Posted by: beninmwangi | March 4, 2007

African Women In Business Series: 3 Headed Hydra?

There is a three headed hydra that over the weekend has been really eating at my being. It pertains to the ease of doing business in Africa, as an African woman. As I have read the blogs of African women over the past week along with some other readings, there are three things that
that I see when it comes to challenges faced by Africa’s women entrepreneurs:

  1. Property laws which make it more difficult for women to own property than men in Africa.
  2. Overwhelming family burdens which limit opportunities and time for women to do business, thereby causing most women to go into micro-enterprise as opposed to larger and/or more complex businesses.
  3. Various perceptions of African women by men which spill over into the realm of credit and capital, thereby turning a large percentage of Africa’s women entrepreneurs to micro-credit as opposed to traditional credit for business start up financing.

The reason this post uses the term “3 headed hydra” is because this term makes me think about those movies that I used to watch as a kid. In the end the hero usually always won but it was always a difficult and well earned victory where throughout the battle the hero never had a chance for rest-physical or mental because each time one head of the monster was defeated a new one popped up in it’s place. In a way this scenario of difficulties faced by African women in business may share some similarities. What I am trying to say is that in order for there to be more parity amongst Africa’s women entrepreneurs the thinking of these three institutions must be challenged:

  • African governments
  • Some of Africa’s banking and financial institutions
  • Society itself

The topic is really so vast and expansive that it take over a month to cover all of the pertinent issues in fact there are organizations that exist solely for this purpose. Additionally, I am not sure what steps are necessary to do this, but somehow I see Africa’s women bloggers as being very instrumental in this process of changing thoughts and perceptions in some of these areas. Initially when I looked at Africa’s women bloggers I asked myself why not more about business, but I see that they have already begin to take on the more momentous task of challenging some of the ideas that exist about women in Africa. So below I shall highlight some of Africa’s women bloggers, along with some brief descriptions below and you can see for yourself how they are already on the job! Here are a few:

R.E. Ekosso a Cameroonian translator and court interpreter. She lives and works in the Netherlands. This blog asks some very thought provoking questions about Africa in general as it relates to socio-economic issues.

Kenyan Pundit Ory Okolloh is a Kenyan who graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2005. She is currently based in South Africa working as the Legal and Corporate Affairs Manager for Enablis and as a consultant on telecommunications and citizen journalism in Africa.

Mshairi a Kenyan mshairi (poet in Kiswahili) living in the UK dreaming of a time when the cultural, legal and political obstacles that prevent African women attaining economic independence and equality are eradicated. She would like to see the development of gender-sensitive ICT policies leading to more African women accessing and using these technologies. Mshairi’s interests are world music, poetry, books, art, love, movies, life, Africa, gender activism.

Bella Naija a ‘naija fanatic’ so there is going be a lot of Nigerian music, fashion and gist. Also career and business advice, beauty tips and generally whatever seems interesting.

Gardener’s Daughter a work-at-home-mom (WAHM) with three children and a referral marketer, publisher, and online entrepreneur.

The Concoction an African Recipe. 340g/12oz culture, 5 medium poverty, knob of development, 850ml/1.5 pints politics, Ethio-world view to taste, and purposeful gossip to garnish. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and carefully fold with a wooden spoon. Enjoy the concoction!

renewable energy in Africa and beyond. Also politics, art, music, Diaspora, and Kenya.

Mama Junkyard’s intially set up as an awareness and fundraising tool for my Belize 04 volunteer placement. It has progressed from being a single site about a single issue, to 3 sub-sites, hosted under one banner but each distinct in style and content.

Yayemarieba a celebration of the sucesses of African women.

The World According to Adaure
an aspiring news reporter, CNN international correspondent working earnestly towards that goal.

Precious Lolo very ambitious, with lots of dreams and goals planning to achieve in life.. mostly about career and business. Blogs from the Sudan interspersed with original poetry.

Black Looks primarily focuses on anything to do with African Women – a very broad term for a whole continent – and the African Diaspora that is socially, politically, racially, culturally, ethnically and sexually diverse.

African Women( the reblog) The African Women’s Blog (AWB) was started by three African Women bloggers: Black Looks, Mshairi and Mama’s Junkyard with the intention of providing a collaborate space for African women online to share information, provide resources and engage in conversations on a wide variety of topics.

In conclusion, this whole series has been about showing why the African continent needs it’s women entrepreneurs. Likewise, in order for Africa’s business women to be able to provide enough business for wide-spread empowerment, Africa’s business women need something too. Changes in the way that banking institutions, governments, and the society at larger views and treats women would go a long way in growing and attracting more investment. Where I think many of Africa’s women bloggers come in at is in raising the awareness on issues such as these. That may not seem very significant, but it is considering that today bloggers are even beginning to influence mainstream media across the world. I am optimistic that more change is on the horizon. Let me reiterate that the view from where I’m sitting keeps getting brighter and I can see a time coming when that 3 headed monster will soon be defeated!

Of course, I love your comments. But, if you can’t comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook



  1. Thanks for the links, I will be back to put down my thoughts.

  2. This is a very important post. I got to see some new blogs, different styles, and from different parts of the continent. Nice.

  3. T:
    Thanks a lot! I am happy to do so. The cool thing about is that that was only a tiny little sample of whats out there, in terms of African women blobs.

  4. Benin Mwangi,

    Thanks for the link. I never knew of your blog until Technorati led me here.

    The strange truth of my case is that I have been more successful in 12 months of Blogging and online bussiness, than I have ever been as a teacher.

    Don’t laugh, but I make more money online than what my husband gives me as monthly upkeep, which was more than my salary, when I was still a school teacher.

    It is financially fulfilling to spend the currency of another nation (Dollars), just because of a crucial access to the net.

    A thousand flowers are still out here, groping in the darkness of ignorance and prejudice, and yet to bloom. Your feature of this ‘tiny sample’ is a profound contribution to the literature of African Women emancipation.

    Thank you, esteemed brother.

  5. Philomena Ojikutu:

    I am honored to hear from you. I have read your blog Gardners Daughter and was thouroughly wowed and impressed by it.

    The statement that you made reinforces the thoughts penned on this post. You are really doing more than just blogging and earning extra income, you are really opening doors for the 100’s of “flowers” that are still out there. Great job, you are not only an inspiration to African women only, but also to all that aspire to become independent through their own business pursuits. So please..keep on opening those doors and Thank you very much!

  6. Benin,
    thks for the link

    Property laws are a real burden. For women to succeed and take her business forward they need property (adequate business premises); otherwise, where will they operate the business? From the home? How can you operate a successful manufacturing business from a home, when you simply don’t have the right equipment? The women in agro-business and textiles that I interviewed in Dakar face similar problems.. For instance some of them (in food processing) argue that they just don’t have the right premises to process and manufacture their products. In clothing/textile sector again, without the right premises, women cannot work and make quality products which are up to international standards! There are chemical products involved in t/dyes, and women are just vulnerable in an environment that is a dangerous for them and for their customers too. In such conditions, women are left operating a survival micro businesses that just cant grow because they do not have access to the tools needed to progress. In such cases, women might just as well say goodbye to operating in international markets where standards are much higher.

    I like your idea of “3 headed hydra”. However, I believe we will have to wait a long time for a happy ending! I believe that much work still needs to be done to achieve some level of parity between men and women entrepreneurs, especially in rural parts of Africa. I was amazed by what I saw in Dakar; the way men talk about women entrepreneurs; the fact that they are dynamic, real fighters and have a lot of DJOM (courage). I visited several micro finance institutions and was told that women are better at loan repayment than men. However, my main worry still remains that there just isn’t enough finance for women to grow their businesses. Micro finance is for micro firms, but is there enough finance to help women grow their businesses? What is needed is an adequate support system that facilitates growth of existing enterprises (through the provision of different tools for growth).

    We cannot change African societies, if they are the problems. Of course, male dominated ideologies still prevail in some parts of Africa and limit the development and progress of African women. Education is one way of changing or influencing people’s ways of thinking, especially if their views are detrimental to women. Some scholars have argued that African culture is not conductive of entrepreneurship because of politico-legal and societal factors; that African society is “a society fond of blaming others and looking for scapegoats”; that “ the sooner Africans collectively start believing that they are and ought to be in control of their lives, the faster the spirit of entrepreneurship will rise”. If civic society is to blame, then civil society should be targeted in promoting entrepreneurship.

    African governments are increasingly being aware of the potential of women entrepreneurs in driving economic growth. Most of them are just slow in the provision of an enabling business environment in which women can prosper. Perhaps there is need to look at successful models of entrepreneurialism in some African countries and attempt to apply them in other countries, whilst bearing in mind that societal and institutional factors vary from country to country.


    So I guess this is the “3 headed hydra” phenomena. It is just that it will take a long time to see a happy ending to THIS MOVIE.

  7. Chantal, Oh my…Your comment is so profound. I would, however say that I am still pondering our thoughts on the length of time that it will take for Africa’s women in business to gain parity with their male counterparts. At first thought, perhaps my daughters generation, but then it must be said that it depends on which part of Africa we’re talking about. Because each nation, as you have pointed out through your Senegalese example, has its own identity and feel to it when it comes hat to social issues. But something interesting that I have noticed in Kenya is the micro businesses that women owners often operate. Unless my understanding is off the property laws in KE prevent a woman from owning property solely in her name, it has to be in her husband or brothers name. Basically what this does is makes it difficult for women to borrow against their equity to grow their businesses. Now all over the world, whether we are talking about S. Africa, China, UK, the States-I have heard stories of business women from Kenya far exceding other businesses in the same line of work. To me it might be the same in Kenya if as you mention financing was more readily available.

    Anyhow, thanks for the insights!

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