By Dr. Wilfred Isak April
THE past week was probably one of the most interesting and invigorating in my life. I joined a number of scholars in the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico to discuss issues on reconquering global competitiveness in the 21st century.
This island nation has so much to offer to the rest of the world. Neighbouring islands include Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Whites mostly repopulated Puerto Rico, which means Rich Port, after the colonial period and are avid coffee farmers, while the blacks farm with sugar cane. Most Africans arrived in these islands as slaves. As the plane touched down at 20h00 local time in Puerto Rico, the locals cheered and clapped. I will never forget the influential emotional mark they left with me in a second. The people are indeed proud of the Puerto Rican brand. When communities make you feel good it is difficult to forget them.
As I was reflecting on the past 24 years of Namibian independence in Puerto Rico, I decided that there are key lessons that I had to take with me namely, intellectual property with reference to entrepreneurship, as well as the deeply embedded entrepreneurial spirit of the African heritage of Puerto Ricans residing in the Lioza and Pinones areas of Puerto Rico and BOMBA music. Intellectual property deals with copyrights, trademarks and licensing. When we start our own businesses we must ensure that they have a copyright. We should start to see ourselves as a brand, since brands are nothing more than a trademark. Trademarks inspire new ideas and innovation that are essential components for any entrepreneurial activity. Sometimes we can learn from other players in the market when they use your trademark in a very fair manner. Fair manner implies not copying someone else’s brand in its entirety, but adding new features or additions to the original brand.
Deeply Embedded Entrepreneurial Spirit
I visited Lioza and Pinones, the areas mostly inhabited by the former slaves of the colonisers. The former slaves did not settle in this area without a fight, for as they were fighting with the Spaniards they escaped into the direction of the bush covered with thorn bush (‘mengle’ trees). The roots of the ‘mengle’ tree grow in an upward direction. They were hiding in these trees, and the Spaniards were not very brave to put up a fight in the bush. Basically this thorn bush became their homesteads. I believe it takes everything within a man to live in a tree and to withstand all the concomitant harsh conditions. Certainly these slaves had the inherent entrepreneurial skills of survival, as the colonisers had no choice but to leave them to settle in those areas. Today this place is home to a reasonable number of Puerto Rican people and is lush with vegetation, heart-throbbing music and a strong and vibrant musical culture.
Music is probably the lifeblood of African people. As the slaves arrived on the Island of Puerto Rico from different parts of the motherland Africa, they had one key challenge, which was the language barrier. To find a common language of expression, they used drums to make their own music.
This way they were able to communicate with one another with their bodies and souls as it were. What does all this mean for an ordinary Namibian? In terms of Vision 2030, intellectual property will certainly become more important than ever. Economic development can be propelled through licensing and perhaps it could mean providing more jobs. Namibia is no stranger to the entrepreneurial spirit in terms of colonisation, as we all know, and we can learn from Puerto Rico that there is no limit to anyone of us in this world. Our minds are the centre of operation, and it is how we picture ourselves for things to come true. Twenty-four years ago come this Friday, independence was only a dream, but we have indeed realised our dream.
I encourage each one of you to celebrate our 24 years of independence through music with an attitude of gratitude. That’s one thing that stood out for me in Puerto Rico. The people smile no matter what. They look for beauty no matter their sad and bloody history or circumstances. Are we as Namibians able to see the beauty of our leaders, how they have served us for the past 24 years? No matter where we find ourselves as a nation today, if we have gratitude we will certainly have success. Thank you, we have done well.
Dr. Wilfred Isak April is a University of Namibia (Unam) graduate and holds a PhD-Entrepreneurship (New Zealand). He lectures in Leadership, Organizational Behaviour and Entrepreneurship at Unam.