If you count Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, among your closest friends, conversations about how to grow wealth when the "Africa rising" narrative has faded away are more important than ever. And entrepreneur Tony Elumelu is in it for the long haul, despite the waning sentiment.
When he started the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme after he left the banking industry in 2010, Elumelu had a clear mission: to empower 10,000 entrepreneurs across Africa in 10 years and invest US$100m in training and mentoring them.
Elumelu, who is also the chairman of Nigerian-listed United Bank for Africa (UBA) and hospitality group Transcorp, believes he can develop Africa by empowering other countries on the continent.
"If I, and other successful Africans, don’t step up and help replicate and multiply ourselves by helping to create 1,000 other Tony Elumelus and UBAs, and maybe Africa’s Steve Jobs, the continent will not achieve its development aspirations," says Elumelu.
He says one of the hurdles to doing business in Africa is that often laws don’t yet exist to support and protect intellectual property in emerging sectors such as information & communications technology and the creative industries.
"We chose to focus on entrepreneurship as the vehicle to promote the economic-opportunity side of the development coin. Entrepreneurship enables one to be independent of governments and people’s charity, and to create jobs for others in a way that is sustainable and will have a multiplier effect," says Elumelu.
The businessman, who describes himself as a "pan-African investor and a citizen of 54 African countries", led the largest merger in the banking sector in sub-Saharan Africa, between Standard Trust Bank and UBA.
When Elumelu took control of UBA, it operated in a single country. Today, it can be found in cities in 19 African countries, as well as in New York, London and Paris.
Elumelu’s approach to doing business in Africa is based on what he calls "Africapitalism": the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through investments that generate both economic prosperity and social wealth.
"I may be biased, but I believe that entrepreneurs can have the greatest effect on development, and I am putting $100m on the line to unleash entrepreneurs and [affirm] my belief in the continent," says Elumelu.
Since last year, 50 South Africans have been recipients of his foundation’s entrepreneurship programme, which is hosted annually in Lagos, Nigeria. Elumelu doesn’t have business links with SA, but he would like to forge connections with the country in the future.
When it comes to developing entrepreneurs, Elumelu says: "Foreign investors can never hope to have the kind of insights that we have, as we were born, bred and made in Africa."