Few Africans have talked about pan Africanism and made it happen.
And one of such people is Tony Elumelu, the self appointed champion of AFRICAPITALISM.
The banker turned entrepreneur through his HEIRS holding has in the past three years been leveraging on his philanthropic platform, Tony Elumelu Foundation, TEF to turn the whole African landscape of 54 countries into a sort of investment tapestry, just like a visual artist paints his vision on canvas.
His commitment to spend a jaw-dropping sum of $100m in the next 10 years empowering budding entrepreneurs is so strikingly remarkable that skeptics would have thought that it was a mere gimmick. But as it has turned out, Elumelu is not a politician that may be given to hoaxes.
Being a businessman who is fighting a cause, and as the youths say in street lingo, Elumelu has been putting his money where his mouth is by consistently training and seeding at least 1,000 entrepreneurs from across the continent with $10,000 each and that translates into $10m annually in the past three years.
By so doing he might have booked himself a place in history and l dare add, in heaven too, because he is actually following the injunction of the almighty God who gave sacrificially to mankind (according to my Christian faith) by sacrificing his only begotten son, Jesus Christ for the atonement of our sins as humans. Elumelu is giving out his money to African budding entrepreneurs to discourage them from the desperation of taking the risk loss of their lives just to cross over to Europe in search of better opportunities.
Before proceeding further, lets spare a moment to delve into the concept of pan Africanism as espoused by African leaders of yore such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana , Julius Nyerere of Kenya, Sekou Toure of Zambia, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia amongst the numerous African presidents and heads of Govt who in 1963 founded the Organization for African Unity, OAU, now renamed African Union, AU.
According to historical accounts, the raison detre for the formation of the August body headquartered in Addis Ababa,Ethiopia was the need for the unification of African Americans and Africans from the continent for the purpose of setting up a common development agenda for the black race.
The Africanist consciousness was stirred up and driven by African American intellectuals and activists like Martin Delany, W.E.B Du Bois and Marcus Garvey who after slavery was abolished in the United States of America,USA wanted the black man to regain his confidence and self worth by inspiring the hope in the freed slaves that they needed to take their destinies in his hands by charting a new course for complete physical and psychological emancipation from white oppression. Thereafter the likes of Kwame Nkrumah who had the opportunity of American education, upon his return to the continent, became the president of Ghana; took the baton and anchored it in Africa by championing the idea that the entire African continent must be independent at the same time.
To that end, it is on record that Nkrumah invited several political leaders of other African countries who were yet to gain independence to several conferences held in Ghana with a view to advising them on what to do to obtain political independence from European colonialists.
Remarkably,a little over fifty years after, Tony Elumelu is replicating the Africanism initiative via the invitation of 1,000 African entrepreneurs to a gathering and commitment of $100m for the development of entrepreneurial spirit.
From the foregoing, it needs no further emphasis that the vision of Nkrumah etal in founding the OAU which is to integrate Africa into a political platform with a common purpose is in sync with Elumelu’s quest to train and provide seed capital to Africans from all over the continent to become successful entrepreneurs.
The only difference is that while our forbears who founded the OAU failed abysmally to reach their political goal of uniting Africa as they had envisioned over fifty years ago, Elumelu’s mission to empower Africans from the continent’s 54 countries with entrepreneurial skills, has in a mere three years acquired a life of its own as a cohort of entrepreneurs nurtured by TEF are already making waves as game changers in the economies of their respective home countries.
Who is better suited to impart the young entrepreneurs with the skills to excel in business than Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote.
Expectedly, through his deep introspection into the Genesis of his business empire, Dangote infused into the young minds the rudiments of entrepreneurship. His excursion into how his grand uncle, Dantata loaned him half a million Naira (a lot of money at that time) to commence business, and how he returned the money soon after, stirred up the can-do-spirit that entrepreneurs need, as it front-loaded the lift that seed money can create for a budding entrepreneur.
Remarkably, Elumelu who has turned out to be one of the amazingly successful businessmen in this generation,unlike Dangote had no uncle to offer him seed capital as he is currently doing through TEF for thousands Africans, but he excelled any way.
Oba Otudeko, chairman of First bank Plc and HoneyWell group who was also there as a mentor, reminded the entrepreneurs-in-training that they must have the mindset that economic/business complexes must first of all be built in the mind before being erected physically.
He was clearly affirming to them that knowledge and ability to innovate which are critical to successful entrepreneurship must first be well conceptualized in the mind.
Vice President Yemi osinbajo, who was the special guest of honor, and whose speech was focused on tyranny of history, affirmed to the young entrepreneurs, (with great erudition) that the history of Africa may be a tale of pain and misery, but admonished them not to allow the history of Africa or their personal historical constraints to define them.
That was quite poignant because, if Elumelu had allowed history or circumstance to define him, he might have remained a hewer of wood and fetcher of water in rural delta state where he hails from. But he literarily took the bull by the horns and became phenomenally successful.
To demonstrate his gratitude , Elumelu invited his very first employer, the financial services management icon now turned traditional ruler, HRH Ebitimi Banigo to share in the glory.
One inspiring thing that struck me when Elumelu mounted the podium was the narrative about his motivation for setting up TEF.
It melted my heart when he referred to the gut wrenching experience of some of the best and brightest Africans dying in the seas as they try to cross the very rough oceans into Europe to seek greener pastures.
In his soul searing testimony , Mr Elumelu said he could not continue to look on as the young men and women who had great and bankable business dreams, but could not actualize them due to financial and infrastructural constraints, tried desperately to cross treacherous waters in rickety boats to find better opportunities overseas and in the process perish in droves.
According to Elumelu, as an antidote to the horrifying experience, he decided to create the atmosphere and conditions that would enable more African youths realize their dreams here on the continent, hence he established TEF with focus on grooming entrepreneurs.
Amazingly that motivation to free up Africans from economic tyranny of the advanced economies by fostering Entrepreneurship amongst the people of the continent is in tandem with the mindset of the founding fathers of OAU, now AU, to free up the continent from political slavery.
Of course given the likely breakup of the European Union, EU following the exit of Britain and the threat of the new USA president, Donald Trump to dismantle regional organizations like North American Free Trade Agreement , NAFTA etc, AU concept of having a common currency or even the extreme case of forming the United States of Africa which was pushed by the likes of Nkrumah and resisted by the likes of Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria at that time, has become unfashionable.
I’m convinced that for Elumelu, it may not be about being rich, as he is not the richest in Nigeria, but it is obviously in pursuit of the cause of emancipating Africans from the shackles of socio-economic slavery.
And clearly,Elumelu’s vision of economic empowerment for Africans through entrepreneurship is very critical for leapfrogging Africa to the next level as the continent takes its position as the new global economic frontier.
Amongst many other great factors, one of the laudable and futuristic things about the TEF entrepreneurship initiative, if it is sustained, is that when the Western powers come calling in the nearest future, they will not meet a people bereft of business acumen as they did when they came to Africa in the 1880s. It may be recalled that the partitioning of the countries in the continent amongst Europeans was done during the infamous Berlin conference of 1884-5. After the exercise, they shipped off Africans as slaves to work in plantations in the Americas for their European owners.
It can not be forgotten that it is the wealth created by slave labor that is the foundation of the wealth of most Western countries.
Which is why it is such a sad irony and paradox that the Africans which labor of their heroes past contributed immensely to the wealth of the advanced economies, especially the USA, are now being rejected and allowed to die at sea by the same countries that the sweat from the brows of their progenitors helped build.
Now, most people have boiled down Elumelu’s gesture of kindness as Corporate Social Responsibility , CSR but l beg to differ because it goes beyond that.
In my view, what Tony Elumelu has done through TEF entrepreneurship program is more of Cause Related Marketing, CRM which is also an aspect of giving or corporate philanthropy.
And the fact that he branded his cause- AFRCAPITALISM is quite significant because from the get go, Elumelu defined his goals and tied it to economic emancipation of the people of the African continent through entrepreneurship.
Obviously, he diagnosed correctly that Africans don’t need to be given fish, which is what granting of aid through donations to the continent by the industrialized society has been.
Although records show that a trillion dollars was in-flowed into Nigeria via aids between 2006-2016,(data from Dangote) but as Damisa Moyo, an economist made clear in her ground breaking book “Dead Aid” donations have hurt rather than help African countries.
That’s perhaps why Elumelu’s approach underscores the fact that Africa needs trade, not aid.
In other words, the founder of TEF does not believe in only giving Africans fish, but he is also passionate enough to show them how to fish. That in my view, is very shroud and pragmatic.
The only other cause related initiative on the continent of Africa with similar significance to TEF entrepreneurship program that comes to my mind is the Mo Ibrahim leadership award which rewards good governance by presidents and heads of Govt.
Tony’s initiative dwarfs that one by the sheer size of funds committed and the purpose which is to empower thousands of entrepreneurs directly as opposed to the other one which is focused on public policy and governance.
And I see TEF’s entrepreneurship initiative before the expiration of its ten years life span cascading down and creating a cohort of entrepreneurs that would be at the commanding heights of businesses across Africa in the next decade.
Vice president Osinbajo said that much to the cohort.
What’s more, TEF mission which is empowerment of entrepreneurs with skills and seed money ties in with the world bank’s new mission for global economic growth through aggressive human resources development especially in Africa.
Transiting from Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, and then Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, the world bank president stated during the last meeting in Washington DC, USA last week that it’s new focus is on the development of human resources.
With Africa being the continent with the highest number of youth population, it is a fertile ground for the bank’s purpose and TEF’s initiative commends itself as a pilot program for the Breton wood institution.
Also, l won’t be surprised if the Nobel organization is watching and Tony Elumelu unwittingly become the next noble prize laureate from Nigeria after Wole Soyinka.
And if anyone thinks l may be stretching Elumelu’s luck too far by envisioning Nobel prize for him, such skeptics should be reminded that Alfred Nobel set up the prestigious Nobel Prize to reward those who fight for the cause of improvement for humanity which is exactly what TEF is doing for estimated one billion people in the continent of Africa.
This is simply because leapfrogging people from Africa from being aid seekers to wealth creators is not a mean feat and it is bound to have tremendous positive impact.
My optimism is derived from the fact that it took the lifting off from poverty of about 800 million people in China in the last two decades for the Asian country to become the world’s economic powerhouse, second only to the USA.
Even if Nobel prize takes longer time in coming, mark my word, the CNN Freedom Prize for those that help in significant ways to end slavery socially or economically, must be in the horizon.
Onyibe, a development strategist, an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts university, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of Delta state government, sent this piece from lagos.