The ‘father’ of Africapitalism; Economist and entrepreneur, Tony Elumelu was born in Nigeria in 1963 (56 years). With investments in different areas, stand out the stakes in banking from both Standard Trust Bank and United Bank for Africa – which has transformed a pan-African financial institution with more than seven million customers in 19 countries. In 2010, he created a foundation by its name, focused on supporting youth entrepreneurship on the African continent, from a $ 100 million fund. It is the ‘father’ of the concept of Africapitalism, an economic principle that puts the private sector at the center of the continent’s transformation through long-term investments capable of creating wealth and social welfare.
Tony Elumelu: “We need to start training for employability”
A leading businessman on the African continent, Nigerian Tony Elumelu stands out for his support for young entrepreneurship through the foundation under his name. Young people ask for focus and resilience. To governments, to ensure conditions for good ideas to turn into good business. On education, warns of the need to train staff that respond to the needs of the labor market.
What conditions are needed to turn a good idea into a good business?
The difference is in the ability to translate the idea into action, into reality. Turn ideas or dreams into results that can be seen and measured so that the entrepreneur can know if he or she has been successful. Some factors are required. You need to be disciplined, focused and resilient. In the journey of trying to translate ideas into results, many things happen. And if you are not disciplined, focused and resilient, you will not reach your destination. Of course, there are things that are out of our control as business owners. This is the case with the operating environment. I had the privilege of being received by your Prime Minister and was very impressed. He spoke as if I, as a private person, spoke as an entrepreneur about creating an enabling environment that will lead companies to succeed. These are things that are outside the domain and control of entrepreneurs, but they are also important in shaping and defining whether an idea becomes successful or not. The tax regime, the infrastructure, the power – who is in power? – Market access. These things are beyond the imaginative powers of an aspiring entrepreneur. So, I would say, in short, that for a business to succeed or not to succeed it requires a government interaction, doing what must be done to create the right environment, and the entrepreneur being energetic, focused and resilient. Then, of course, the support of people like us for access to capital, training, mentoring. We work together.
And how should governments act to facilitate the business environment?
First, it is a great responsibility of the government to create the right operating environment. But we cannot continue to hold the government alone. The private sector must also play a role. Governments should try to make their business environment hospitable and attractive for investment. When the government makes the country attractive, when that country opens up, investors can invest. When investors arrive, they invest in energy, telecommunications, road, port, airport, rail infrastructure. All the government needs to do is create the right conditions that will attract investors, create the right environment to attract investment to the country. When this investment happens, in what we call Africa-capitalism, when the private sector invests in the long run, Investors profit, but at the same time they help provide the services and equipment companies need. It is therefore up to governments to continue to work on laws that guarantee the right to property, creating the right macroeconomic environment that ensures predictability. When I talked to your Prime Minister, I felt that he knows where he is going.
Governments, including Cape Verde, like to tell young people to be entrepreneurs. Most of the time, this sounds cliché to me.
The first rule is to let governments tell young people to be entrepreneurs. Then expect the government to be truly and passionately committed to entrepreneurship. The third rule is to let the government know that talking is easy, but most importantly, take action, take positive action and action. I’ve seen governments that don’t talk about it, that don’t say anything about entrepreneurs. So when a country has a government, a leadership that talks about it is a starting point. Now speaking is only 1%, even less than 1%. The other 99% are all talk no action. If you talk and no business is produced, people will know that something is wrong and that it is just a political device. But I believe that African and world presidents, in general, are slowly starting to realize that, with the young population we have, we should do some. Otherwise, it will become catastrophic. I believe we are moving away from a cliché to the real. The difference between one and the other is the ability to make it happen.
How can the African continent benefit from the so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ currently underway?
Young Africans are extremely creative, innovative, energetic, brilliant. These young people can help us get off, but we need to create the right conditions, we need to create our own Silicon Valley. We need to ensure access to electricity, we need to ensure that conditions are in place to enable small and medium-sized enterprises to enable these young people to implement their ideas. More and more governments are doing so. Do we have people with brains, enthusiasm, ability and energy to make this happen? We have. That’s why the Tony Elumelu Foundation, and others like us, does what it does. We try to secure opportunities for young Africans, realizing that Africa’s future is in their hands and that if young people succeed, all of us as a continent will succeed.
How can your foundation contribute to this goal?
In 2015, we committed $ 100 million to help people from 54 African countries, not just Nigeria, access capital, access a 12-week training program, access to mentors, and networking opportunities. Not long ago, we launched TEF Connect, which is a digital marketplace for all these African entrepreneurs. That is what we are doing. Every year, we support a thousand young Africans, men and women, from all 54 countries, regardless of sector, and tell them that all we need is ideas. Ideas can transform Africa. It has been quite interesting. But we realise that we need much more and we have established partnerships. We recently had the involvement of UNDP [United Nations Development Program], the African Development Bank, from the Japanese Development Agency, among others. We are working to increase capacity, scale-up. Thus, in 2018 we supported more than 3,500 entrepreneurs, 1,000 of which from the Foundation and 2,500 from other partners. This is what Africa needs, this is what these young people need, and this is what helps us to be relevant in the fourth industrial revolution.
In Cape Verde, like other countries, there was a strong investment in higher education and now we have a contingent of young graduates and unemployed. What is being done wrong?
First, we must say that education is good, it is a necessary condition. We are now realising that technical and vocational training is as important as college education, if not more important. We need to prepare people for the job. Countries like Germany understand this very well and do it very well. With the population we have, we need to start training for employability. That is the missing link. Education is fundamental to being relevant in the industrial revolution we are talking about. We need to ensure that our staff are trained and the training is good that they are qualified and educated according to what the world needs. We need, for example, to have people who learn about programming, coding.
Let me have your say on a current topic: How can Africa attract foreign investment without risking new forms of dependency?
I advocate exactly that. The aim should be self-sufficiency. We live in an interdependent world. It is not a crime who has support who does not. But support should not lead to laziness, it should not lead to loss of dignity, it should not make people perpetually dependent. I need to make the other a fisherman and not someone who will continue to eat the fish I give him