As seen in Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Congo, social, political and economic conflicts have swept across the continent this year, escalating the issues around the COVID-19 pandemic, thus creating more havoc.
In this interview, the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu discusses the impact of prolonged unresolved issues on entrepreneurship in Africa and more permanent ways to resolve them.
Following the economic devastation, first due to COVID-19 and subsequently due to bouts of prevailing issues across the continent, what has been the impact on the African youth?
Across the African continent, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in far-reaching economic ramifications. It has disrupted people’s means of livelihood, with a disproportionate impact on poor households and small and informal businesses.
The pandemic, more than the health impact, has revealed the fault lines that exist in our economies and societies. The unrests that we have seen in countries like Nigeria and Namibia where young people are demanding better conditions that allow them to thrive is a challenge that demands bold action. Young people all over Africa are, more than any other generation, in tune with their counterparts all over the world. They see them and wonder how they can do the same in their various countries, and this drives them to achieve as much as anyone else.
The African youth are eager to see and implement change in their various communities and they need all the support that they can get so that we can have systems that work favourably for the benefit of all.
In what way is the Tony Elumelu Foundation helping to beat these odds and advance positive impactful growth on the continent?
Empowering African entrepreneurs and the businesses they create is at the heart of what we do at the Tony Elumelu Foundation. All over the continent we see young, smart, enterprising entrepreneurs with ideas and solutions to local problems, but we still need to structure these ideas. We need to find the right financing structures on the continent that maintains a cumulative positive impact and inspires sustainable growth.
We initially started with a 10-year, $100 million commitment to identify, train, mentor, and fund 10,000 young African entrepreneurs across 54 African countries each year, but this was only a drop in the ocean when we considered how many people get into the Programme and how many were left. In 2017, we opened up our tried and trusted Entrepreneurship Programme model to partners who shared the same vision and drive as we did to empower and support these young African entrepreneurs. The Foundation’s mission is inspired by Tony’s economic philosophy of Africapitalism, which positions the private sector, and most importantly entrepreneurs, as the catalyst for the social and economic development of the continent.
Last year alone, we were able to support over 5000 entrepreneurs in achieving our aim, and we continue to advocate for development agencies and governments across the world to support this initiative especially now that the importance of Africa to global development is more evident than ever before.
What role can governments play on the road to recovery?
Across the continent, leaders in the public, private, and development sectors are already taking decisive action to protect households, businesses, and national economies from the fallout of the pandemic.
Governments, as well as the private sector and development institutions need to double down and significantly expand existing efforts to safeguard economies and livelihoods across Africa.
African entrepeneurship is now firmly on the global agenda, as well as on the agenda of several governments across the world and African leaders understand that the only way for development is to prioritise human development by creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to thrive, and policy reforms that will prioritsie small businesses.
African goverments should begin to look at things as little as tax systems – many taxation systems are not favourable to small businesses – and creating thriving environments and encouraging the ease of doing business that make African businesses compete globally.
We also must look to implement and actualise the African Free Trade agreement. Goverments must look to breaking down obstacles that create fragmented markets in Africa where entrepreneurs find it difficult to connect and access markets in their neighbouring countries by implementing policy and infrastructure interventions that MSMEs across Africa need.
In retrospect, following the call for better governance across the continent, how can Africa better prepare for the next generation of leaders? What would success look like?
We have to start thinking differently about the way we support African entrepreneurs who often struggle to access financing, supply chains and markets by making sure they are positively engaged and earning income.
In many countries, there is an opportunity to take bolder, more creative steps to secure supply chains and maintain the stability of financial systems that help businesses survive.
DFIs and partnerships with multilateral organisations have contributed a lot with investments that reverse the economic damage of the crisis, but we need to go one step further to making sure that these entrepreneurs, even those at the bottom of the pyramid, are able to chart their own path by not only funding, but training as we’ve done with the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, and tracking the growth of these businesses to ensure maximum impact attainable.
Most people recognise the need for young people to be present and equally active where decisions are to be made. How can we ensure that this is the case in every sector?
The world is moving ahead and where exclusive systems may have benefitted only a select few before, it is becoming increasingly apparent we are moving away from those systems.
Many of the most progressive systems succeed by ensuring diversity in people and opinions and this is not very different from what we expect if we want to see positive impact and growth on the continent. We must be more intentional about including the voices of the youth in creating a world we all want to be a part of.
Not doing this results in a situation where those who are excluded feel apathy to the circumstances in their environments. We need the active, driven participation of young people and the only way to do that is to encourage the feeling that they are a part of something and can positively influence the decisions made in leadership.
When people feel they are a part of something they are more likely to push for the progressive changes that we all want to see in the continent and the world at large.