BY Magnus Onyibe
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 -Afrocentric entrepreneurship aimed at stimulating economic growth towards the elimination of poverty in the continent of Africa.
The banker turned entrepreneur through his HEIRS holding-a diversified conglomerate, 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, 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 which translates into $10m annually in the past three years.
By so doing he has booked himself a remarkable place in history and l dare add, in heaven too, because he is only following the example 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.
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 and culture .
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.
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 origin 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 are critical to successful entrepreneurship.
Vice President ,Yemi osinbajo, who was the special guest of honor, and whose speech was focused on tyranny of history, reminded the young entrepreneurs, (with great erudition) that although the history of Africa is a tale of pain and misery, he admonished them not to allow the history of Africa or their personal historical constraints 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 show 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 for entrepreneurship.
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 frontier for economic development.
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 they apportioned Africa to themselves like farmlands, they started exploiting the land for raw materials to feed their industries and also instigated and fuelled inter-tribal wars which produced the slaves (prisoners of wars) that they shipped off as slaves to be engaged in hard labor in plantations in the Americas for their European owners.
It should not be lost on us that it is the wealth created by slave labor that is the foundation of the opulence of most industrialized Western countries today .
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 to build, as they attempt to migrate to more clement economic environments.
Now, most people have drilled 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 only, which is what granting of aid through donations to the continent by the industrialized society has been but deserve to be thought hoe to fish.
That’s perhaps why Elumelu’s approach underscores the fact that Africa needs trade, not aid.
That in my view, is very shrewd and pragmatic.