Goddy Egene writes on efforts by Africa’s top businessman and philanthropist, Tony Elumelu at changing the narrative on Africa and make the continent investors’ choice
“For too long, many people when they hear the word ‘Africa,’ they think about darkness and backwardness. I want people to think of Africa and think of opportunities. I want to stimulate the economic transformation of Africa and help the continent to take its rightful position as a strong regional player in the international community.”
Africa’s top businessman and philanthropist, Tony Elumelu made the above statement while in Paris recently on the invitation of the French Senate, Business France and Banque publique d’investissement (BPI), where he delivered an inspiring speech to more than 4,000 French entrepreneurs selling Africa as a choice investment destination.
Elumelu, who is the chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc and Heirs Holdings, an African proprietary investment company, and the founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, is increasingly using his rising international profile and entrepreneurial success to promote Africa to foreign investors seeking to invest on the continent. He has become one of Africa’s strongest and credible voices for investment flow to the continent.
He is not only one of the biggest advocates for Africa today but is also making a difference through his foundation’s $100 million endowment in support of young African entrepreneurs with start-up businesses.
“My foundation created the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme to train, mentor and seed 10,000 African businesses over the next 10 years, to create 1 million new jobs and $10billion in additional revenue across Africa,” he said.
While encouraging French businesses to come and invest in Nigeria, he cited the example of UBA, which has been operating profitably and successfully in Nigeria for 70 years.
“The United Bank for Africa, which of which I am chairman was established in the British colonial era, more than 70 years ago. However, post-independence, it came under Nigerian control and had operated profitably for decades. However, in 2005, we decided that we wanted to live up to our name and become a truly pan-African financial institution. So, we developed a strategy to roll out in several Africa countries. We completed the first stage of the roll out and now operate in 19 African countries, where we are providing financial services for governments, citizens and businesses, particularly leveraging technology to enable electronic payments across countries and continents, including here in Paris where we have an office that supports businesses and transactions with francophone countries,” he said.
He disclosed that UBA is helping to finance major projects in infrastructure, agriculture and construction sector most of which are in francophone countries.
According to him, UBA has continued to open more and more branches as it has become more established in those markets.
“The second stage of the roll out begins later this year. So, Nigeria is not just about ourselves. We play an important role in the economy of West Africa and beyond. So, when you invest in Nigeria, the benefits spill over to our neighbors in dozens of countries,” he said.
Elumelu let French investors know that in the last two decades, new laws and reforms in Nigeria have enabled and incentivised local entrepreneurs to become players in sophisticated industries such as oil production and refining, telecoms, manufacturing, aviation and other sectors.
He cited the example of Schneider Electric, a French company that is pursuing opportunities in the power space in Nigeria as well as retail giants from other parts of Africa that have entered the Nigerian market because of the increasing opportunities associated with servicing the growing Nigerian middle-class.
“In my opinion, Nigeria remains a very viable, attractive and important investment and export destination for French companies. In fact, I would argue that now is a good time to come, because it is an investors market. The smart investor knows that this is the time to enter these markets because the fundamentals of the Nigerian economy remain strong, and where others perceive risk and challenge, the glass is actually half full rather than half empty.” Elumelu told the French investors.
He added that the Nigerian economy plays an important role in West Africa and beyond, saying “ So when you invest in Nigeria, the benefits spill over to our neighbours in dozens of countries.”
The chairman of UBA posited that in spite of the challenges faced by African economies and especially of the sharp drop in commodity prices, Nigeria still offers one of the highest returns on investment on the continent and beyond.
While in Paris, Elumelu also met with Rachida Dati – member of the European Parliament and Mayor of the 7th Arrondissement of Paris – and also with Pierre Gattaz, the President of the MEDEF, to continue discussions, which begun last year, on new ways to strengthen business ties between France and Africa. He also caught up with his friend Lionel Zinsou, former Prime Minister of the Republic du Benin and also a champion of French companies doing business in Africa.
On the final day of his three-day trip, he was invited to breakfast with some members of the French Senate. Thereafter, he spoke on ‘Discover Nigeria,’ at a gathering of French investors and entrepreneurs, interested in learning more about doing business in Nigeria. The event was a joint effort of Business France, The French Senate and BPI.
Before the trip to Paris, Elumelu had also attended the 51st annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the African Development Bank (AfDB), where he used the opportunity to call on African governments to create an enabling environment for the private sector to tackle unemployment among African youths on the continent.
“The solution to the problem of unemployment is going to come first from within and then from all of us working collectively. I believe entrepreneurship can solve the problem of job creation,” he said.
Speaking on a panel to create jobs, Elumelu said: “If we are serious about cultivating jobs, let Africans who want to help deal with this issue. The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP), is my foundation’s 10-year $100 million commitment to empowering the next generation of African entrepreneurs and surely, there are more private sector leaders that are willing to invest in our continent’s future.”
According to him, he sees great entrepreneurship potential in many of the 45,000 applicants that applied for TEEP this year alone.
“But the level of training, mentoring and networking that we offer means that we can only select 1,000 each year. I call on everyone here to support those who missed the cut. This is a clear path to sustaining African economic growth,” he said.
Elumelu was on the a panel which included eminent personalities like; Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo; Prime Minister of the Republic of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn; President, African Development Bank, Akinwunmi Adesina; Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Carlos Lopes; Founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Mo Ibrahim, and Parliamentary State Secretary, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development(BMZ), Thomas Silberhorn.
No doubt, Elumelu has a herculean task changing the narrative on Africa considering the years of prejudiced reports which has shaped the perception of the continent. However, for a man, who has successfully challenged stereotypes on banking and finance on the continent, he has set the ball rolling and hopefully other leading African entrepreneurs will follow his footsteps in showing that the African continent has a lot of promise for those who dare like him.