African leaders urged to prioritise entrepreneurship

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Tony Elumelu, a Nigeria-born African billionaire and founder of Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), has urged African leaders to continue to focus on creating the enabling environment for businesses to prosper.

“Entrepreneurship cannot thrive without the enabling environment,” he said.  “So, our leaders should continue to create the conducive business environment for private sector players to grow their businesses.”

Mr Elumelu, who is also the group chairman of the United Bank for Africa Plc and Pan-African investment company, Heirs Holdings, made this statement when the bank hosted more than 70 African journalists at the UBA House in Lagos, Nigeria.

The journalists were in Lagos at the invitation of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) to cover its TEF Entrepreneurship Forum 2017.

The TEF Forum is an event with interactive learning sessions, workshops, plenary sessions, product launches and more.  It is the largest annual gathering of African entrepreneurs that brings together participants from all 54 countries.

The foundation commits US$100 million to support 1,000 entrepreneurs each year for 10 years. It started in 2015; and so far 3,000 entrepreneurs have benefited from their support.

Two Gambian entrepreneurs: Kaw Yorro Cham and Gabriel Gomez were among 1,000 winners for the year 2017.  The duo are into agro-business and healthcare.

The 2017 forum was attended by prominent personalities, such as Africa’s business tycoon Aliko Dangote, and Nigeria’s vice-president. They both addressed the entrepreneurs, giving them inspiring and encouraging statements.

Mr Elumelu believes that becoming an entrepreneur is very important, because through entrepreneurship lives are changed in the country and on the continent as a whole.

“I see great entrepreneurship potential in many of the over 93,000 applicants that applied for  this year alone, but the level of training, mentoring and networking that we offer means that we can only select over 1,000 this 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.

He explained that the TEF Programme which is the largest African-sourced philanthropic gift, targeting entrepreneurial sector was inspired by three guiding principles: the inclusive economic philosophy of ‘Africapitalism’, based on the belief that a vibrant African-led private sector is the key to unlocking Africa’s economic and social potential; commitment to drive African economic growth, through empowering of African entrepreneurship; and a mission to ‘institutionalise luck,’ by creating an environment where African entrepreneurs can get critical elements of support in the early stages of their business life.

“Entrepreneurship is the cornerstone to African development and the key to local value creation in Africa.  I am determined to ensure that Africa’s next generations of entrepreneurs have the platform they need to turn their entrepreneurial aspirations into sustainable businesses that will drive economic growth and job creation across Africa,” Mr Elumelu stated.

He further added that billions of dollars worth of goods are exported each year out of the African continent, which he noted, is much more than the aid given to Africa. 

 “Young people need a helping hand, the kind that will make them self- reliant and self-confident so that they can add their quota to the development of the continent,” he affirmed.

“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,” Mr Elumelu added.

Advice to entrepreneurs

The billionaire African investor, whose UBA operates in 19 African countries advised the young entrepreneurs: “Entrepreneurship is not a short-term journey, but a long-term one.  You have to be disciplined and focused; and defer your spending to enable you have a better future as an entrepreneur.”

Another attribute Mr Elumelu wants every entrepreneur to possess is the culture of excellence. As he put it, “As an entrepreneur, you must do everything quality.”


Touching on Africapitalism, Mr Elumelu spoke about what already-established businesses could do to advance Africa’s development, through an economic philosophy he calls Africapitalism, which focuses on the private sector’s critical role in driving economic and social development across Africa.

“Africapitalism means we cannot leave the business of development up to our governments, donor countries and philanthropic organisations alone,” he said. “We in the African private sector must wake up, recognise and embrace our role in driving the economic growth and the social development of Africa, and we must act on that responsibility in tangible ways.”

Author: Alieu Ceesay in Lagos, Nigeria