Youth unemployment is a challenge for countries across Africa and Tony Elumelu Foundation has taken up the challenge to reduce the burgeoning figures of unemployment through its Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP). In this interview with Kunle Aderinokun, President of TEF and Chairman of Heirs Holdings Ltd, Tony Elumelu, addresses issues affecting youth employment in the continent, suggesting the way forward
What is your reaction to Akinwumi Adesina’s pronouncement that African Development Bank and other development institutions would take care of the 83,000 youth entrepreneurs that could not be accommodated by your foundation, Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF)?
My foundation only recently committed $100 million. I’m not happy with the statistics; 85,000 people applied, but only 2,000 people were succeeded, so what I did was to reach out to people to help. We decided to train them because we have our online portal. We also told them to bring their seed capital. What ADB wants to do is that they will work in every country, for instance if we have like 10,000 people applying for Nigeria and we take only 300, the remaining names will be sent to ADB, who also take additional 1,200 or 2,000 and support them.
This is the way we can create employment. When the economy is not good, the big ones are the first to cut, so we need to drive SMEs. Imagine we have 1,000,000 SMEs or entrepreneurs and each is hiring 10,000 persons which would translate to employment of 100 million persons. This is what creates jobs and drives the economy. We need to change our transformation model and begin to support these small scale businesses. These small scale businesses do not stop big corporations from doing well.
Sir, we know you have 2,000 people that you have empowered? What has been the multiplier effect?
The question you are asking was what I asked the people when I addressed them. The truth is that I’m amazed at what they are doing. One of the people empowered in Uganda, stated that they were able to put solar lights in five hundred homes. I’m really encouraged about this development and it is an indication of what would happen in years to come. This is why I call Africans leaders to put the right policy so that the youth can do well.
Talking about policy, what is your take on what Carlos Lopez said in terms of having a transformation policy?
African needs a fundamental transformation. Let me break it down a bit. If you look at infrastructure; people say intra- Africa trade is not high, it can’t be high because the regional infrastructure we today was put together by the colonial masters decades because they were interested in moving palm oil, cotton, palm kernel and other things to the ports for exports. So we had a regional infrastructure that moves goods from the hinterlands to the ports for export. But it was not wired to integrate Africa, rather it was designed to move to the ports only. Therefore, we need to restructure this and it can affect everything. It is time we address the fundamental issues of the economy. Consider the issue of power, we need to look at how we address power from the regional rather than country perspective.
You strongly believe in combined approach in getting the youth out of unemployment. I would like to get your opinion on this?
Government is should not be expected to solve the problem of unemployment alone. Yes the government has a role to play, but how many jobs can they create? What government should do is to create the right policies. I commend what the Vice-President said about supporting the SMEs. If they support the SMEs and create the right policies, they will be able to help government to create jobs. Big foundations should support us through financial grants because every individual has a role to play in the growth of Africa.