Africa’s Flyover Countries

— by

This article lays out a strong argument for why we should work towards democratizing entrepreneurship education in Africa.

In the United States, there is an expression used to describe a great number of states located in the middle of the country, between the two coasts. This expression refers to these states as “the flyover states” and it conveys the fact that people fly over these states going from NY to California. Basically, that these places are not prime destinations, they don’t hold much interest for people. This expression comes to mind when I think about where in Africa we find the most successful, talked about and funded startups and which countries we never hear about when we discuss these topics. The expression the “big 5” is used often to describe the African countries where Africa’s biggest startups call home or the countries that attract the most funding. These are Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Ghana. In 2020 these 5 countries attracted the most funding in this order, with Nigeria attracting the most with $307 million in 2020. Africa has 54 countries, yet these five are the ones we hear from the most. There is a second group of countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and Tunisia that are part of the second tier of countries with successful and well known startups. But what about countries such Djibouti, DRC, Malawi or Lesotho? Are these countries just meant to be idle markets? Are there no entrepreneurs in these places? Much like other flyover countries in Africa, these countries have not produced startups that have been competitive on an international level on the continent.

One of the reasons the big 5 produces strong companies is that they boast the strongest entrepreneurship ecosystems, among other factors. In a strong entrepreneurship ecosystem in Africa, there is an abundance and fairly accessible hubs for entrepreneurial training. A quick google search for incubators and accelerators will show you the dozens of such supportive institutions in these countries. This means aspiring entrepreneurs have the opportunity to learn how to practice entrepreneurship with methodologies that are worthy of the 21st century. It is not because aspiring entrepreneurs in Africa’s flyover countries are less smart, or hard working. One of the reasons is they lack access to entrepreneurship training supportive of building companies that are scalable and capable of getting the traction needed to attract funding. The 2018 Ecosystem Accelerator Africa Tech Hub Landscape published by GSMA shows that the big 5 were home to 202 of the 442 tech hubs present in Africa in 2018. That is almost half of all of the active tech hubs counted in the study. As you can see there is a clear relationship between where funding goes and where supportive institutions are.

“Africa’s next unicorn could come from Djibouti, Eritrea, Gambia, Togo or Lesotho.” 

In one previous blog post “Expats won’t save Africa”, we discussed the need for millions of trained African entrepreneurs in order to tackle the challenges that Africa faces. These millions of entrepreneurs will not only come from 5 African countries. Most of them are in countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Burundi, Malawi, Cameroon, Madagascar and many more ignored countries. Because these flyover countries have not produced startups that have garnered international attention, they are subsequently ignored by funders as well as supportive institutions such as those providing business education to aspiring entrepreneurs in the big 5.

Just like with many things in Africa such as health care, education, food and transportation, there are damaging consequences to inequalities in entrepreneurship education and financing. In most countries the best resources are concentrated in capitals and major cities and people with influence, political, business or otherwise have the easiest path to accessing these resources. Besides geographical and power inequalities, women also have a harder time tapping into resources to transform their ideas into successful businesses. In order for those millions of young aspiring African entrepreneurs to realize their transformative force, it is imperative to democratize and ensure entrepreneurship education is accessible to anyone, anywhere in Africa. At LeanStart Africa, we believe that when African entrepreneurs receive quality business training, they will build more successful businesses. We created our platform to do just that. We are convinced that entrepreneurs in Africa’s flyover states are just as talented and hardworking as any other entrepreneur in the world. We want to contribute to creating a borderless entrepreneurial ecosystem that can create space for entrepreneurs to build successful companies regardless of who they are and where they are from. Africa’s next unicorn could come from Djibouti, Eritrea, Gambia, Togo or Lesotho. 




Our latest updates in your e-mail.

Leave a Reply