The Last African Investor Adding Value

Guest Columnist: Issa Aremu

“As an entrepreneur, nothing gives me more pleasure than the opportunity to give back to the community” – Aliko Dangote at the 38th Pre-Convocation Lecture ABU, Zaria January 29, 2016

Sunday April 10, 2016 was the birthday of the President/Chief Executive of the Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote. The richest man in Africa is certainly not short of best wishes as a budding sexagenarian. But before I could add mine to the bagful, the last African investor standing up to re-industrialise the continent lived up to expectation with a birthday manifestation of value addition and beneficiation for the continent. Yours comradely was among the invitees to the “special double events”, groundbreaking ceremony of $1billion Dangote Cement PLC’s 6MMTPA plant at Okpella, Edo State and celebration of Aliko’s birthday.

Aliko Dangote’s birthday at 59 turned out to be shared prosperity for all; the people of Edo State, Nigeria (and indeed Africa) but particularly for 4,500 direct employees and 45,000 indirect workers to be gainfully engaged on the completion of the Okpella cement project in 26 months’ time. It is time to come to terms with how Alhaji Aliko Dangote is changing the narrative of African continent from the boring agonising resource-curse story to inspiring resource-blessings of mass production of goods and labour absorption.

Walter Rodney, the eminent Guyanese African historian, rightly documented how Europe Underdeveloped Africa through the obnoxious systems of slavery and colonialism (in-that-order!) between 15th and 18th century. Indeed the struggle for independence by great nationalists like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, (at the turn of the 20th century) was to halt dependency on the imperial countries of Europe.

In fairness to them, Africa’s founding fathers did walk their electoral promises. Within a record time, they reversed the colonial legacy of Africa as an exporter of raw materials and importer of finished goods. Manufacturing value added to GDP averaged 35 per cent in the 60s and 70s with near full employment. The continent was once a huge industrial estate. Up to mid-80s, textile sector employed more than federal and state governments! Nigeria was the third largest producer of assorted fabrics after Egypt and South Africa. Sadly, the remarkable gains of postcolonial Africa in terms of import substitution, manufacturing value added (MVA) massive infrastructural and massive labour absorptions in labour intensive sectors had been reversed.

No thanks to wholesale uncritical liberalisation of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) era, unsustainable industrial policies, bad (and in many instances) no governance at all. I bet that Rodney would have had another reflection on ‘How Africans Underdeveloped Africa!’ Through power/electricity non-supply, massive smuggling, lowering of tariffs and non-patronage of the locally produced and collapse of railways. It is against this background we must appreciate the singular re-investment drive of African continent by Dangote Group in recent times.

Undoubtedly motivated by profit making, a young trading entrepreneur who started with N500,000 (in his words!) “Seed capital given to me by my grandfather, Alhaji Sanusi Dantata” in 1978, has dramatically transformed in the last four decades into matured multi-billion dollars value adding business interests in cement, sugar, salt, flour, pasta, noodles, poly products, real estate, agriculture, logistics, telecommunications, steel, oil and gas, and beverages, in the process developing the continent. Literature about the pattern of African investment and capitalist accumulation can make a library; from the rent seeking to trade, import substitution to export promotion.

The robust-mix, and diversity of Dangote Group investment has shown that capital accumulation in particular and development hardly follows that academic binary arguments of this or that sector, the latest in Nigeria (oil versus non-oil sector). Aliko has justified the validity of received wisdom that every body (and indeed every nation) desirous of growth must be prepared to unleash “the master within”, the passion, what Carmine Gallo calls “emotional quality that separates those who master a field from many who simply work at the job”.

There are certainly investors as much as there is investment space in Africa, but few rival Dangote’s phenomenal reach and impact. The usual photo clip of Aliko has the caption of the “richest man in Africa”. However an in-depth look at the group investment reveals that Aliko is enriching the continent through productivity and value addition; three subsidiaries listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). Dangote Cement Plc., Dangote Sugar Refinery Plc., and NASCON Plc. accounting for about 25 per cent of the market capitalisation on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), 24,000 direct employees and indirect employment of tens of thousands.

Dangote Cement investment is in 18 African countries. In 2015, six new plants commenced full operations (Tanzania, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia) while 12 MOUs for a total contract sum of over US$4 billion were signed. We are all hard put about what President Muhammadu Buhari brought from China, $2.6 billion or $6 billion, loan or investment? Whether loan or investment the total handouts from China do not add up to Dangote’s $12 billion investment in Lekki 650,000 bpd petroleum refinery, (the world’s largest single stand-alone refinery, and a separate petrochemical complex in the Lekki Free Trade Zone!).

May be Nigeria should cultivate more of Dangotes than seeking for uncritical hand-outs from abroad. In any case, Alhaji Dangote says as much in his ABU convocation lecture. According to him, “Looking at the economic development of America, one cannot but admire the vision, courage and impacts of the so-called ‘Men Who Built America’, Cornelius Vanderbilt in railroads; John D. Rockefeller in oil and pipelines; Andrew Carnegie in steel; J.P. Morgan in finance and electric power; and Henry Ford in cars; names that represent industrial enterprise and big business in America.

“I believe that in Nigeria, and indeed in Africa, a few good men and women can replicate and surpass these models (America and Asia) and set the country firmly on the path of economic diversification, industrialisation and self-sufficiency in food and other basic commodities, while also supporting millions of smaller entrepreneurs, service providers and innovators”. The message by Dangote is clear: it is the compatriots that build nations not necessarily their friends from abroad. I recommend Aliko’s speech for Buhari’s two ministers of Trade and industry.

• Mr. Aremu, General Secretary of the Textile Workers Union, is the Secretary of the Alumni Association of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS)

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