My address at Chatham House: The pervasive negative narrative around Africa is our continent’s greatest challenge
Yesterday, I addressed a gathering of senior policymakers and development experts at UK’s leading foreign policy institute, Chatham House. I spoke on a panel alongside UK Minister of State, Department for International Development (DFID), Rory Stewart, OBE, where I unreservedly condemned the pervasive stereotypes in the media around Africa.
I believe that the greatest challenge Africa has as a continent when it comes to attracting investment is in the way it is portrayed. Information presented about Africa is neither holistic nor properly contextualised, and has led to the kind of narrative that we have had for so long on Africa. As an investor, when all you have heard about Africa is corruption, how would you pass a positive investment decision to go and invest in the continent? The result is that the vicious cycle of neglect continues and is even reinforced.
I called for an urgent “reset of mindset” to attract the level of global private capital that will drive job creation and reduce poverty on the continent. We must reset the way we see and discuss Africa. People do business with people they are comfortable with. Investors who repeatedly hear horrible things about our people and the continent will never invest here. We will continue to host national gatherings and seminars to discuss unemployment, poverty and income inequality if we do not fix the existing information asymmetry, the poor quality of information that is put out.
I also used the opportunity to rally public and private sector stakeholders and the development world to increase support to African SMEs, as they are indeed the lifeblood of our economy. In a continent where only 700 companies generate over $500m in annual revenue, half the number in other regions, we need more targeted support to grow these small businesses into scalable companies capable of becoming big corporates in the future. Their critical need for mentoring and funding should be met.
SMEs are known to be the largest job creators and should be prioritised because of the inverse relationship between security and prosperity – when there is prosperity, security is not an issue, but when there are fewer jobs, insecurity heightens.
As Chairman of Transcorp Power Plc, the largest thermal generator of electricity in Nigeria, I called on local and foreign investors to invest in electricity – this sector generates record multiplier effects in the economy, more than any other sector, and will encourage the creation and growth of businesses of scale in Africa. Long term private investment in electricity infrastructure will create an enabling environment for business expansion and growth.
Also at the event, a new Chatham House report, “Developing Businesses of Scale in Sub-Saharan Africa” which referenced my economic philosophy of ‘Africapitalism’ was launched. Africapitalism calls on the private sector to invest in strategic sectors for the long term to transform the continent. The report outlined the policy issues Africa must address to support the private sector to enhance job creation, encourage innovation and drive industrialisation.
Rounding up I charged multilateral institutions and developed nations in the West to rethink the effectiveness of sanctions and other policies meant to serve as a deterrent to certain leaders but instead harm innocent lives. Developed nations must look at the efficacy of sanctions and who truly bears the brunt of these policies. You will find that the masses are the ones who suffer most.