Africa is a country if you ask me, our entrepreneurship ecosystems are sisters.

I had the rare privilege to attend the Dakar Policy hackathon that aimed to draft a startup Act that would improve the entrepreneurial environment for startups and young entrepreneurs. Initially I had misgivings, specifically on the language barrier between the east of Africa and the west especially francophone west. Seeing that I hadn’t been to Senegal and Africa Development bank was making this happen in for such a worthy cause, I was elated to represent the Lawyers Innovation Hub at the Dakar Policy Hackathon.

The place of policy in innovation I believe should be passionately pursued by lawyers, however this is not the case presently. Many lawyers, regulators and policy makers are caught in a maze on what exactly innovation and tech mean for the future of regulation and entrepreneurship.

Senegal has a few things right and I will explain how;

One, in coming up with the draft Startup Act, it was obvious the public participation of the ecosystem. The three day event was jointly hosted at three different co-working spaces (Jokko Labs, Impact Hub Dakar and Concree). This ensured that the people came on board both as facilitators and as participants. As a Kenyan whose constitution at article 10 hails Public Participation as a hallmark of citizen engagement, I found this admirable and would carry this with me once we embark on similar initiatives in Kenya.

Secondly, Senegal having ecosystem players come up with their laws ground up means that people self-govern essentially because they best understand their challenges within a particular industry. This is not common in Africa, as legislators would sit at the capital city, come up with laws of an industry they barely understand or lift word for word foreign legislation and input it to a country whose context does not match.

Finally, the idea of a policy hackathon is very 21st century and should be adopted by policy makers. Locally, the law society of Kenya could adopt this as an efficient way of getting feedback on legislation currently before Parliament. Emails sent to lawyers to give comments or asking members of public to present views to parliamentary select committees within a limited period of time will not work in a country where we do most transactions on our phones including Mpesa.

African lawyers and policy makers should quickly learn the pain points of the startup ecosystem and step in to cure them. For instance young entrepreneurs are disrupting traditional models of doing business, with most of them bootstrapping their way through it; however tax rates remain the same regardless of you being a multinational or a startup. In addition, Intellectual property rights is seldom respected in Africa, these are now mere paper rights that cost so much time and money to obtain but most African regulators put the onus on you to assert these rights should there be infringement. Movement of labour across the African continent is a pain, Africa treats the European expat way better than the African ‘migrant’. The cost of work permits and the process of getting them ensures that African startup founders are confined to their countries of origin despite their tech ideas being scalable across the continent. Access to credit to scale is another pain point that policy makers could cure.

 I4Policy drafted the African Innovation Policy manifesto and the Senegal Startup Act is a blueprint that African policy makers could borrow in creating a better environment to spur innovation and entrepreneurship.

Am grateful to the African Development Bank, the World Bank as well as i4Policy in engaging us at the Lawyers Hub to participate in the Dakar Policy Hackathon. It was Such a Creative way to engage on policy reform, am grateful to these partners for getting us to Dakar, Eva Sow Ebion for sweating to bring all of Dakar ecosystem players together. Am excited to be doing this in Kenya very soon with the Lawyers Hub and local partners.

Linda Bonyo Co-founder – Lawyers Hub. Nairobi, Kenya.

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