to bring their vision to an unforgettable reality, and believes that weddings are expensive because of the growing aspirations of the young.
“It is not just in South Africa, it is worldwide,” she says.
Despite the tangible costs of conducting these dream events, the wedding industry in South Africa is largely unregistered as it is a fluid market where services and costs are difficult to track and document accurately.
Africans, no doubt, spend millions per year on costs associated with marital ceremonies. This is the reality of the unregistered wedding industry. Despite the recession and slow economic growth, the wedding industry continues to attract many entrepreneurs to its lucrative opportunities.
As, people never stop getting married.
The Marriages and Divorces report released by Statistics South Africa last May shows an upward trend in civil marriages. Civil marriages increased by 0.6%, from 138,627 marriages registered in 2015 to 139,512 in 2016.
A wedding dress is an important part of a celebration and the bridal couture market continues to show growth.
Wise Guy Reports Database Global Wedding Dress Market Insights, forecast to 2025, states: “The wedding market demand grows continually, and the wedding garments market has notable increase every year. In this case, the competition is also very intense among companies. The involved companies should seize the opportunities to expand the gold mine.”
A previous client of Thamaga’s has spent R200,000 ($13,876) on two wedding dresses and this is nothing for Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous.
He moved to South Africa in 1992 at a time when African designs were not being celebrated globally.
Twenty years ago, Eboka sold wedding dresses for R15,000 ($1,041) a piece, and now sells for R250,000 ($17,344) a piece, depending on the design.
“A designer of my caliber in South Africa is undersold because there are people in the United States selling wedding gowns for $250 and I am here selling them for maybe $80, it just doesn’t make sense. It shows that our economy is really bad because a designer of my caliber should be operating on the same level as them, or very close,” Eboka says.
He is a luxury designer.
“When you think of luxury, it is not just the product, it is not just the textile – it is the whole experience from when you drive in, to when you sit down and have the designer talk to you and learn about your life. The whole artistic process contributes to the cost value of the gown.”
He says that the reason wedding gowns are expensive is because they are meant to be timeless pieces.
“Traditionally, wedding gowns are classical couture. It is not like the normal evening dress that you wear to look beautiful on one night. A wedding dress is like training for the Olympics. You train for them for the rest of your life,” he says.
Eboka also says when designing a wedding gown, you need to take time to know the client, family and their fancies in order to meet the clients’ need.
The material of the wedding gown is usually expensive because he sources the textiles from across the world, and he takes two to three months to create a gown, depending on the embellishments.
“My designs have a lot of artistry,” he says.
Eboka is a wealthy man but he still believes that the industry is not as lucrative as it could be.
“But we do well, without being arrogant about it… You have to be fully aware of the industry and have the intellectual capacity to understand the potential of the market,” he says.
Pictures are an important element of a wedding because they capture the moment for life.
International award-winning photographer Daniel West meets his clients in a restaurant so he can get to know them better and learn the history of their relationship.
“We, as photographers, need to click with each couple, it is actually vital because we are going to be in their space from the beginning to end.
“So, when we do not gel, we are going to find ourselves in an awkward situation on the day because we, as photographers, are also problem-solvers. We don’t just take pictures on the day,” West says.
His packages start from R18,000 ($1,248) to R60,000 ($4,163) and he says it is because the couple is paying for the quality of the work. His packages include waterproof genuine leather-bound photo albums that he says last a lifetime, as well as 500 images that are both edited and unedited. He also arranges the location for the photoshoots.
“It is more than about taking pictures on the day, anybody can take pictures but the work that I do has more of a boutique feel,” he says.
“You pay to have something like this on the table that will last you a lifetime,” West says.
He does not only take pictures on the day but the photoshoots can take up to three months.
“Each couple that I take pictures of has a different story and that is where I draw my inspiration.”
West says that it takes a while for the business to get to a point that is profitable because photographic equipment is expensive.
“In the beginning, it is unfortunately not lucrative because you have to look into getting the equipment that is up to standard, however, it took me about seven years where I could get to a point that I could make a business out of it,” West says.
His annual turnover before expenses is R800,000 ($55,502) and he has about 25 clients a year.
He believes that the industry is regarded as valuable in South Africa and it is growing because people are becoming more enlightened about the photography industry. And social media has become an important motivator driving this industry.
“It is vital to have a good photographer for your wedding, because you as a bride are not quite educated of what is out there and what is not [in terms of photography].”
A good photographer needs to have foresight.
“The quality and charisma of your photographer is really one of the most important things you pay for because if something were to go wrong on your wedding, like rain, what does your photographer do? Do they stand back or make a plan?” he says.
Other luxe services associated with weddings include limos and chauffeur services, and florists, live music bands and gourmet caterers flown from around the world. The more money you are willing to throw, the more sparkling the champagne, crystal and caviar on the beach
Why Science Matters So Much In The Era Of Fake News And Fallacies
Democracy and social progress die without science and fact-based knowledge. Science and facts are the foundational basis for rational and logical disputation and the possibility of reaching some truths.
Fake news, on the other hand, is a calculated assault on democratic freedoms.
The power of the notion of fake news and of its practitioners is demonstrated by how we have all quickly come to accept that there is a category of news called fake news. By doing so, we are running the real risk of being complicit in its legitimisation. My point is: if it’s fake then it’s not news. There is news, and then there is fake stuff, dodgy facts, distortions and lies.
So what’s the connection between science, knowledge and facts?
What makes good science
Science is one important means of producing knowledge and getting to what approximates the truth. Good science results from rigorous processes. Part of the rigour in science and knowledge creation is the peer review process, which is a means of ensuring not only the correctness of facts, but also transparency.
Science must generally also meet the test of replicability. These days data used in scientific experiments often also has to be preserved so it can be assessed or analysed if results are disputed. Ethical norms also govern scientific experiments to prevent harm.
Science is not the absolute truth. Scientific findings are the beginning, not the end, of the quest for truth. Empirical data used in science that can be verified forms a sound basis for robust discussion, debate and decision-making. Science brings a degree of rationality that creates a higher probability that the best interest of society or the public interest will be taken into account in, for example, decision-making.
Science, then, is the habit of exercising the mind to help think through especially difficult and complex phenomena.
This makes science important in the exercise of democracy. This isn’t possible without facts and information that enable – or aid – voters to make an informed choice in elections, for example, or help the making of sound policies that best promote the public interest. Science also enables discerning members of the public to make sense of their worlds and the world.
So-called fake news
Fake news, on other hand, is a set of at worst, manufactured or concocted facts that are a perversion of reality. It is the direct antithesis of science.
But fake news isn’t new. It’s as old as news itself and has a variety of aims, including propaganda and spin doctoring. It can be argued that the growth of spin doctoring in the 1990s is the precursor to the exponential growth of fakery. It has also been enabled by the decline of content that enriches public discourse in the context of commercialisation and concentration of media since the 1980s.
These developments led to a decline in the influence of public interest media or media that strikes the balance between commercial enterprise and the public good. And this has led to the reduction in the kind of news and media content that focuses on science.
Science journalism and investigative journalism, in particular, have seriously declined. This has meant that the ability to shine a light on the dark areas of lack of knowledge, superstition, and myths has seriously been diminished.
Specialist reporting is now confined to the content-rich ghettos of those who are highly educated or interested.
Another reason for the growth of fake news and its increasing influence is the loss of confidence in public institutions, including media institutions and the profession of journalism. Fakery has risen to fill the vacuum, driven by individuals and political organisations who position themselves as messiahs with instant solutions to multiple social crises. In their discourse knowledge institutions, science, facts, evidence, experts and reason or rationality are thrown out of the window as the sophistry of the elite.
The role of social media
Digital technologies and social media have made it much easier to produce and disseminate fake news. It is a paradox: unprecedented scientific advances and technologies are enabling us to transcend traditional constraints of distribution and literally place information at people’s fingertips. Yet these same technologies seem to facilitate more fake news and information that doesn’t necessarily advance the public good.
In addition, social media largely exists outside the professional norms of fact checking and the use of evidence to support assertions, arguments and positions taken in relation to social phenomena.
Fact checking and peer review are more important than ever because of the reality that false information now flows freely. This can be extremely harmful, particularly in public health campaigns.
The attraction of fake news is its apparent simplicity. It has a ring of truth around its claims, even when these are outlandish, and its ability to seem to resonate with what people think are their life-worlds or everyday life. Its ability to reinforce stereotypes, including prejudices, makes a bad situation even worse.
Science, facts and knowledge will save humanity
Science journalism and investigative journalism which seek to pursue the truth rather than just the reporting of events, are critically important in this age of fake news and fallacies.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the sustainability of the idea of humanity and the environment in the broadest sense of the word depends on science – or the respect for facts, evidence and experts.
Science that allows the public to have a nuanced understanding of life is important to building inclusive, open societies that enable public participation in decision making and progressive social agendas. Science disseminated in ways that are understood by the public and resonate with their life-worlds is important for building trust in reformed institutions and creating new forms of social cohesion in diverse societies.
–Tawana Kupe; Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University, University of Pretoria
Entrepreneurship Funds In Africa: Distinguishing The Good From The Bad
Entrepreneurs have a pivotal role to play in Africa’s unemployment crisis. Today over a third of the continent’s young workforce (those aged 15-35) are unemployed. Another third are in vulnerable employment. By 2035, Africa will contribute more people to the workforce each year than the rest of the world combined. By 2050 it will be home to 1.25 billion people working aged.
To absorb these new entrants, Africa needs to create over 18 million new jobs each year. Governments need to put in place policies that drive economic growth and competitiveness. These in turn, will enable the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is important because they currently play a significant role in low-income countries, representing nearly 80% of jobs. They are also responsible for 90% of new ones created each year.
The challenge for countries is how to support the growth of SMEs. Various African governments have experimented with ways to help address the US$140 billion funding gap for startups and SMEs. For example, one approach has been to set up entrepreneurship funds.
Based on my experience of watching their performance over the past 18 years, I would issue some words of caution. Some entrepreneurship support models work better than others. And how they are set up – particularly the governance structures put in place to manage them – is key to their success, or failure.
Access to financing is consistently listed as the biggest obstacle to business for SME’s in African countries. They often face double digit interest rates from local banks. And venture capital penetration is still extremely low. Top end 2018 estimates put it at about $725 million for the whole continent.
To tackle the problem, African countries continue to start new entrepreneurship funds. In July 2017 Ghana launched the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan. The aim is to provide integrated national support for start-ups and small businesses.
Almost a year later, Rwanda secured a $30 million loan from the African Development Bank for the establishment of the Rwandan Innovation Fund. This will focus on investments in tech-enabled SMEs.
As new funds are started, African countries must look to the successes and failures of both global and regional funds to replicate best practices and avoid common pitfalls. African governments should explore replicating models similar to Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and the USAID backed enterprise funds. Both include robust investment selection criteria for funds.
In doing so, African government-backed entrepreneurship funds would operate as fund-of-funds – where a fund invests in another private equity or venture fund rather than directly in businesses themselves – as do many development finance institutions globally such as the UK’s CDC or FMO of the Netherlands.
The what and the how
The fund of funds structure creates an arm’s length relationship between the government agency that houses the entrepreneurship fund and the businesses that eventually receive investment. In between, sits a professional fund manager that earns the majority of its income from making good investments, growing companies and exiting them after a period of five to seven years. In this way, there are natural disincentives for corruption and market-based selection criteria for the entrepreneurs who receive investment.
How the fund managers are selected also matters. To ensure true investment independence from the government, fund managers and board members must be chosen in a transparent and competitive process. And once selected, representatives of the government entrepreneurship fund agency can sit on the investment committee for oversight purposes but should respect the fund managers’ independent decision-making.
There are examples of funds being set up without the necessary independent, accountable fund managers. One is the YouWin program in Nigeria. Created in 2016, it was set up to help youth entrepreneurs grow businesses. But senior civil servants handed out awards to friends and relatives.
Government supported fund managers through the FoF model can also catalyse additional investment. By operating in markets and sectors often ignored by traditional private equity funds, Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and enterprise funds have mobilized additional capital for investment-starved companies. African government-backed entrepreneurship funds could do the same by participating in blended finance deals with development finance institutions, social-impact investment funds, local banks and other market players to back growing firms.
While not actively managing the funds’ portfolio investments, governments have a key role to play in guiding the funds priorities. Priorities may vary by country and given Africa’s growing rates of unemployment, funds should prioritise job creation by evaluating investment on key performance indicators. These would include the number of jobs created per dollar invested, indirect jobs created per dollar invested, and average salary of job. In addition to job creation, governments can direct funds to focus on specific sectors either in need of increased capital or high-growth areas in local economies.
Beyond establishing investment criteria, government-backed funds should prioritise rigorous measurement of investment results and long-term data tracking to inform future investment decisions. The UK British Bank regional growth fund found the cost per job created varied considerably by project from £4,000 to over £200,000. It concluded that a better allocation of funds could have led to thousands more jobs created for the same resources.
Data driven investments can not only lead to a better results, but further curtail issues around potential mismanagement of funds.
Tackling Africa’s job creation challenge requires innovative thinking and initiatives that support private sector-led growth. Looking to the model of Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and enterprise funds, African governments can spur local ecosystems and drive new private capital to regions today seen as unfriendly or too risky to outside investors.
Properly structured investments today could yield much larger dividends tomorrow.
-Aubrey Hruby; Senior Fellow, Africa Center, Georgetown University
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