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Africa's women entrepreneurs take the lead

By Rodney Muhumuza

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, June 10 2014 1:19 p.m. MDT

Across sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty remains extreme in many parts, stories of successful women entrepreneurs are accumulating. A Kenyan woman, Mary Okello, is feted for starting, inside a three-bedroom house, what has since become a prestigious group of private schools. In Rwanda, Janet Nkubana has been recognized abroad for running a handicrafts company that employs more than 3,000 women whose baskets can be purchased at Macy's. The Nigerian Adenike Ogunlesi is famous for her "Ruff 'n' Tumble" clothing line for children, a business that she first operated out of a car trunk.

In Uganda, where most of the food is grown locally, many women have been drawn to catering, and their food stalls are ubiquitous at transport terminals and open markets. Unable to get credit from banks, often the women start "cooperative" groups in which they pool savings. Then they take turns getting loans.

"The few who have ventured out have surprised themselves by succeeding," said Ugandan economist Fred Muhumuza, who has been advising Uganda's government on development policy. Rampant poverty, he said, is driving women to find ways of taking over "core family responsibilities" from men.

Nalukenge, the food vendor in downtown Kampala, said she has kept her children in school and now owns two small plots of land.

On a recent evening, as she prepared to clean up and pack her saucepans, she pondered her unlikely journey from failed hawker of bed sheets to successful caterer with a long line of loyal clients.

"We spend a lot of energy here," she said. "There's no resting. But at the end of the day we get our reward."

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