Chairman, Tony O. Elumelu’s Keynote Speech at the Africa Now Summit in Uganda

14th March 2019

ony O. Elumelu Giving Keynote Speech at Africa Now Summit

Keynote Speech by Tony O. Elumelu, CON


I was transfixed listening to the lecturer, Professor and President of Uganda [clap].
Twice when he spoke, I tried to clap because I was quite impressed and I was disturbing my neighbour on how knowledgeable Mr. President is. It’s not easy to speak, therefore, after such a serious speaker has spoken

Let me start by thanking the organisers of this forum. I think this is wonderful, this is part of what we need to develop our continent. I also want to commend Mr. President for supporting them and for {bank rolling} as we were told, this session.

Mr. President has said quite a lot, talked extensively about the role of private sector in transformation and has also defined the meaning of transformation. So, I am not going to get too theoretical. I will just say a few things.

My name has been introduced- Tony Elumelu. I see myself as an African I am associated with the Tony Elumelu Foundation and I am happy that we support young Africans in all African countries including Uganda.

Mr. President started by talking about transformation. To me, I want to talk about the kind of leadership we need to transform Africa. I want to look at it from a slightly different perspective. More like context setting first. So which Africa are we talking about today? I will like to take us back a bit. I have at home two 4-year-old sons. It is amazing what these boys to at home with technology- iPads. They know how to take selfies. They know how to zoom the camera when they want to take a photograph. It is quite amazing what is happening. This is the world we live in today and this is part of the world we are talking about. The kind of leadership we need to take Africa to the next level.

I have my daughters who are in school and every day I interact with them because of technology. We do what is called Facetime. Mr. President you said before that some say history and you say it’s current affairs. FT technology helps you talk to someone in real time. You see and you speak.

Today we talk of instant photos. Before while I was growing up, we have polaroid, which was the closest to being instant but then we all know the problems associated with it.

Traditionally, we have cameras. You take a picture, you develop, you print and spend days before you get the pictures. Right now, it is pictures on the go. It is instant. That’s the world we are live in. A lot of technological changes occurring in the world.

Today, I read online that we have 160,000,000 telephone users in Nigeria. A few years ago, we had less than 200,000,000 Nigerians with access to mobile phones. This is the world we are talking about. So, when we talk about leadership in the 21st century or leadership to take Africa to the next level of transformation, we need to remember this context

Today, Mr. President talked about cars, transportation and what is being done in the transportation sector. We have Uber. In fact, Uber as a company does not own their own cars but they control the biggest fleet of cars on earth. That is what is happening in the world we live in today.

Some years back, I was a branch Manager in Port Harcourt, Nigeria where I interacted with customers and their requirements. To send messages to the headquarters would take 2-3 working days. Today, you are in NY and you want feedback from someone in Lagos or Kampala, you can get it immediately. That is the world we live in today. So, when we talk about leadership in this kind of world, we need to keep all of this in view and in mind.

Let’s look at the education sector. When I was growing up, people were proud of attending local universities. In Nigeria at the time, if you went to a Nigerian University, you were seen as very intelligent and those who went abroad were seen as those who could not get admission to go to universities. The Africa we live in today, it is more fashionable to school abroad and not just about being fashionable, you actually get better content when you school abroad. That is the Africa we live in today. That is the setting in Africa today.

If we look at the health sector, life expectancy in Africa before was 47 years. Today, it is over 70 and in fact inching towards 80. So, in that area, things are changing. We have a lot more people being born in Africa today than before and at the same time fewer people dying in Africa today. So, we have more in terms of population. How are we planning for this in Africa?

Let’s look at our society today, out of about 1.25 billion Africans, about 720 million are under the age of 30 in Africa. How are we planning for this population explosion in Africa and keep in view what I said earlier that more people are being born every day and fewer people are dying. Which is what we actually want in a society.

There is a lot of youth unemployment issues in Africa today. Joblessness is an issue for us in in Africa today. Extremism has become a major issue in Africa. Values in Africa, we know things can be better. Growing up, we knew about pressure groups and Government respected these pressure groups but most societies today, we hardly have pressure groups again.

Beliefs & culture, things have changed. I think today, we believe more in God than before and this is the society we have today.

What about economy? A lot has happened. We listened to the president and what he said on how the economy has evolved. We have growth today but we are told growth without inclusiveness. We have more poverty around us today in Africa. This is the Africa we are talking about and asking ourselves, what kind of leadership do we have today?

We have inequality. The poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer. That’s the truth. Even though we do not have to criminalise wealth and we need to, as the President said, support the rise of the private sector because there in comes the ability for the economy to create employment and address some of the issues and challenges we have

The middle class in Africa is almost gone in most societies. You have the rich and the poor- some many of them and the rich- quite a few. So, when we talk therefore about leadership and the kind of leadership that we need for this kind of setting, it should be a long soul-searching exercise.

I want to say something before I attempt to answer the questions. Leadership is not just about the public sector, leadership is not just about presidents, leadership is not just about state governors or provisional leaders. Leadership also includes people in the private sector- myself and most of us in the audience. We also have leadership in the civil society, in churches, traditional leaders and so on. So, for me, when I talk about leadership, it is all encompassing and I also believe the organisers of this forum perceive and see leadership in this context.

Leadership therefore should not be about heaping of blames on one sector It is all of us that need to take a collective responsibility to do something about this. This is the reason I propounded the philosophy of Africapitalism which is also a call on the private sector and development partners that we have a role to play in our continent and we need to play this role by investing so we can create employment, create prosperity in a manner that will help to alleviate or address some of the problems we have in the society today

This is also one of the reasons at the Tony Elumelu Foundation, we decided to set out some money to support young Africans. This is not because we have too much but because we realised that we all have a role to play in shaping the kind of leadership we need as a continent and also in making sure that we work together to fulfil the common aspiration of all in this century to have a better African society.

I believe that the leaders we need in Africa today are leaders who care about humanity. We need leaders who are interested and genuinely committed to leaving the society better than they met it. We need leaders who understand and care about legacy. We need leaders who are genuinely committed and care about the future of Africa.

You know at times, some of us will say that, “the future of Africa is in your hands” We need to act it, we need to live it. we need to make sure that in every action we take, we are indeed committed to that- the future of Africa is in the hands of our people and we as leaders must play our own roles to make that a reality.

We need leaders who realise and know when there is need to speak up because evil prevails when good men look the other way or keep quiet. Those are the kind of leaders we need in private and public sector to create the future we need for Africa.

We need leaders who realise that poverty anywhere is a threat to mankind everywhere. So even if there is so much food at home and your neighbour is hungry, you might not live in peace. We need leaders who understand this because these are values and things that will make leaders want to go the extra length and mile in trying to shape a better society.

We need leaders who know that true wealth is not what you have in your bank account or assets accumulated for self and family only. We need leaders who understand that true meaning of wealth is the investment made in others.

We need leaders who value lives. We see this more so in Africa societies where we show through our actions little or no respect for human lives. Those are not the leaders who will help change or transform Africa. We need leaders that value human lives. Every life is as important as one’s life. This will help us in transforming Africa. It is simple but very profound.

We need leaders who embrace inclusive growth. Just as Mr. President described in the evolution of society and economies even with the experience of Uganda. We need leaders that embrace this and leaders that believe in shared prosperity. And this relates more to private sector leaders. As private sector leaders, we realise that if the wealth we have is not inclusive, if the prosperity we have is just for family and self, it will not help us create the society we need. Some of us have embarked on the projects we have embarked on not necessarily because we realise that really, how much do you need and is it not better that this wealth is applied in such a manner that creates prosperity in other places.

I like when Mr. President spoke and talked about private sector. He spoke about an enabling environment. I have often said that young Africans are very energetic, enterprising, entrepreneurial, hardworking. They want to succeed, they want to make a difference but the point has always been, “what environment do they have to operate in? What support do they get from all classes of leader- private and public?”

And until and unless we begin to prioritise these young ones, it will be a problem for all of us in Africa. The joblessness we have in Africa can’t be fixed by government alone. Government per say, do not create the kind of employment we need to put the 720 million plus- every year, it is said that over 80 million people come into the job market in Africa. How are we prepared for this?

Government needs to create the right environment and people who are also endowed in Africa including development partners in Africa must work together in the 21st century to intervene in a manner that is different.
That is why we embrace entrepreneurship. That is why the Tony Elumelu Foundation calls on partners and others to come together, team up with us so we can create more entrepreneurs in Africa. That way, we democratise prosperity on the continent. That way, we are able to create employment.

The President of France, when he visited Lagos last year had said if Steve Jobs were African, possibly, he might have died with all his ideas if the right environment was not there.

How many Steve Jobs do we have among us in Africa? How many Bill Gates do we have? What opportunities are we creating for these young Africans to actualise their dreams, their creativity, their ingenuity, their ideas. This is critical in deciding or choosing or taking about the leadership we need in the 21st century to transform Africa.

For me, we need leaders that realise that no one but us will develop our continent. We need a new mindset. We need leaders to begin to realise that there is no sense of entitlement again- that people colonised us. Therefore, they must also come to make us good. We have to do this ourselves. We need leaders who understand that in the 21st century, it is not right that we do not have appreciable access to electricity in Africa.

There are things leaders who believe in legacy should tell themselves. As a private sector leader, what am I doing in these critical areas that will face challenges in Africa? Number 1 being access to electricity. Almost 60% of our people do not have access to electricity in Africa. What kind of life are we living? So, this to me, are critical issues we need to talk about. This should shape the type of leadership that we seek, the type of leadership we yearn for in Africa in this 21st century.

I am very encouraged this morning by what I heard from our host President. Mr. president, I am very encouraged by all the things I heard from you and I want to encourage you to do more for Uganda and also for other African presidents who are here to help to create the right environment to enable our young ones to succeed. This is the kind of leadership our young ones need in Africa.

I want to end by thanking you again for this wonderful opportunity by thinking of putting our leaders and our youth together and creating this kind of attractive platform.

Thank you very much.