“Help me find a container!”

Africa’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive.  And frankly, this is nothing new.

In September 2001, while images of New York’s tumbling towers were being shown on a loop on all television screens in Mogadishu, business leaders there were not too much concerned about geo-politics – yet.

Instead they kept telling me they were looking forward to paying taxes.

Taxes,  in their view, were better than security, transport and energy bills they had to foot themselves in the absence of any working government.

Of course, Somali entrepreneurs already ran banks, telecommunication networks and soda bottling plants. Crucially, they also were in charge of hospitals, schools and security.

Deals were being enforced without courts or even legal framework.

A couple of years before, in Alexandra, one of Johannesburg’s poorest townships,  a single mum working as a self-employed baker approached me with a sudden request: “Where can I find a container? Help me!”.

At the time, the unemployment rate in Alexandra was up to 70 or 80 percent.  Sewers were running out in the open — less than a mile away from Sandton,  Johannesburg’s new banking and business district.

Living with her two young children in a shack, the young mum was earning a living selling buns outside a school.

She knew she had a market and wanted to corner it. She needed capacity – in the form of a container where she would store raw material, set up proper baking facilities and a stall to conduct her business.

I have no idea whether she eventually found a container – and I certainly could not help. But she and thousands of other entrepreneurs like her have been seizing and creating similar opportunities across the continent.

This is what the BBC World Service  Power of The Private Sector series has been showcasing all week on Focus on Africa and Network Africa.

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