The gathering of at least 50 African heads-of-state and hundreds of business leaders from the continent is being considered a big first step toward a potential future of a growing economic bond.
During this three-day summit, African Americans who attended got an up close and personal look at an African titan of trade. At a summit packed with some of the biggest names from the continent, Tony Elumelu was one of its brightest stars.
As chairman of Heirs Holdings and founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Elumelu who coined the term Africapitalism, is one of the continent’s richest and most powerful businessmen. He is of the firm opinion that the summit was a defining moment in U.S.-African relations and a chance for Sub-Saharan Africa to showcase its worth on the world stage.
Elumelu tells the WSJ, the largest ever gathering of African leaders on U.S. soil offered “An opportunity to move beyond the usual conversations on aid and instead explore new opportunities to collaborate and co-invest in initiatives that generate value on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Speaking exclusively to Blackenterprise.com, he revealed his vision for an equal partnership between the United States, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the African American community.
Elumelu tells BlackEnterprise.com that unlike other American presidents, Obama, didn’t visit the continent last year to administer aid but came instead with a list of fundamental propositions on his agenda. It included facilitating trade between the U.S. and Africa as equal partners, engaging with investors on the continent and the need to power the continent with consistent electricity.
He also says the time to criticize the U.S. for not engaging the continent sooner has passed.
“We should welcome the fact that the journey has finally begun. I like the nature of the imagined engagement between Africa and America. President Obama’s visit to Africa last year was the starting point,” Elumelu says. “The fact that they have realized the need to engage with Africa at the scale and magnitude that they are going about it now is welcome.”
His foundation is also playing its part in reaching out to minority and women-owned businesses. “The Tony Elumelu Foundation will launch an entrepreneurship program with 100 million dollars that will touch 10,000 entrepreneurs across Africa and the United States,” he says. “We will train and mentor them and create platforms for them to have commercial business engagements.”
To expatiate, Elumelu notes how much preparation, time, and money it took to host an event of such scale and magnitude in the capital city of the United States. “It’s almost like everything stopped momentarily or temporarily for this event,” he says. “It has a signalling impact. It says to all policy makers in America and those not on the leadership level that Africa is important to this country. Even the U.S. Secretary of State was in attendance considering the situation in the Middle East reaching a boiling point.”
Elumelu and Obama share a singular belief: If access to electricity is provided to Sub-Saharan Africa, it would accelerate development across the region. It is a belief that has propelled him to make several speeches on the matter including addressing the United Nations and the United States Congress.
Addressing the audience and U.S. House Representatives at an event at the summit hosted by Congressman Gregory Meeks titled, “A Dialogue With African CEOs” that brought together women and minority business owners, CEOs from across Africa and U.S., and SME entrepreneurs, Elumelu said he understood that members of Congress had genuine differences, but he urged them to consider a more dire big picture.
“We also understand that the nearly two million people dying from the effects of fire cooking every year; the millions of tons harvests rotting from lack of power for processing, preservation and transportation; the 90 million kids, who can’t study at night; and the staggering rates of unemployment on the continent, are much bigger than your differences.”
BlackEnterprise.com asked Elumelu why there wasn’t a larger contingent of small business owners at the summit as opposed to the plethora of representatives from big corporations from the various sectors of U.S. industries.
Elumelu acknowledged that more needed to be done to welcome the little guy, listing three pillars to drive the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises. They include:
The various governments playing larger roles:
Government should help to create an enabling environment that would support the growth of SME’s. SME’s in Africa like they say start in the morning and die in the evening. We need to correct that. The reason this happens is because of the lack of an enabling environment. That’s the part government has to play.
The private sector needs to engage:
We all have a role to play. Financial institutions should [have] access to finance for SME’s. We should understand that access isn’t necessarily just commercial banking loans but also include venture and angel capital, angel capital. But on a more serious note, there is no need bothering improving access to finance without improving the operating environment.
Successful Business leaders need to replicate their success stories
We all need to begin investing in the youth. That’s the purpose of the program I mentioned earlier. We believe this will help improve chances of survival because they are also in this category. Individuals who have the spirit of touching mankind and society should help. If we truly want to build our continent and create jobs, we should look to SME’s. We must look at ways to jump-start that sector.
I don’t see miracles happening overnight but the journey has begun and we can only build on what has started.
Stay tuned for an in-depth article with Elumelu on his plans to help build and share wealth with the African American community in an upcoming issue of Black Enterprise magazine.
This article was originally published on Heirsholdings.com