[Kgothatso Meka] Building Africa, Our Way – A Foundry Fellow’s Reflections from Kenya

South African entrepreneur in affordable housing Kgothatso Meka, reflects on his Foundry Fellowship journey, highlighting Kenya’s innovation ecosystem and the need for self-driven African solutions.

Five years ago, I embarked on an audacious journey as a South African entrepreneur, tackling affordable housing head-on. Facing some of the continent’s most structural issues firsthand, has been empowering, exhilarating and, sometimes, downright scary. The reality of operating a business in Africa presents multifaceted challenges, often rooted in the legacies of colonialism and exacerbated by weak governance. Rampant corruption within governmental institutions stifles economic progress and discourages foreign & local investment, perpetuating a cycle of underdevelopment.

The sobering reality of the challenges led me to a crossroads; a point in my leadership and entrepreneurial journey where solutions beyond the familiar were necessary. As fate would have it, I was selected to be part of the Foundry Fellowship which was created by Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT ,an organization founded on the belief that entrepreneurs and their market-driven solutions are critical to advancing sustainable prosperity across global growth markets. Each year, accomplished African entrepreneurs join the Legatum Center’s transformative Foundry Fellowship. This six-month program fosters collaboration, deepens insights, and unlocks access to vibrant innovation ecosystems through experiential tours across the continent.

The Fellowship’s immersive curriculum included an eye-opening ecosystem tour of Nairobi, Kenya. To say I was pleasantly surprised by Kenya’s entrepreneurial landscape would be an understatement. Contrary to the dominant media narrative, Kenya’s entrepreneurial spirit pulsates with energy. Game-changing solutions like M-PESA and Pezesha, born from African ingenuity, tackle local challenges effectively, reminding us that Africa’s true answers lie within.

A profound lesson came from one of our interactions with Vishal Argarwal, Chairman & CEO of Full Circle Africa, a propriety investment firm that invests in pre-seed to Series A scalable tech enabled African businesses. Having invested in several companies across the world, Vishal challenges African innovators to go a step further by aiming to create solutions for the world and not just their countries or regions. M-PESA and Pezesha are testaments to this, showcasing the scalability of African innovation. We must believe in our solutions, for nobody else will champion them for us.

An essential factor that warrants careful consideration, particularly for the Kenyan government, is that while there are evident advantages in welcoming foreign companies and capital into the Kenyan economy, this should not be done at the expense of neglecting the development of the people of Kenya and crucial institutions such as universities and local capital markets. As a Rothschild alumnus, I am reminded of the words of one of the biggest financiers of the colonial project, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, “Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws”. Africans need not forget that in the annals of history, the relationship between the Western world and Africa has been fraught with complexities, marked by centuries of exploitation, oppression, and systematic dismantling of African societies. From the historical plunder of resources and ravages of the transatlantic slave trade to the scourge of colonialism and neo-imperialism, Western powers have left an indelible imprint of suffering and devastation across the African continent. Yet, amidst this legacy of exploitation and subjugation, many African countries still cling to the belief that Western intervention holds the key to unlocking the continent’s vast potential. The harsh reality is that the West has never been a benevolent force for Africa, and there is little indication that this will change, especially in the context of today’s cutthroat global economy where self-interest reigns supreme and where neocolonial power structures linger.

I, for one, challenge the narrative of Western benevolence and instead advocate for African agency. We, as Africans, must chart our own course to development and prosperity. It is time to dismantle the myth of external solutions and build Africa, by Africans, for Africans.

This article was written by Kgothatso Meka, the Director, Cosmopolitan Property Developments, South Africa. 

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