Nigerias Economic Prosperity will be Determined by Her Quality of Leaders

24 Sep 2012

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The issue of retarded  economic growth due to bad leadership in Nigeria and some African countries was addressed  by Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), African Leadership Network (ALN), Mr. Fred Swaniker, when he spoke with Kunle Aderinokun. Besides, he prescribed recipes for the growth of entrepreneurship in Nigeria. Excerpts:

Why are you in Nigeria?

I am here to speak at a conference hosted by Nestle. The forum is on creating shared value which is about how businesses can integrate and provide value to the society. I also spoke on how to create capacity in agriculture value chain.

From what you discussed, how do we create value chain in agriculture?

Creating capacity for me is about two things. For me, firstly it is about education and secondly is about attracting the right talent into the sector. We need to think about how to integrate agricultural education into all aspect of primary and secondary education so that it can become a compulsory subject and schools all over Africa can have farms operating in their campuses. That will also enable young people to see agriculture as something very exciting to do, because right now it is seen as something that is done in villages. Meanwhile, it is a key part of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the source of livelihood of over 70 per cent of the population in Africa.  I think there is a fantastic opportunity to leverage on technology to educate farmers because with the mobile phones, it is now possible to deliver education to people who are illiterates. There is also need to attract high-calibre talents into agriculture. We need to find a way to glamourise agriculture so that it is not seen as something you do only if you can’t get a job, so that our best brains can go into agriculture and we can start seeing increases in productivity.

So what are you proposing for Nigeria in all of these?

My passion is on developing the next generation of leaders in agriculture. This passion comes from my experience in living and working in different parts of the continents. Every four years of my life a move to a new country in Africa. I have lived in Ghana, Gambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Tanzania and with all these experience from working and living in different parts of Africa, I came to believe that we have tremendous potential in this continent. But one thing is stopping us from achieving that potential above everything else, and that is the quality of our leaders. So I think we should look for ways to develop a new generation of leaders for Africa instead of just hoping that they emerge. So there are three initiatives that I have been involved in over the last 10 years that are all aimed at developing a new generation of leaders. The first is the Africa Leadership Academy which is a school in South Africa that identifies young people from every country in Africa. The largest contingent comes from Nigeria every year and we get about 700 applications from Nigeria alone and give scholarship to the top students in that group. Every year from the entire Africa we get 3000 applications and we chose the top 100 to come to this school and they come here for two years to be trained to be the future leaders of Africa. We have had about 50 students from Nigeria who have come there over the last five years.  So that is an opportunity for young people in Nigeria who are exceptionally talented and have the potentials and value to be good leaders for Nigeria one day. The second institute is the African Leadership Network which is aimed at engaging the new generation of leaders in Africa. These are people who are either chief executive officers of companies or are the highest-ranking persons in organisations,  who are below the age of 50. We bring them together in a network to connect them to each other. I believe that this must be the generation that will bring prosperity. I think we have had three generation of leaders that came before- generation one were the leaders that brought independence to Africa, Kwame Nkrumah from Ghana, Julius Nyerere, Nnamdi Azikiwe and others. The second generation was the leaders that actually gave Africa a bad name. These were the leaders who brought the warfare, the coup  and they were people like Sanni Abacha of Nigeria, Mobutu, Idi Amin and others, most of them are gone. Generation three are the leaders who have brought more stability and democracy to Africa. They are not perfect in any way, but that is there legacy. They include Olusegun Obasanjo, Jerry Rawlings and others. But none of this generation of leaders have been able to address the issue that is left now, which is poverty. So the next generation – this new generation that is coming out, over the next 20 years, the main legacy that they must leave for Africa is that they must be a generation that brings prosperity to Africa.

Why was the generation three unable to address the leadership gap?

Generation three made an important contribution, which was to bring peace and stability to Africa. Thirty years ago, a lot of countries in Africa were in some form of conflict, but today, we are looking at maybe five of them. But democracy is now the expectation and not the exception to the rule.

Cuts in: So what the academy does is to begin to shape generation four into proper leadership…

Exactly!  But with the specific mission of generation four being the ones who are going to bring prosperity to Africa. That is why entrepreneurship is really key to the curriculum that we have in the academy and even 70 per cent of people we bring into the leadership network are leaders who are in business while 30 per cent are leaders who are in government, politics and civil society. We think that we need to really engage business to bring prosperity to Africa. That is why we launched the African leadership award for entrepreneurship to celebrate entrepreneurship as the path to prosperity for the continent and to inspire people across Africa to want to become entrepreneurs. We have over one billion people and 400 million of them are below the age of 16. These people need jobs. If we don’t create jobs, Africa will be sitting on a ticking time bomb. So the real crisis that must be solved by generation four is this question of prosperity. I believe that the prosperity that is going to happen in Africa is not going to happen as individual companies, but can only happen if we aggregate our economies together because African economies are too small to build any business of scale. We do less than 50 per cent of trade with each other as a continent and unless you have relationships across the continent, you won’t be able to facilitate that intercontinental trade, you won’t be able to invest in each other and the 1 billion population that we talk about and the $2 trillion GDP that we have will be meaningless because it is not really aggregated.

Funding is crucial for budding Nigerian entrepreneurs and Nigerian commercial banks are not interested in provided the requisite financing. What do you think is the way out for these set of Nigerians?

Well I think that people use the lack of capital as an excuse for not being able to make entrepreneurship happen. I think Africa is the land of opportunities for entrepreneurs. I always say this is entrepreneurs’ paradise. If you have  a good idea and you package it well and team up with good people, you will always find the capital because there is plenty of capital in Africa looking for good ideas and people to buy. In this same environment where we don’t have power, infrastructure, non-Africans have come here and built very successful businesses. The Lebanese have built businesses here for many decades and done very well. The Indians have done the same, go to East Africa, it is the same thing. We as Africans are sitting and waiting for others to come and do business in our own backyard. So if they can do it, we certainly can do it. We just can’t continue blaming other people.

But some of these investors come in with cheap funds but to get loans from banks in Nigeria is very difficult?

You don’t really need to get loans from banks because there are so many businesses that you don’t require a lot of capital. In some cases, what is required is small capital that you get from friends and family and once you get started and make a lot of progress, you can get additional funding when people have seen the progress you have made. That is how most big organisations start, their friends and families are the ones to give them money, it is not banks, it is not investment funds.

There are still impediments as the right policies are not there…

There are many policies that government should be implementing to stimulate entrepreneurship. For example, creating incubators where there are infrastructures for entrepreneurs that have business ideas can go for about six months; tax break for starters and new businesses; making sure that power is taken care of, mandating that banks should support entrepreneurs  and other infrastructure that can make it easier for businesses to grow. So these are all thing that businesses can do. But my point is that we cannot wait and keep blaming the government before we try and start, let’s get started anyway, with all of those constraints in place and see them just as another problem that the entrepreneur will have to overcome amongst other problems.

How do we encourage leaders who are desirous of changing the status quo in unfortunate environment they find themselves?

I think there are two things, we need to bear in mind that change will not happen overnight and so even if they are not able to bring all the change that possibly could, they have made the difference. Yes, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been hindered by a lot of things and there are a lot more she could have done, but she has done a lot already. We need to give her credit for that and recognise that it was under her tenure that a lot of Nigeria’s debt was forgiven. She made some improvements in fighting corruption and there are a lot of other things that she could have done, even though there are a lot of things that could have held her back. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had all the challenges in this country, but he did not stop, but has made a lot of difference. So you don’t need a lot of leaders to change the society, you need a few good leaders, especially in Africa because we don’t have strong institutions. If you go to somewhere like the United States, they have very strong institutions. If President Obama wants to pass a law, he can’t just do it, because congress will stop him and it will be a real battle, but if you come to Africa, we don’t have the strong institutions. Unfortunately, African leaders have used that power in the wrong direction. They have used it to extract resources for themselves and not necessarily to empower the people. So, if we can have one or two people with courage and are support by a network of few individuals around them, they can make a big difference.

In Africa, the people seems to be docile and do not question things their leaders do. What do you think they should do tackle bad leaders ?

I think it goes back to our culture and the way we are told to respect elders.  So one of the things we do at the Academy is to encourage the young people to challenge their leaders and authority so that when they find themselves in government and see things going wrong, they will speak out. But in terms of the root cause of that, I think it stems from our culture.

Do you think the Nigerian government is doing the right thing in the area of agriculture and how do we get people to be interested in agriculture?

Well there certain things that I think the government is doing well, for example, what Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is doing to encourage the banks to invest in the agriculture sector. I think that is a very visionary thing coming from the central bank which is not being done anywhere else in the continent. I think that some of the policies on indigenisation and the ban on the importation of certain things to make sure that the local Nigerian producers get the chance to produce those goods and grow them here. That is an encouraging thing, but we must be careful that it doesn’t fall into the hands very few monopolists.

But in terms of how do we get agric not to be seen as a side job for those who are not employed? As I mentioned earlier, we need to make agriculture a glamorous career and to be seen that there is fantastic entrepreneurial opportunities and if we can celebrate a few heroes in the society who have become wealthy through entrepreneurship and agriculture, I think that will be a good way to attract a lot of people into that sector. Also, if you think about some of the policies  that government need to put in place, the land tenure issue is another issue, until people have secured property right in agriculture, it will be very hard to create entrepreneurship. So government need to look at how to have clean land title system so that people can use their land as collateral.

Can you share your experience on how agric is included in the educational curriculum in your country?

In both Ghana and South Africa, agric is not really integrated into the curriculum. There are few schools in the rural areas that might have agriculture as an extra-curriculum activity that the school offers or an agriculture club, but there are no national mandated policies. Countries in Africa need to look at the things that move us forward and make sure they are integrated in the way we educate people. If agriculture is one of those things, then the mandate is to make sure that throughout your educational curriculum it should be there. Entrepreneurship is another one, we need to integrate that into our curriculum to make sure that across the continent it is a national policy. Young people everywhere need to learn about entrepreneurship.

Globally Ghana is being acclaimed as a country that is on the path of growth. What are those things that Ghana is doing right?

First of all, let me say that Ghana is not perfect, it may be a better example of what is possible in Africa, but there are still a lot of things to be done. I think what people are excited about is that the country has become a functional democracy and there have been a peaceful transition of government. Also institutional democracy has been so entrenched there that businesses have enjoyed relative stability. All that have been driving economic growth and corruption level in Ghana is very low. There may be corruption, but it is not on the scale as you will see in other countries.

When you say corruption is low, what is the magic?

I think Ghana has been blessed such as they don’t have many resources to steal. So it is good that we don’t have oil because we developed the good governance and institutional framework we have today. We have built a whole culture where people abide by laws and people understand that you will not be free to steal from government. Once you have an institutional framework and culture that makes it difficult for corruption to thrive, then no matter what happens, you can just turn back from that.

Back to Nigeria, are you saying we do not have the institutional framework to fight corruption? If yes, how do we develop that?

Of course Nigeria does not have institutional framework that is strong enough to prevent corruption and that is very obvious. Today, there are long cars queuing for petrol in this country that produces oil. That is mind-boggling and disgraceful. There are a lot of things that need to be done. We need to fix power, eliminate corruption and all of these things require good leadership.

What is the role of the media in all of this and with Africa as the next market, where do you see Africa in the next five years?

The media has an important role to play in Africa’s future in two ways – firstly, media itself is an institution and strong media cannot be influenced by corruption and will be spotlighting things that are wrong and be promoting those that are good when the country is moving in the right direction.

The secondly thing is that it can serve as a source of exposing corruption and things that are holding the country back.  So I think media has an important role to play in shaping public opinion.  For Africa, there has never been a more exciting time to be in Africa than now. If you look at the rest of the world, their economies are declining, Eurozone is in crisis, China is stagnating, but Africa is growing. Also there is a growing middle class that is coming up and creating demand for goods and services, governance is getting better, it is easier for us to do business and to Africa to me is the next frontier of economic growth.  So I think of Africa today as where China was 30 years ago. The growth has just started to take off and those people who are taking advantage of the opportunities today would have created massive wealth for themselves in 30 years’ time and more importantly would have created jobs for the continent.


Fred Swaniker is a Co-Founder and CEO of the African Leadership Network.

He has been recognised by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a Young Global Leader, and was listed on Forbes’ list of top ten young ‘power men’ in Africa in 2011. Fred is an Africa Leadership Initiative Fellow and was recognized by Echoing Green as one of fifteen “best emerging social entrepreneurs in the world” in 2006. He was chos     en as one of 25 TED Fellows in 2009 and is a Fellow of the Aspen Institute's Global Leadership Network.Fred was also selected as one of 115 young leaders to meet President Obama at the first-ever President’s Forum for Young African Leaders in 2010. Prior to completing his MBA at Stanford Business School, where he was named an Arjay Miller Scholar, Fred was a consultant with Mckinsey across Africa. Fred also co-founded the African Leadership Academy (ALA), the foremost academic institution focusing on developing Africa’s future leaders, in 2004.

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  • What do you imagine Galileo is doing tonight? My hope would be that the great man is resting in peace and that his head is not spinning in his grave.

    How, now, can Galileo possibly find peace when so few leaders and experts speak out clearly and loudly regarding whatsoever they believe to be true about the distinctly human-driven predicament that could soon be confronted by the family of humanity which results directly from the unbridled overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities of the human species now overspreading the Earth and threatening to ravage the planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit? Many too many leaders and a predominant coterie of the' brightest and best' experts are choosing to remain silent. Please consider how the elective mutism of so many of the most fortunate and knowledgeable elders among us could be contributing mightily to the ruination of Earth as fit place for human habitation.

    Where are the leaders and experts who are willing to openly support science that is being presented in solid research and validated empirical data? Look at the dismaying disarray in which we find ourselves now and how far we have to travel in a short time to move the human community away from precipitating some unimaginable sort of global ecological wreckage.

    What would the world we inhabit look like if scientists like Galileo had chosen to adopt a code of silence? In such circumstances, Galileo as well as scientists today would speak only about scientific evidence which was deemed by the super-rich and most powerful people of the day to be politically convenient, religiously tolerable, economically expedient, socially correct and culturally prescribed. By so doing, Galileo and modern-day scientists would effectively breach their responsibilities to science and duties to humanity to tell the truth as they see it, as best they can report it. If science does not overcome silence, then everything the human community believes we are preserving and protecting could be ruined.

    Perhaps there is something in the truthful reports of research from intellectually honest and moral courageous scientists regarding the colossal environmental and geological impact of the rapidly growing human population on the Earth that will give Galileo Galilei moments of peace.

    From: Steven Earl Salmony

    Posted: 3 years ago

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