A startup culture has taken off in most of sub-Saharan Africa, especially in English speaking countries like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. French-speaking countries have however shown very little growth in their entrepreneurship ecosystems.
A recent report by Russell Southwood, head of Balancing Act Africa, broke down some of the reasons why African Francophone countries like Mali, Senegal and Cameroon have lagged behind their continental counterpart in building a vibrant startups culture.
After visiting three francophone countries in three months, Southwood says the difference in these countries compared to their Anglophone counterparts emanate mostly from a complex mixture of cultural and economical differences.
According to his research, there was a disparity between the language francophone entrepreneurs interacted in and their possible financiers, who are in most cases English speaking.
“Goods travel faster than ideas”
“Because of this, most African francophone start-ups are almost invisible (to financiers) outside of their country of origin,” Southwood said, adding that most Francophone speaking entrepreneurs are not interested in any Anglophone examples of successful startups.
“Only drawing examples and ideas from La Francophonie is rather limiting because although there have been successful French start-ups, there are significantly smaller in number than start-ups from elsewhere. Also start-up investors from France are smaller in number than those from the USA and other parts of Europe,” he said.
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Without any knowledge of English-speaking examples it get much harder for French-speaking startups in the three countries to promote their business ideas in the rest of the continent, limiting both their market and sources of financing.
There are also no local start-up investors in the three mentioned French-speaking countries although an angel investor network has recently started in Cameroon, Southwood said.
The Education system in Francophone Africa also put a lot of emphasis on learning to gain employment mainly in French-speaking conglomerates and gives no space for students to learn how to solve local problems through business.
“Learning to say and do what you’re told and not thinking for yourself is fatal for any start-up culture,” Southwood said. “The ability to speak elegantly and theorize at length are highly prized in Francophone culture.”
Government bureaucracy and general business red-tape is also very heavy in Francophone countries than in Anglophone countries in Africa. This makes business processes much slower and costly for entrepreneurs.
State agencies also do very little to support startups in French-speaking countries, compared to Anglophone African Governments, where supporting start-ups “has become a symbolic act, a sort of acknowledgement that some combination of youth, technology and business will create a very different future,” Southwood said.